Stopping Terror At The Source

terrorism12115On this past Tuesday the Los Angeles Times published a letter by Pres. Obama on countering terror recruitment here in the U. S. and around the world. He stated we cannot defeat terrorists with military actions alone, but we have to go after their cadre of recruiters who draw them in so effectively and other measures. The President also stated that,

More broadly, groups like al Qaeda and ISIL exploit the anger that festers when people feel that injustice and corruption leave them with no chance of improving their lives. The world has to offer today’s youth something better.

Governments that deny human rights play into the hands of extremists who claim that violence is the only way to achieve change. Efforts to counter violent extremism will only succeed if citizens can address legitimate grievances through the democratic process and express themselves through strong civil societies. Those efforts must be matched by economic, educational and entrepreneurial development so people have hope for a life of dignity.

The following day Pres. Obama held a press conference on the same subject I read about in the NYT also. The article stated that,

Mr. Obama said undercutting the Sunni militant group’s message and blunting its dark appeal was a “generational challenge” that would require cooperation from mainstream Muslims as well as governments, communities, religious leaders and educators.

So here we finally have a leader who understands that it is impossible to kill-off every terrorist and terrorist-sympathizer around the globe. And what you have to do is to take the wind out of their sails, if I can put it so lightly. We have to affect the reasons why people become terrorists.

With that stated I can already hear grumbling from those in the back thinking, “He’s gonna blame America, isn’t he?” No, I’m not going to blame the U.S. on the West at all. How can anyone be to “blame” for such brutality? These are atavistic medieval fighters awaiting the apocalypse who do the most heinous things to try and recruit more zealots to join a malformed ideology I can hardly even believe exists. And no one is to blame other than the terrorists themselves.

But we can take some of the wind out of their sails with a few things we should do,

1) Reduce our political/military footprint in Palestine. Nothing does more to recruit terrorists than America’s perceived indifference to what Israel does to the Palestinians. We support them both politically and materially with great amounts of military aid and do nothing about how it is used. The “50-day” war over the summer has to be one of the biggest recruiting tools in Mid-East terror history for ISIS.

2) We must all work together to affect real social change in the region. I was watching “The Five” on FOX News yesterday and they were arguing that poverty and oppression had nothing to do with terrorist recruitment. They stated that bin-Laden came from a royal family and that Zawahiri was an eye-doctor. But they are not the rank and file! The rank and file live in poor social conditions with oppressive governments and no jobs to keep them economically stable and occupied. They even run to terror for a good salary. We all know how ISIS is building an economy within itself by illegally exporting oil to Turkey. This is an essential point.

3) Disavowal the recruiters. At the Pres. Obama’s press conference he stated that, “We need to find new ways to amplify the voices of peace and tolerance and inclusion, and we especially need to do it online.” And White House official Benjamin J. Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser, stated to the NYT correspondent, “You could hypothetically eliminate the entire ISIL safe haven, but still face a threat from the kind of propaganda they disseminate over social media….It’s an undervalued part of how you prevent terror attacks in the United States.”

This phenomenon is a serious, serious concern for anyone who desires both freedom and safety alike. I do not support in any form or fashion censorship or online monitoring, but we need to get more active as a people to counter these recruiters.

4) Stop thinking they hate us for our freedom. I used to read Osama bin-Laden’s statements before he was killed and he refuted this misnomer directly in one of them. He stated that al-Qaeda disagrees with us but does not care about our society as long as sharia law is followed in the Arab world. He even went as far as stating that if he hated our freedom, why not attack some nation such as Sweden? If politicians and laymen keep espousing this fallacy it keeps our eyes blinded from the real reasons they hate us.

5) Read this cover article in The Atalantic entitled “What ISIS Really Wants.” It is the first truly analytical report on the nature of ISIS. Essential read.

Arab Fundraising for Al Qaeda in Syria

syriaAn important article in the NYT reports that private funds are being gathered and transported to anti-Assad forces in Syria in the Arab world, and much of it goes to Al Quaeda linked revolutionaries.

It’s a good article for the contributing donors blame U.S. and Western doddering as a reason why the Saudis, Kuwaitis, etc., support the rebels with their fortunes.

Read Here.

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Who Are Al Qaeda’s Associated Forces?

