The United States sent home to Sudan on Tuesday one of Guantánamo’s longest-held prisoners, a 52-year-old confessed al Qaida foot soldier and sometime driver for Osama bin Laden whose release was seen as a crucial test case of the Barack Obama-era war court.
Ibrahim al Qosi pleaded guilty to terror charges in July 2010 in exchange for the possibility of release after serving a two-year sentence.
U.S. troops spirited him from the remote base days after his war crimes sentence ran out and dropped him off in the capital city Khartoum about 8 p.m. Miami time Tuesday night, Wednesday in Sudan, U.S. government sources said.
The Pentagon has not yet disclosed the transfer — which reduced the number of foreign prisoners at the Navy base in Cuba to 168 — to give Sudanese officials time to put the returnee in a rehabilitation program in the Horn of Africa nation. But the repatriation demonstrated that the Obama administration is still in the business of deal-making and downsizing the prison camps even as the Defense Department is planning to spend $40 million on an undersea telecommunications cable to the base in southeast Cuba.
Now-grown “child soldier” Omar Khadr could go next, to a lock-up in his native Canada. The White House is also reportedly considering transferring some Taliban captives at Guantánamo to Afghanistan as part of a regional peace accord there.
The release of Qosi was the first of a convicted war criminal since the Bush administration sent home Yemeni Salim Hamdan in 2008. Qosi’s attorney argued the U.S. had no reason to fear the Sudanese man.
“He is now in his 50s, eager only to spend his life at home with his family in Sudan — his mother and father, his wife and two teenage daughters, and his brothers and their families — and live among them in peace, quiet and freedom,” said Washington, D.C., attorney Paul Reichler, who defended Qosi without charge for seven years.
Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez has tried for 10 months to conceal the fact that he is losing his bout with cancer, determined to appear in command of his revolutionary regime and the nation’s future. This past Holy Week, however, television cameras captured him pleading for his life before a crucifix in his hometown church, his mother looking on without the slightest glint of hope on her face. Chávez’s raw emotion startled his inner circle and led some to question his mental health. As a result, according to my sources inside the presidential palace, Minister of Defense Gen. Henry Rangel Silva has developed a plan to impose martial law if Chávez’s deteriorating condition causes any hint of instability.
Pretty dramatic stuff. So why isn’t anyone outside Venezuela paying attention? Some cynics in that country still believe Chávez is hyping his illness for political advantage, while his most fervent followers expect him to make a miraculous recovery. The democratic opposition is cautiously preparing for a competitive presidential election set for Oct. 7 — against Chávez or a substitute. And policymakers in Washington and most regional capitals are slumbering on the sidelines.
In my estimation, the approaching death of the Venezuelan caudillo could put the country on the path toward a political and social meltdown. The military cadre installed by Chávez in January already is behaving like a de facto regime determined to hold onto power at all costs. And Havana, Tehran, Moscow, and Beijing are moving to protect their interests. If U.S. President Barack Obama were to show some energetic engagement as Chávez fades, he could begin to put the brakes on Venezuela’s slide, reverse Chávismo‘s destructive agenda, and reclaim a role for the United States in its own neighborhood. But if he fails to act, there will be hell to pay.
Sources close to Chávez’s medical team tell me that for months, his doctors have been doing little more than treating symptoms, trying to stabilize their workaholic patient long enough to administer last-ditch chemo and radiation therapies. In that moment of Chávez’s very public prayer for a miracle, he set aside his obsession with routing his opposition or engineering a succession of power to hardline loyalists. Perhaps he knows that his lieutenants and foreign allies are behaving as if he were already dead — consolidating power, fashioning a “revolutionary junta,” and plotting repressive measures.
The buildup to this weekend’s sixth Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, has been rife with drama. Ecuador’s left-wing president, Rafael Correa, announced that he will skip the 34-country conference because it excludes Cuba, which does not belong to the Organization of American States (membership requirement: democracy). The presidents of El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua sparred publicly with the president of Guatemala over a drug legalization proposal. And not to be outdone, Cuba’s Fidel Castro ridiculed U.S. President Barack Obama‘s reported plan to wear a guayabera — a light tropical dress shirt originating in Cuba — at the summit.
