Thursday, January 17, 2008
WAPO OUTS THAILAND IN CIA KERFUFFLE (updated)
n a story published yesterday, the Washington Post has again revealed classified intelligence information derived from unnamed sources, identified as "current and former US officials." While the Post carefully guarded the confidentiality and security of their anonymous leakers, it wasn't shy about confirming what had only been a rumour until now -- and in the process compromising the security of an allied country.
In late 2005, the retiring CIA station chief in Bangkok sent a classified cable to his superiors in Langley asking if he could destroy videotapes recorded at a secret CIA prison in Thailand that in part portrayed intelligence officers using simulated drowning to extract information from suspected al-Qaeda members.The Washington Post may not be aware, but here's a news bulletin for them: Thailand has a serious Islamist terrorism problem, and it's been worsening for the past 4 or 5 years. On Tuesday a terrorist bomb in the south injured nearly 40 innocent people and the day before, terrorists ambushed a Thai Army teacher protection squad, beheading one and killing 8 soldiers in total. There is a reason for Thailand to want to help in the international struggle against terrorist crazies, and there is also a reason for the country wishing to keep some of this help confidential.
While "secret CIA prison" makes a good catch phrase, conjuring up nebulous fantasies of a heavily guarded mini-Guantanamo hidden away somewhere in the Thai jungle, it's far more likely to be a secure cell or two at a legitimate military installation. But the media-popularized phrase is so much more thought provoking.
Abu Zubaida (real name Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein) and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri were captured in 2002, and both men were high ranking al Qaeda officers -- shown here in the second tier of most wanted terrorists, on either side of the Zarkman (deceased) and well ahead of Hambali (captured in Thailand in 2003). Zubaida is listed as a Palestinian al Qaeda Operational Planner and al-Nashiri as a Saudi al Qaeda Persian Gulf Operational Coordinator. Both are now held at the real Guantanamo, where they've been getting fat with Australian jihadi David Hicks (now released, in all his fullness). Have you seen the menus? They eat better than their guards.
Al-Nashiri was convicted and sentenced to death by a court in Yemen for his central role in the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole (17 US servicemen lost their lives), and is believed to have been involved in the US embassy bombings in Africa as well as other attacks. Abu Zubaida was a chief recruiter for al Qaeda since the early 1990's, and played a lead role in the foiled 2000 millennium attacks. He was sentenced to death by a Jordanian court for a nearly successful massive bombing plot in Amman in 1999, and he is believed to have taken over Muhammad Atef's position as al Qaeda's chief military strategist after Atef's death in 2001.
America stands accused of putting water up their noses, and Thailand has been outed as an accomplice.
Now, waterboarding is certainly not a nice thing to do to someone, but I can't quite figure out why anyone should need to be nice to people like this. The information gained from one or both of these creeps has resulted (at the very least) in the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, and the saving of lives -- how many lives we'll never know. The cost has been (if the published research is to be believed) the infliction of about half a minute of reflexive panic on a couple of low-life murderers. Oh yeah, as well as the months and years of public hand wringing over "torture."
This "interrogation technique" is so panic-inducing, and safe, that it's included in the standard training for many US personnel in certain defence services. The sensation of water going up the nose triggers an involuntary panic reflex, but after the jihadi spills his beans and catches his breath, he walks back to his cell fully intact and healthy. Apart from the mental anguish as he asks himself, "Why the hell did I tell them that?"
But many people consider water up the nose as torture, no less than real torture which leaves victims disfigured, crippled or dead. Such as the torture methods used regularly by Chinese prison guards in Tibet, facilitated by ingenious devices straight out of the dark ages. Fingernail pullers, thumb screws, hoisting recalcitrant lama lovers up by the arms in contortions designed to cause excruciating dislocations, as well as more elaborately macabre implements for physical injury. A partial inventory of these devices have been smuggled out of Tibet as proof. And not to forget more modern technology, such as the electrified cattle prods which are rammed into mouths, and any other human orifice (Buddhist nuns and women are at particular risk in that area).