The_Pentagon_January_2008-620x412A good piece on Salon.com by Cora Currier of ProPublica asks the question who these “associated forces” are of Al Qaeda’s who the White House is always mentioning? Shouldn’t we know the answer to this question when the U.S. is currently killing members of these forces with our drones, in our name?

Read Here.

The Tough Question: Did Drones Indirectly Lead to Boston Bombing?

After reading an article last week about Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei condemning the bombing in Boston but criticizing the U.S. policy on drone attacks, the question came to mind as to just how relevant it was for him to associate the two so closely.  He stated:

The Islamic Republic of Iran, which follows the logic Islam, is opposed to any bombings and killings of innocent people, no matter if it is in Boston, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, or Syria and condemns it…The US and other so-called human rights advocates remain silent on the massacre of innocents in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, but they cause a ruckus after a few blasts in the United States.

This week an op-ed appeared in the Atlantic addressing this issue specifically.  An important summary from the piece:

But propaganda is most powerful when it’s at least within shouting distance of the truth–and, unfortunately, that’s the case here. Obama’s drone strikes have killed, if not more civilians than mujahideen, lots of civilians, including women and scores of children. Every time such killing happens, the jihadist narrative, the narrative that seems to have seized the minds of the Tsarnaev brothers, gains a measure of strength.

The evolution of terrorism?

This is a commonsensical realization but there is another underlying issue that would contribute to this argument: the evolution of Al Qaeda’s message.

What I mean by that is there seems to be a change in how Al Qaeda once presented its message and how it delivers it now.  If we look at the issue of Inspire, Al Qaeda’s magazine, linked in the Atlantic piece, we see many articles addressing and encouraging lone wolf-types of attacks similar to what we saw in Boston.  This comes along with ideas on how to attack as an individual, such as creating car crashes and, coincidentally, using ricin.

Overall, the emphasis in the rhetoric seems to be on attacking and terrorizing civilians.  As noted by the author:

That’s where drone strikes can come in handy, and the latest issue of Inspire spells out the logic explicitly: Because America is “ruled by the people,” its “rulers (people) should pay for their country’s action till they change their system and foreign policies.” So “war on America including civilians” is legitimate, says Inspire, so long as Americans are killing Muslim civilians with drone strikes. “The equation should be balanced. Like they kill, they will be killed.”

But if we look back at some of Osama bin Laden’s rhetoric, he doesn’t seem to be as concerned with attacking civilians as he is with attacking what he sees as more symbolically important targets.  And he even makes a distinction between the American people and the actions of the government.  After describing many instances of what he sees as American oppression, he leaves the reader with these remarks:

In conclusion, I tell you in truth, that your security is not in the hands of Kerry, nor Bush, nor al-Qaida.  No.

Your security is in your own hands.  And every state that doesn’t play with our security has automatically guaranteed its own security.

Bin Laden clearly had a eye on symbolism, along with casualty counts, when he targeted the U.S. for his attacks.  America’s military dominance was attacked by hitting the Pentagon and the U.S.S. Cole.  America’s economic dominance was attacked by bringing down the WTC.  And America’s heavy hand in foreign affairs was attacked when Al Qaeda struck at U.S. embassies.

And therein lies the new evolution and difference with the Boston attack.  It wasn’t an attack on a structure that also carried a certain symbolism for the U.S.  It was specifically targeted at civilians and civilians only just as the rhetoric contained within the pages of Inspire would suggest.  There may not be a direct link between the Boston bombers and Al Qaeda (and in all likelihood none will be found) but there is little doubt where the Tsarnaev brothers drew their inspiration.

As American tactics in finding and destroying Islamic extremists has evolved over the years with the expanded use of drone, the tactics used against us has gone through its own evolution.  We are seeing the next phase in the War on Terror and the likelihood of more lone wolf attacks in the future is seemingly high.  The question now becomes: how much longer will we let drone attacks be carried out in our name when we are being told they are the reason for the oncoming lone wolves?

The Justification of Torture Gets Obliterated Part Four – False Confessions

Continued from parts one, two, and three...

The next section in the report addresses the “dangers of false confessions”.  Lots of interesting tidbits of info included here beginning with the fact many of the techniques for torture used by the CIA were derived from SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape), a child mostly of the Cold War but apparently not intended for what the agency used it for:

The SERE techniques…had their origins in Communist techniques used to extract false confessions…[T]hat model’s primary objective was to compel a prisoner to generate propaganda, not intelligence.