Yet for all the hoopla, the summit will likely produce little of substance. There are already reports that officials will sidestep hot-button issues such as drug policy and the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands. In fact, this is in keeping with the way these gatherings typically play out in Latin America, a land in which a dizzying array of acronymed intergovernmental organizations host an endless but ultimately empty parade of summits.
Sure, there have been some successes. The inaugural Summit of the Americas in 1994 marked a high point of goodwill between the United States and Latin American countries (Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and his like-minded allies had yet to assume power) and launched a proposal — never realized — for a free-trade bloc stretching from “Alaska to Argentina.” The third Summit of the Americas in 2001 produced the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which emphasized the importance of democratic institutions in the Americas.
But the summits are more often remembered for temper tantrums and mischievous antics by government leaders — with Chávez in particular at the center of many of the tempests. If past Latin American summits are any guide, we should expect some serious sparks to fly in Cartagena. Here are some of the least auspicious moments from summits past.
What: Ibero-American Summit
Where: Asunción, Paraguay
Meltdown: The annual gathering of leaders from the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking nations of Europe and the Americas was marred by the absence of several heads of state, including Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff and Argentina’s Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who claimed they had to prepare for an upcoming — and implicitly more important — G-20 summit in France.
The poor attendance — and surely the optics of their king and prime minister mingling with lower level officials — enraged Spanish news outlets, which deemed the summit a demoralizing failure. “The summit has become redundant for Latin American powers, who already have their own voice in other, more global forums,” La Voz de Galicia lamented.
As the bill neared final passage in the House of Representatives and the Senate on Wednesday, the Obama administration announced it would support passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which contains slightly watered-down provisions giving the military a front line role in domestic terrorism cases.
The administration abandoned its long-held veto threat due to changes in the final version of the bill, namely that in its view, the military custody mandate has been “softened.” The bill now gives the President the immediate power to issue a waiver of the military custody requirement, instead of the Defense Secretary, and gives the President discretion in implementing these new provisions. Continue reading
Iranian television has broadcast a video of a U.S. drone that Tehran claims to have brought down on its territory, and it’s probably safe to say that the images are the stuff of U.S. intelligence officials’ nightmares.
But what? Possibly what until now were highly guarded U.S. advances in covert intelligence gathering.
Iran’s alleged capture of the drone represents more than just a huge propaganda prize for the regime, which has long been hostile to the United States. It also could be a bonanza of secret U.S. military technology so sensitive that U.S. officials briefly considered going into Iran to try and retrieve the downed aircraft, according to a report in “The Wall Street Journal.” The operation was rejected as too risky.
U.S officials have acknowledged the loss of the plane, but a Pentagon spokesman told reporters on December 8 that officials were “not going to talk about these kinds of missions and these kinds of capabilities.”
But U.S. and foreign officials briefed on the matter told the “The New York Times” that the RQ-170 Sentinel drone was at the center of a secret program to gather information on possible Iranian nuclear sites.
Top-Secret Treasure Trove
The same day that the Iranian drone video surfaced, U.S. President Barack Obama reiterated his commitment to working with the international community to “prevent” Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons if they are indeed pursuing them, as many Western governments have concluded but Tehran denies.
“If they [Iran] are pursuing nuclear weapons, then I have said very clearly: That is contrary to the national security interests of the United States, it is contrary to the national security interests of our allies, including Israel, and we are going to work with the world community to prevent that,” Obama said in remarks intended in part to address criticism from the field of aspiring Republican contenders in next year’s presidential election. Continue reading
Almost a decade after the first people designated enemy combatants were locked away at Guantánamo Bay, the White House and Congress are again at loggerheads over the detention of suspected terrorists.
The Senate voted last Thursday to authorize indefinite detention without trial, and to mandate that suspected terrorists linked to al-Qaida and its affiliates who are not U.S. citizens be held and prosecuted only by the military.
