It has been nearly 18 years since the terrorist attack on September 11, slaughtered thousands of New Yorkers and virtually demolished the area surrounding the Twin Towers. But World Trade Center developer Larry Silverstein Opens a New Window. said the rebuilding of the trade center is almost completed.
“It’s been the biggest challenge of my life and it’s only taken us 18 years to this point,” Silverstein told FOX Business’ Stuart Varney Opens a New Window. on Monday. “We have another few years to go before we are finished.”
9/11 hearings at Guantánamo delayed after judge flown out for eye surgery
January 30, 2019
Judge Keith Parrella flown out of Cuban military base for surgery after initial delay that wife blamed on insurance dispute.
The military tribunal hearings against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other alleged 9/11 conspirators have been stalled after the judge was flown out for emergency eye surgery.
At 7pm on Tuesday evening Parrella summoned defence and prosecution lawyers and informed them he was being flown out of the US military base in south-east Cuba back to the mainland for urgent medical treatment.
The judge was flown out on Wednesday, after his wife, Jennifer Parrella, tweeted overnight to accuse the military’s medical insurance provider, for a delay which she said threatened her husband’s sight in one eye.
Kevin Dwyer, a spokesman for the Defence Health Agency, said on Wednesday that “at no time” did the insurance company refuse to evacuate the patient.
“A lack of available aircraft briefly delayed the medical evacuation, but this situation has been rectified,” Dwyer said. “The Department will work to ensure future extraction delays are avoided.”
The Office of Military Commissions issued a brief statement that read: “Due to a medical issue impacting the military judge’s ability to work, the rest of the session is cancelled.”
Parrella was made judge in the 9/11 case last August, taking control of a case that has been dogged by false starts, procedural delays and controversy over the military commissions themselves. The defendants, accused of having orchestrated the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon killing nearly 3,000 people, were first charged in 2008. But the case is still in its preliminary phase, with a trial not expected to begin before 2020 at the earliest.
Much of the contention is testimony from the defendants obtained after long periods of torture in CIA “black sites” before they were flown to Guantánamo.
Parrella’s fitness to try the case is being challenged in federal court by defence lawyers for failing to disclose the extent of prior relationships with members of the prosecution team.
On Monday one of the defendants, Ramzi bin al-Shibh – a Yemeni accused of arranging for some of the hijackers to go to flight school in the US and helping finance the operation – challenged Parrella’s authority to preside over the court.
The defendant had raised a similar objection before, but on this occasion Parrella appeared rattled by the challenge and said his attitude “could potentially put everyone in this room’s safety in jeopardy” – a claim that surprised defence lawyers, who interpreted it as a threat to shackle the prisoner.
On the same day, defence lawyers threatened to boycott proceedings over what they said was aggressive FBI questioning of a legal assistant who had left Guantánamo in December.
On Tuesday, Parrella heard opposing arguments over whether the testimony of a former defence interpreter could be heard in open court. Defendants had claimed they had seen the interpreter at a “black site” and it was confirmed he had worked for the CIA. Defence lawyers have been seeking to question him on whether he had been CIA infiltrator. Parrella ruled that the hearing would have to be held behind closed doors.
Saifullah Paracha, the oldest prisoner in Guantánamo Bay, will probably die in detention without ever being charged. His son is currently in a US prison. Both have been in custody for almost 15 years, accused of aiding al-Qaida. But did they?
(Full text of article follows, minus photos.)
On a summer day in 2003, a wealthy middle-aged businessman arrived at Karachi airport to board a flight to Bangkok. Saifullah Paracha was heading to the Thai capital to join his American business partner for a meeting with buyers for Kmart, the retail chain.
His wife accompanied him to the airport. The Parachas – Saifullah, Farhat and their four children – lived across town, in the upscale Karachi neighbourhood, Defence. Saifullah’s 14-year-old son, Mustafa, loved gaming, and had asked his father to bring him back a graphics card for his computer from Bangkok.
Forever prisoners: were a father and son wrongly ensnared by America’s war on terror? – podcast
Saifullah’s eldest son, Uzair, wasn’t there to say goodbye. Earlier that year, the Paracha family had been shocked by the news that Uzair, who was 23, had been arrested by the FBI in New York. Farhat thought that he might have been detained because of the paranoia about Asians, especially Muslims, in the US after 9/11.