In other words, the methods torture advocates say are great for gaining intelligence were not actually derived for that purpose.  Should have been a clear indicator it probably wasn’t going to work out too well.  But it wasn’t and it gets worse.  They were also basing their decisions off of results of internal testing, which is problematic:

SERE trainees were given specific “secrets” to keep from “interrogators” in the training exercise, and routinely failed…SERE instructors often know in advance the information they are trying to solicit…SERE instructors likely believe they can tell based on behavioral cues whether someone is telling the truth, but scientific studies show that behavioral indicators of deception are faint and unreliable.

It should be obvious that interrogators in the real world do not know the info they are trying to get from someone in advance.  And the false perception of interrogators’ own ability to detect the truth and lies makes the use of torture incredibly problematic, as I have noted previously.  If we can’t tell someone telling the truth from someone lying then there is no way to know when to start and when to stop torturing a suspect.  And that is probably the most important reason torture should have never been used to begin with.

The study then notes the problems with using sleep deprivation and how this has an adverse effect on memory and might even produce false memories which lead to false confessions in order to stop the torture.  This is followed by the most damaging evidence against the use of torture one might conjure: al-Libi’s link between Iraq and Al Qaeda and the possibility of chemical weapons changing hands in the relationship.

Al-Libi was at first cooperating with interrogators and giving valuable info.  Then he was sent to Egypt to be tortured because he denied (correctly) a link between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein existed.

al-Libi claimed that during his initial debriefings “he lied…about future operations to avoid torture“…”the next topic was al-Qa’ida’s connections with Iraq…This was a subject about which he knew nothing and had difficulty even coming up with a story“…Al-Libi told debriefers that “after the beating,” he was again asked about the connection with Iraq and this time he came up with a story that three al-Qa’ida members went to Iraq to learn about nuclear weapons…the topic of anthrax and biological weapons. Al-Libi stated that he “knew nothing about a biological program and did not even understand the term biological.”

This info was quoted by Colin Powell at his UN speech prior to the Iraq War.  We, of course, would never allow info gained by torture in court cases in the United States but happily used some to start a war.  What’s not good enough for us is good enough for us to exert on the rest of the world apparently.

If the idea of using torture as a means for gathering intelligence hasn’t yet been buried forever, then the hammer is coming down very hard on the last nail on its coffin.  It never worked, will never work, and, the saddest part, we knew it wouldn’t work before we started using it.  Let’s hope the issue is forever put to rest for the betterment of mankind.

Breaking Down What Ex-CIA Agent Rodriguez Said in 60 Minutes Interview

The interview with Jose Rodriguez, former head of the CIA’s Clandestine Service, was both fascinating and horrifying as he did his best to defend the “enhanced interrogation” techniques used on terrorism suspects in the years after 9/11.  So much of what he said could have been delved into deeper and the interview could have gone on for another hour yet still not covered everything.  I’d like to highlight some of the things he said and the weakness of his defense of torture.

We made some al Qaeda terrorists with American blood on their hands uncomfortable for a few days.

This is a tricky quote to some extent.  It suggests the torture was only performed on known terrorists and in the case of the CIA only (and not including the other branches of defense) that might be accurate.  But we know innocent people were tortured and in some cases died due to torture while in U.S. custody.  He also contradicts himself later about the idea of this torture just being “a few days” for some suspects when he talks about sleep deprivation for a week at a time in at least one case.  Maybe some members gave up information after a few days but he gives zero examples of that.

So we were facing a ticking, time bomb situation.

This is a common defense of torture by its advocates.  The scenario is a bomb is ticking, someone has been caught who has info on its whereabouts, and he is tortured because he won’t give up the location.  Which works really well…in movies, not so much in reality.  In fact, I’m not sure how this idea gets lumped in with suicidal terrorists.  How many bombs have been placed with a timer by Islamic terrorists?  I’m guessing the number is around zero since the vast majority are suicide bombers.  The “ticking, time bomb” defense is ridiculous when applied to al Qaeda’s actual tactics.

At first, FBI interrogators used their standard interviewing techniques with no coercion, and Abu Zubaydah cooperated, giving tips and leads but–

Jose Rodriguez: After he regains his strength he stopped talking…He shuts down.