So if water up the nose gets the same label as those methods, then either we need a new term for actual torture, or start calling pseudo-torture by a less loaded term. Because if water in the nose is on par with an electric cattle prod up the hoo-hah, then maybe when an incarcerated jihadi hears, "Habib, there will be no cake for you tonight," that's torture too. Particularly if they play a lot of Barry Manilow to him at night.
The tapes which have been so speculated about lately, had been kept in a safe at US embassy Bangkok. The departing station chief wanted to have the issue resolved before he left his post, and given that this was the same late 2005 period when American newspapers were splashing "FLASH! Secret worldwide CIA prison system!" all over the front pages, the officers who appeared in the tapes were understandably anxious that they not fall into the wrong hands. Some things just don't belong on YouTube.
The director of clandestine operations at the time was Jose Rodriguez Jr., and he took the Bangkok station chief's request for a final decision. Since 2002 the CIA had wanted to destroy the tapes, as their usefulness to psychological investigators was finished and the agency wanted to protect the identities and lives of its officers. In 2003 congressional intel committees' leaderships (of both parties) were informed of the intent to destroy them, and in 2005 CIA lawyers reiterated to the clandestine service that they had the right to destroy them. It was legal to do so. So Rodriguez, having no orders to preserve them, and assured that he had the legal authority to decide, gave the station chief the go ahead. His lawyer told the Post, "It is unfortunate that under the pressure of a Congressional and criminal investigation, history is now being revised, and some people are running for cover."
The perpetually outraged will certainly continue to try to pin this on President Bush, but...
Congressional investigators have turned up no evidence that anyone in the Bush administration openly advocated the tapes' destruction, according to officials familiar with a set of classified documents forwarded to Capitol Hill. "It was an agency decision -- you can take it to the bank," CIA Director Michael V. Hayden said in an interview on Friday. "Other speculations that it may have been made in other compounds, in other parts of the capital region, are simply wrong."I felt rather angry with our former PM Thaksin, when on September 12, 2001 he told the world, "In this matter (jihad terror), Thailand is neutral." After recovering from that brain-fart and picking a side, he eventually allowed some Thai engineering and medical battalions to help out in Iraq. He further shocked the nation when he asserted that if so much as one jihadi were to take a shot at a Thai soldier, he would immediately withdraw them all. It was as if he personally had painted a bullseye on the back of each uniform. He was shamed into correcting himself again. Several Thai servicemen have been killed in Iraq.
Thanks to the Washington Post for painting a bullseye on the whole of Thailand, now known in jihadi circles as the Land of Secret CIA Prisons.
UPDATE: The Bangkok Post has some further information from local sources. Both Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Khaled Sheikh Mohammed were here as well.
Sources in Thailand have confirmed to Bangkokpost.com the following interrogations:
- Abu Zubaida, detained on March 28, 2002, was the first Osama bin Laden henchman captured after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the US. He was wounded in a firefight in Pakistan when he was brought to Thailand, according to well-placed sources. At a warehouse on an airbase, Zubaida received both treatment for wounds - and harsh questioning, including being placed in a cold room with ear-splitting, loud music. According to published reports, Zubaida received the so-called water-boarding interrogation, which simulates drowning. The destroyed videotapes reportedly showed that he begged for mercy and began cooperating with interrogators and two American psychologists who participated in the interrogation after 0.31 seconds of water-boarding.
- Khaled Sheikh Mohammed was captured by Pakistani security forces in a gunbattle on Sept 11, 2002, escaped, and was recaptured unhurt in Rawlpindi in 2003. He was flown almost immediately to Thailand. He was the mastermind of many attacks worldwide including the September 11, 2001, airline suicide flights in New York and Washington. He was interrogated shortly after his arrival in Thailand, and within one or two seconds of water-boarding agreed to cooperate. Since then, Khaled has been described as a fount of information on al-Qaeda and its worldwide operations, including in Southeast Asia where he set up the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group in the Philippines.
- Ramzi bin al-Shibh, another 9/11 planner, was captured in Pakistan in the same Karachi raid as Khaled, in a firefight that took place on the first anniversary of the attacks in the US. He was turned over to Americans, who flew him to Thailand. It is not clear whether his interrogation was videotaped.