Despite a bit of wiggle room in that requirement, the Senate bill would essentially prohibit using the civilian justice system’s courts and prisons in those instances, even for suspects taken into custody in the United States — and even though federal courts have proved far more effective than military commissions at convicting and sentencing terrorists. More than 300 people have been convicted of terror-related charges in federal courts since 9/11. Only six of about 776 men detained at Guantánamo since 2002 have been put on trial and convicted by military commissions, 598 have been transferred or released to other countries, seven died in custody and 171 remain incarcerated.
President Barack Obama said he will veto the $662-billion defense authorization bill, which passed the Senate by a bipartisan 93-7 vote, if the detainee provisions survive reconciliation with a House bill that was passed in July. He should. The House version also ties the president’s hands, by continuing to block the transfer of detainees from Guantánamo to the United States for imprisonment or trial by denying funding for those purposes. Continue reading
Monday, November 14 2011, 12:11 AM
In public Sunday, President Obama was at a summit unsuccessfully leaning on Russia and China to back diplomatic efforts to curb Iran’s nuke program.
In private Sunday, there was more evidence of an efficient and brutal covert operation that continues to degrade Iran’s military capabilities.
Iranian officials revealed that one of the 17 men killed in a huge explosion at a munitions depot was a key Revolutionary Guard commander who headed Iran’s missile program. And the IRNA state news agency reported that scientists had discovered a new computer virus in their systems, a more sophisticated version of the Stuxnet worm deployed last year to foul up Iran’s centrifuges.
Iran said the army base explosion was an accident and the new Duqu virus was contained. But Israeli newspapers and some U.S. experts said it appeared to be more from an ongoing secret operation by the CIA and Israel’s Mossad to eliminate Iran’s nuclear threat.
The covert campaign encompasses a series of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists since 2007 and a similar explosion at another Iranian missile base two years ago both widely attributed to the Mossad.
“May there be more like it,” was all Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said when Army Radio asked about the new blast.
There was a third mysterious event: The son of a top Iranian hard-liner was found dead — a seeming suicide — in a Dubai hotel on Sunday. His father called it “suspicious” and linked to the base explosion, without elaborating.
Israel was accused of deploying the 11 agents who killed a top Hamas terrorist in a Dubai hotel last year. Continue reading
The U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq is cutting off vital intelligence bases and listening posts that have played a key role in clandestine operations that have scored major successes in the global counter-terrorism campaign.
The Central Intelligence Agency, which until recently operated outside the military establishment, is expected to stay on in various guises within the 17,000 U.S. personnel who will remain under State Department jurisdiction.
The CIA has become increasingly militarized since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, and most of its establishment — including a heavily enlarged paramilitary division — is engaged in the counter-terrorism battle to one degree or another.
And with Gen. David Petraeus, the former military commander in Iraq and Afghanistan who wrote the army’s counter-insurgency manual, now the director of the CIA, the agency can be expected to maintain some covert operations. Continue reading
Not quite yet. But a new study suggests how it may one day be possible.
BY JOSHUA E. KEATING | SEPTEMBER 16, 2011
On Dec. 6, 1941, the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS), a radio monitoring operation set up by the U.S. intelligence community and one of the earliest experiments in what it now called open-source intelligence, delivered its very first report, an analysis of Japanese media sentiment. The report noted that Japanese radio stations had sharply increased their level of criticism of the United States and dropped their calls for peace. The next day, Pearl Harbor was attacked.
U.S. President Barack Obama (left) with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari at the White House in May 2009
July 22, 2011
By Daud Khattak
If you’ve been following the news lately, you probably know that the relationship between Pakistan and the United States has been going through a rough patch.
Pakistani officials accuse the Americans of rampant and unauthorized spying, as dramatized in the case of the CIA contractor Raymond Davis, who shot two Pakistanis in the city of Lahore earlier this year. Protesters denounce drone attacks that kill innocent civilians as well as terrorists.