A few hours later, Saifullah’s plane landed safely at Bangkok airport – but he never made it to his meeting. Instead, as he left the airport, he was captured in an FBI-led operation. From there, he was transported to Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, where he learned that he was accused of aiding al-Qaida. US authorities claimed that he had, among other activities, facilitated financial transactions for senior al-Qaida members and tried to help them smuggle explosives into the US.
Fifteen years later, Saifullah is still in US custody. He has not been charged with a crime. At 71, he is the oldest prisoner at Guantánamo Bay detention camp, where he has been held since 2004. Saifullah has never had a chance to see the full extent of what he has been accused of, let alone properly defend himself in court. He has not been tried by a military commission, but nor has he been cleared for release by a review board. “There are no charges against him at this time,” a defense department spokesperson told me when asked about charges against Saifullah. “I cannot speculate about the future.”
Guantánamo once held more than 650 men; today, only 40 remain, some of whom have been nicknamed “forever prisoners”. The majority were transferred out or released by successful legal petitions during the Bush and Obama administrations. Nine detainees have died at Guantánamo, including seven from apparent suicide. “Guantánamo has come to symbolise torture, rendition and indefinite detention without charge or trial,” Erika Guevara Rosas, director for the Americas at Amnesty International, said in a statement earlier this year. “Its closure is both essential and long overdue.” Yet Donald Trump, who campaigned on a promise to keep the prison open and “load it up with some bad dudes”, has shut down the state department office charged with negotiating detainee release. The current US policy on Guantánamo, according to Daniel Fried, an Obama-era envoy for the closure of the prison, appears to be: “Keep it as it is, and repeat that these are all dangerous terrorists.”
Over the years, detainees have gone on hunger strike a number of times, with authorities responding by force-feeding them. “Maybe I will lose my sight, and go blind – but in here I have nothing to see,” Ahmed Rabbani, a Pakistani detainee on hunger strike, wrote last year in an op-ed for the Pakistani newspaper Dawn. “We have lost our sanity, our health, our humanity and our dignity,” Shaker Aamer, the last British resident to be held at Guantanamo, said in 2013. Saifullah once described life at Guantánamo as “being alive in your own grave”.
In New York, 1,432 miles away, Saifullah’s son Uzair is serving a 30-year prison sentence on charges of providing material support for terrorism by helping an al-Qaida member. Back in Pakistan, the Paracha family have become pariahs, abandoned by all but a tiny circle of friends and relatives. Yet both father and son insist they are innocent, claiming that they did not realise that the men they were helping were al-Qaida operatives, since they had assumed false identities. In separate interrogations, the alleged al-Qaida members they are accused of helping have said the same thing, claiming that the Parachas had no knowledge of who they were involved with.
For 15 years, Saifullah and Uzair have been held in different spheres of the US justice system, bound by the allegations against them. Guantánamo’s forever prisoners have receded from public consciousness – and even in Pakistan, the Parachas have largely been forgotten, except as a rarely mentioned cautionary tale of how urbane, educated men could be involved in militancy. It is almost as if, having disappeared into US prisons, father and son ceased to exist as anything but a statistic of the war on terror, forever labelled as terrorists. But that convenient narrative ignores one basic question: did they even commit a crime?
In the decades before he was captured, Saifullah Paracha had worked hard to achieve what you might call the Pakistani dream, opening several businesses – including a media production house and a factory that made cement bags – and gaining the trappings of the wealthy: a fancy house, numerous cars, household staff.
Saifullah grew up in poverty in a rural town in newly independent Pakistan. He made his way to Karachi for college, and in 1971, received funding from a youth organisation to study computer science at the New York Institute of Technology, as he told a tribunal at Guantánamo years later. His brother joined him while he was studying in the US.
Although Saifullah didn’t finish his degree, he stayed in the US, and in 1974, he and his brother bought a travel agency called Global Travel Services. Over time, they managed to make a comfortable living for themselves. Saifullah even bought a house in Jamaica Estates – the Queens neighbourhood that was also home to Donald Trump.
In New York, Saifullah met a Pakistani woman called Farhat, who was studying for a master’s degree in sociology at New York University. They married in 1979, and their first son, Uzair, was born in 1980, followed by their daughter, Muneeza. Around that time, Saifullah and Farhat gained permanent US residency, but in 1986, they relocated to Karachi; a relative told me that Saifullah wanted to establish his business in the city, and that he felt happier living in Pakistan. They had two more children, Mustafa and Zahra.
