A dirty bomb from Pakistan? Or a dirty trick from Washington?

  • From: "Muslim-News" <editor_@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <submit@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Mon, 17 Jun 2002 12:05:14 +0100

Just as the heat was building on the CIA and FBI over failures of
intelligence-gathering, up popped a brand new suspect. Rupert Cornwell
smells a rat 

It sure sent a jolt through the United States. Yet last week's much
ballyhooed arrest of the "dirty bomb" suspect Jose Padilla now seems,
like other developments in the "war against terror", to have been a
political device of the Bush administration – designed to distract
attention from US intelligence failures and solidify support behind
President Bush. 

For who, exactly, is Mr Padilla, aka Abdullah al-Muhajir? Is he a highly
trained al-Qa'ida operative who was about to explode a radioactive
"dirty" bomb in Washington DC, as the US attorney general, John
Ashcroft, would have us believe? Or a Chicago street punk of no great
danger to anyone? 

With each passing day, the latter looks more likely. No plot and no
accomplices have been discovered, despite Mr Padilla having been in
detention for more than a month before his existence was revealed to the
nation, which duly panicked. 

As the New York Times said on Thursday, quoting some of those unnamed
"US officials" who abound in the nation's press, he was "an unlikely
terrorist, a low-level gang member with no technical knowledge of
nuclear materials who was arrested long before he represented a
significant terrorist threat". 

And why, if it was as important as Mr Ashcroft claimed, was his arrest
kept secret for five weeks – only for the attorney general to reveal it
while in Moscow of all places? 

Some might claim the venue was oddly apt, though. With his fierce
prosecutorial zeal and taste for scary hyperbole, Mr Ashcroft calls to
mind Andrei Vyshinsky, the infamous prosecutor at Stalin's show trials,
whose prime contribution to 20th-century legal doctrine was the
"presumption of guilt" against those unfortunate enough to be in his

For "enemy of the people" read "enemy combatant", as Mr Padilla, a US
citizen, has now been designated. He sits in a naval prison in South
Carolina, presumed guilty but not charged with any criminal offence.
Indeed, Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary, has acknowledged that he
may never be charged. Mr Padilla's lawyers responded to that statement
with a petition to the courts, saying their client's detention without
time limit or the right to counsel should be "a constitutional concern
to everyone". 

No one would dispute the US's right to defend itself against terrorists,
nor that this shadowy struggle, "asymmetric" in the jargon of conflict
experts, demands exceptional, equally shadowy means. But Mr Padilla's
fate is currently shared by hundreds of non-Americans, mostly Arab
individuals, swept up in dragnets in the days and weeks following 11
September, and nine months later still in detention on the most minor of
charges. The only difference is, no one knows their names. 

One thinks also of Lotfi Raissi, an Algerian pilot whose one stroke of
good luck was to be arrested in Britain, not the US. He was picked up at
his home near Heathrow airport on 21 September 2001, and Mr Ashcroft's
Justice Department instantly demanded his extradition on the grounds
that he had trained some of the 11 September hijackers. 

But not a shred of evidence was ever forthcoming from Washington, beyond
the fact that Mr Raissi was an Arab and had trained at an Arizona flight
school at roughly the same time as Hani Hanjour, one of the hijackers of
American Airlines Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon. In
February he was released on bail, and in April his case was thrown out
entirely. Had he been in the US, however, he would undoubtedly still be
rotting quietly in jail. 

But the fanfare around Mr Padilla served Mr Bush's purposes perfectly.
Forgotten were the host of clues missed by the FBI and the CIA before 11
September. The US was on full nuclear terror alert, ready once more to
take the President's word for anything and to support his plans for a
new super-ministry for domestic security. 

Recent "revelations" about Khalid Almidhar, another of the AA77
hijackers, are equally instructive, albeit for different reasons. More
unnamed officials told Newsweek magazine that Almidhar was spotted by
the CIA at a meeting of al-Qa'ida operatives in Malaysia in January
2000. But the CIA, it seemed, failed to alert other agencies, including
the immigration services who might have picked him up on entry into the

But wait. A few days later, other intelligence sources disclosed, this
time to the Washington Post, that the CIA had in fact told the FBI. By
now an alert reader will have divined that the disclosures have less to
do with the fight against terrorism than with the equally entrenched
fight between the FBI and the CIA. And as armistice breaks out between
them, in reaction to their having had their heads banged together by the
Bush administration, blame is being shifted beyond US shores. 

Take Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the al-Qa'ida operative whom other
anonymous counter-terrorism officials named early this month as a prime
organiser of the 11 September attacks. Those officials claimed he was in
Germany before the attacks, liaising with Mohamed Atta, who flew the jet
into the north tower of the World Trade Centre. 

The only problem is, the Germans know nothing about it – and when they
ask Washington for further information, none is forthcoming. But that is
a secondary consideration. The finger now points to Berlin, not Langley,
where the CIA is based, or FBI headquarters in Washington. Increasingly,
for the two secretive agencies engaged in the US's "war on terror",
anything goes. 

If the face fits... 

Lotfi Raissi 
Arrested: 21 September 2001. 
Problem: Global coalition in doubt. Polls show America blames FBI and
CIA for not stopping al-Qa'ida. 
Solution: Arrests all over world, including this Algerian in England.
Terrorism charges dropped after five months in prison. 

Khalid Almidhar 
Revealed: 4 June 2002. 
Problem: Washington hearings begin, asking who knew what. 
Solution: Press tipped off that CIA passed name and passport number of
this future hijacker to FBI by email in January 2000. 

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed 
Reward offered: 5 June 2002. 
Problem: Global condemnation of decision to photograph and fingerprint
visitors from high-risk countries in Middle East. 
Solution: FBI offers £18m reward for capture of this 37-year-old
Kuwaiti, mastermind of 11 September attacks. 

Abdullah al-Muhajir 
"Arrested": 10 June 2002 
Problem: Derision for new Department of Homeland Security. Unease about
treatment of Arabs grows. 
Solution: Arrest of this "dirty bomber" announced. But in reality he had
been in custody for a month already. 

Source:  The Indepenedent on Sunday

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