Or did he just not know anything else?  Rodriguez backs up the idea he had more information with virtually no evidence.  It’s pointed out in the story the FBI claims he gave up everything he knew prior to the torture.  But someone assumed he knew more and was lying that he didn’t, which we can’t be sure of.  Rodriguez defends this by stating:

He gave us a road map that allowed us to capture a bunch of Al Qaeda senior leaders.

He is angry but noticeably stumbles at this point in the interview before he says “a bunch.”  It was as if he knew he needed to give something reasonably logical and important here but could come up with nothing.  He clearly wanted to be able to give a number or a few names of captured terrorists to corroborate his claim but fails.

Then the interview immediately shifts to Khalid Sheik Mohammed so we are left to assume his capture may have resulted from the enhanced interrogation techniques on Zubaydah.  This is not properly delved into by 60 Minutes at this point since we don’t know that to be true nor do we know if that capture came from the information the FBI got prior to the torture.

People don’t understand that this program was not about hurting anybody.

Wow.  People died because of the bodily harm inflicted by this program.  This statement is the equivalent of someone robbing a bank and in the process of robbing that bank, they shoot and kill everyone in the bank.  Then when they are put on trial their lawyer asks the murder charges to be thrown out because the crime committed was just about robbing the bank and “not about hurting anybody.”  Clever attempt to dance around that one, Mr. Rodriguez.  Sadistic, but clever.

But many of the tips from detainees reportedly led to blind alleys and expensive wild goose chases.

Jose Rodriguez: But the issue here was timing. We needed information and we needed it right away to protect the homeland.

Rodriguez is essentially saying the torture was virtually useless when we couple this revelation with an earlier point he made.  He stated a psychologist he consulted on torture techniques said it would usually take about thirty days to “break” someone and get pertinent information.  By this time, the info leading to other terrorists is likely irrelevant since the free terrorists would probably move from their locations in the interest of their own safety when they realize someone has been caught who knows their whereabouts.  Rodriguez is also contradicting himself and the idea of the ticking time bomb scenario with the thirty days revelation.

Lesley Stahl: Now, here’s what I heard: that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed told you the courier had retired and threw you off the scent for a while.

Jose Rodriguez: That was the one secret he was going to take to the grave, and that was the protection of the Sheikh. He was not going to tell us.

The courier they are speaking of here is the one that eventually led to Osama bin Laden.  An important point since Rodriguez is admitting torture failed on KSM and, not only did it fail, he also shows they had no idea when someone was lying to them even when being tortured.  A very poor defense for torture considering KSM is usually the prime example of torture allegedly “working.”

Then comes the most fascinating part of this interview: the discussion of the tapes that recorded the “enhanced interrogation” of Zubaydah and their destruction by Rodriguez.

The reason why we taped Abu Zubaydah was because we– he was very wounded when he was captured. And we feared that he was gonna die in captivity. So we wanted to show the world that we actually had nothing to do with his death. That you know, he died on his own.

First off, I’m assuming he was saying the “died on his own” part tongue-in-cheek.  I haven’t known many people to get wounded by another person then ‘die on their own’ because of the wounds inflicted by someone else.

But the bigger question here is why tape the interrogation then destroy it?  Zubaydah was one of the first relatively big captures in the War on Terror and was also one of the first to be tortured.  Rodriguez claims he destroyed the tapes so they could not be used as propaganda and to protect the identities of his agents in the videos.  If they were only making people “uncomfortable for a few days” and it was “not about hurting anybody”, why would the tapes be propaganda?  Answer: because it’s actually torture.  And the idea he was protecting his agents’ identities?  Was the CIA not familiar with blurring stuff out of videos?  Could they really not hire a 10-year-old with a computer and video editing software to do this one for them?  And if they had a video of Zubaydah giving the location of 9/11 mastermind KSM, wouldn’t this be the best justification of their techniques?

Since Rodriguez gives no real defense of why he destroyed the tapes, I’ll give one considering the evidence we are given.  He destroyed the tapes of the Zubaydah interrogation because torture wasn’t working on him and they wanted no record showing their embarrassment of the false information they believed and followed around the world wasting a ton of money and resources.  If the tapes existed and showed the FBI was right and he was wrong, he and everyone in the government advocating torture over the past decade would be shamed forever.

Which leads us to one last point.  If this were to be true, it would have been even more vicious than the idea of torture itself to continue the program when you know it to be a failure.  And they did continue it…