Unlike their father, Saifullah’s children grew up privileged, studying at the city’s best schools. They gained permanent US residency through their parents and regularly travelled to the US. Uzair, the eldest, went to a prestigious Karachi boys’ school, where he was known as a “burger” – 90s slang for westernised, rich Pakistani kids. “He had a goatee when this was considered to be an epitome of a burger kid’s outlook,” one of Uzair’s old schoolmates told me. “I remember he had friends who were girls and maybe a girlfriend. In a middle-class boys’ school, this was an inspiration and achievement!”
While his kids were studying, Saifullah was tending to his many commercial ventures, from his production house that sold original programming to Pakistani media networks, to a garment-buying house with a New York-based partner that facilitated shipments between Pakistan and the US. Saifullah donated to charitable causes and prayed regularly at a mosque affiliated with the prominent cleric Dr Israr Ahmed, who ran the Tanzeem-e-Islami, a conservative religious organisation. He helped build a hospital in his native district in the Punjab province, and chaired a group of small non-profits called the Council of Welfare Organization. His many business and charitable endeavours brought him into contact with Pakistan’s ruling classes – according to his son, Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif, the ex-prime minister of Pakistan and his influential brother, were among Saifullah’s acquaintances, though it’s possible he exaggerated how well connected he was.
Even though Saifullah was the youngest of nine siblings, over time he became the family patriarch who people turned to for advice and support. He was congenial, generous, high-spirited and a little self-important, cutting the figure of the quintessential Pakistani uncle who loves to talk and talk. When out at a restaurant, he would joke with the staff and give advice to the manager. Saifullah’s businesses had their lean moments, but he was always thinking up new ventures and areas of investment. And in pursuit of new business ideas and networking, he would travel and meet people. It was one of those trips, and a business card, that would change his life beyond belief.
In the 1990s, religious groups in Pakistan would sometimes organise trips to Afghanistan for businessmen, encouraging them to invest there. After the Taliban took power in 1996 – with the backing of Pakistani intelligence – Pakistan was one of only three countries to recognise the new Afghan government as legitimate, and several Pakistani officials and religious leaders had close relationships with Taliban leaders.
Between 1999 and 2001, Saifullah made three trips to Afghanistan, including with religious figures, delegations of businessmen and trustees from the Council of Welfare Organization, which he chaired. The Council’s website listed these trips as “delegations to Afghanistan to promote their economy, which has been shattered and destructed in the last two decades of war”. They are briefly described in the public records of Saifullah’s hearings at Guantánamo over the course of the past 15 years, but offer a confusing picture: the transcripts, particularly from the early years of his detention, consist of vaguely worded, occasionally incomprehensible, questions and answers. In some places, words are redacted or misspelt.
What is certain is that on one of these trips, in 1999 or 2000, Saifullah was part of a group of two dozen people who were granted an audience with Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaida leader who was then living in Afghanistan as a guest of the Taliban government. At the time, Bin Laden was wanted by US authorities for funding and organising numerous terrorist attacks, including the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Yet in Pakistan Bin Laden retained a degree of popularity, particularly among religious conservatives. In 1998, legislators from Pakistan’s Punjab province told US diplomats that Bin Laden had become a folk hero among their constituents after the US ordered a series of airstrikes against him in Afghanistan. But most Pakistani businessmen visiting the country did not get invited to meet Bin Laden, which suggests that Saifullah was indeed well connected.
The meeting with Bin Laden took place in Kandahar. “When I met Osama, he delivered [read] the Qur’an [presumably to the audience in the hall], and said he was a prophet,” Saifullah would later tell a hearing at Guantánamo. “He said nice things, very impressive.”
At the meeting, Saifullah seized the opportunity: he wanted to take advantage of Bin Laden’s celebrity by featuring him in a TV programme, talking about religion as a scholar. “I wanted to make a programme on a common personality between Christian, Judaism, and Islam,” Saifullah later told a Guantánamo review board hearing. “The programme was designed to try and reduce the gap between the international communities and the Muslim community as much as we can,” he said at another hearing. Bin Laden had been interviewed several times before, including in 1997 by CNN, when he answered questions about why he had declared jihad against the US.
In Kandahar, Saifullah handed Bin Laden his business card, but when he returned to Pakistan he didn’t hear back from him. Saifullah returned to Afghanistan the next year, he later told a review board hearing, as part of another delegation that had an audience with Bin Laden. This time, the two did not speak.
In May 2001, with not a little self-importance, Saifullah wrote a five-page letter to George HW Bush, which was copied to George W Bush, in which he laid out the challenges for the Taliban government, asked for sanctions on Afghanistan to be lifted and suggested that the Taliban could help US tackle “communism, terrorism and controlling drugs”.
Later that year, after the September 11 attacks, Saifullah, who was in Pakistan, called his American business partner in New York to check he was safe and to offer his condolences. He also sent his condolences to the US consulate in Karachi. He even wrote a few letters to George W Bush, urging him to pursue peace in Afghanistan.
Then, in the summer of 2002, Saifullah received an unexpected visit at his office in Karachi from a man who had his business card – and claimed to have a message from Afghanistan. According to Saifullah’s testimony at a Guantánamo tribunal in 2016, the visitor, who introduced himself as Mir, wanted to know more about his idea for a TV programme featuring Bin Laden.
The two formed a seemingly casual acquaintance. Mir would come to meet Saifullah at his office, and they sometimes prayed and ate together. Saifullah didn’t make much of the fact that Mir claimed to help with Bin Laden’s media operations – in Pakistan, he would later recall, people often boasted about being close to Osama bin Laden. Perhaps someone more paranoid or cautious would not have entertained Mir, but Saifullah does not seem to have thought much of it. While Pakistan had by then become an ally of the US in the “war on terror”, within the country there was still some support for Bin Laden, as well as for homegrown militant networks fighting against India in the disputed territory of Kashmir.
Over the next few months, Mir asked Saifullah for a few favours, such as helping him open a bank account in Karachi. Mir also gave Saifullah up to $200,000 to hold as a potential investment, which Saifullah returned when asked in November 2002. Mir also introduced Saifullah to a young associate of his named Mustafa, who would occasionally meet Saifullah to discuss technical details about media production, throwing in the odd question about making shipments to the US, though not letting on what he wanted to ship.
Later, Saifullah would say that he had thought Mir and Mustafa – who clearly had a lot of cash at their disposal – might be interested in his latest business venture, Cliftonia, a 330-apartment complex near Karachi’s seafront. Saifullah had committed to invest in the project, which was being developed by a local real estate company, and was looking to raise the finance by finding buyers for the flats.
During this time, Uzair was working at his father’s office in Karachi. While his fellow business school graduates were starting jobs at multinationals and banks, Uzair was planning to travel to New York to market Cliftonia to Pakistani-American expats. When Mir’s associate Mustafa learned that Uzair was heading to the US, he asked for a favour. He had a Pakistani acquaintance, who had come to the US with his family as a teenager in 1996, after his parents were granted asylum. This acquaintance was now living in Karachi and needed help sorting out the paperwork for his US residency status.
Saifullah says he didn’t think much of it: it was his kid helping out another Pakistani Muslim kid – of course Uzair would do it. Shortly before Uzair flew to New York, he and his father met up with Mustafa and the acquaintance who needed help, whose name was Majid Khan, at an ice-cream parlour. Khan gave Uzair a list of tasks: he had to pose as Khan and call the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) on a payphone, as well as close a post office box in Khan’s name, deposit money in his bank accounts, and use his credit cards. The purpose of these tasks, it seems, was both to give the impression that Khan was still in the US, while also helping Khan obtain the documents that would, in fact, enable him to return to the US from Pakistan.
On 17 February 2003, Uzair arrived in New York. During the days, he worked out of the office of his father’s business partner in Manhattan’s garment district; at night, he stayed with relatives in Brooklyn. At the time, Uzair was planning to propose to his girlfriend and had an engagement ring ready.
After Uzair had been in New York for a little while, Khan called him to ask if he’d made any headway. Uzair didn’t have much to report: he hadn’t had much luck getting through to the INS on the phone. He was later able to get through once, but because he didn’t have Majid’s details handy, he only received general information. He did not get round to the other tasks, such as using Khan’s credit cards or depositing money in his accounts.
Then, on 28 March 2003, Uzair was at his desk in Manhattan when agents of the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force walked into the office. Uzair was taken in for questioning and asked about Khan. At first, Uzair said he was just helping out a business contact of his father. But as the questioning continued into the early hours of the following morning, Uzair changed his story. He said that he knew that Majid Khan was a member of al-Qaida.
On 31 March, Uzair was placed under arrest.
In early March 2003, a few weeks before Uzair was arrested in New York, Saifullah claims he made a startling discovery. Watching TV in Pakistan, he saw a news report about a raid that had recently taken place in the city of Rawalpindi, in which a dishevelled and burly-looking man had been captured by security forces. When Saifullah saw his picture on the TV, he realised that the man he had known as Mir, the man who’d given him the $200,000 to hold, the man who had introduced his associate “Mustafa” to Saifullah, was anything but a potential investor. His real name was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and, as the alleged architect of the 9/11 attacks, he was one of the world’s most wanted men.
Uzair later told law enforcement agents that Saifullah had phoned him in New York, to tell him what had happened. Uzair asked Saifullah if he should get rid of Khan’s documents – presumably the driving licence and credit cards that were in his possession. Saifullah told him to keep them safe for the time being.
On 5 March 2003, Majid Khan was captured by Pakistani officials in Karachi. While in the custody of the Pakistani government, where he was allegedly tortured, Khan mentioned Uzair and Saifullah Paracha. This information made its way to the CIA site where Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was being interrogated, using torture techniques such as waterboarding, stress positions and sleep deprivation. According to the summary of the US Senate report on CIA torture, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was asked about the Parachas on 24 March 2003, after he had been waterboarded for the 15th time. He said that Saifullah had agreed with his associate Mustafa to use his business as a cover to smuggle explosives into the US. Four days later, Uzair was arrested.
“Mustafa” would turn out to be Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s nephew Ammar al-Baluchi. After being captured in Pakistan, Baluchi was also transferred to CIA custody, and tortured while under interrogation. But he would deny that the Parachas had anything to do with al-Qaida. According to CIA documents obtained by BuzzFeed earlier this year, Baluchi told US interrogators that Saifullah had “no relation to this business” – that is, no relation to al-Qaida. A document dated 2 May 2003 details an “interview” with Baluchi, where he described talking to Saifullah about media equipment and shipping but without any specifics.
Nonetheless, with Uzair under arrest already, US authorities still wanted to track down Saifullah. On 6 May 2003, the chief of operations for the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center wrote an email to the organisation’s lawyers: “we MUST have paracha arrested without delay and transferred to cia custody for interrogation using enhanced measures. i understand that paracha’s us person status makes this difficult, but this is dynamite and we have to move forward with alacrity. what do you need to do that?” (The unclassified summary of the Senate torture report does not make clear what, exactly, was “dynamite”.)
In late May 2003, Baluchi reaffirmed his earlier claims about the Parachas, claiming that Saifullah was “unwittingly being used”. Baluchi told interrogators that he was using his friendship with Saifullah as part of a plan to attack the US that he was developing with Majid Khan, which required knowledge about how to establish a business in Pakistan, or using Saifullah to do business with a company of Majid’s in the US.
Under further “enhanced” interrogation, Baluchi confirmed Saifullah’s claim that he had only discovered Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s true identity when he saw reports of the raid. Baluchi described Saifullah as “only a businessman who was sympathetic to the mujahideen” – but also claimed that Saifullah continued to meet with him, as a friend, even after Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s arrest. Notes from the interrogation state that Baluchi assumed at this point that Saifullah “probably knew [Baluchi’s] al-Qaida affiliation as well”. (To confuse matters further, in his own Guantánamo tribunal hearing four years later, Baluchi denied being a member of al-Qaida.)
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed after his capture in Rawalpindi, March 2003
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed after his capture in Rawalpindi, March 2003. Photograph: AP
Saifullah has insisted that he did not know that any of the men were al-Qaida operatives – though if he did meet Baluchi after Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s arrest, he was either very naive or very confident he was doing nothing wrong, given that he had been introduced to Baluchi by one of the world’s most wanted men.
It is difficult to know how much of the information obtained through interrogations and torture was actually true. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who remains in Guantánamo, subsequently said that he had lied under torture. Moreover, in the absence of a trial for Saifullah, and given the fact that the available testimony of key witnesses was obtained under torture, it is essentially impossible to make any claim for Saifullah’s innocence or guilt.
In the wake of his son’s arrest in New York, it seems that Saifullah had little idea that he, too, was a wanted man. Instead, he focused on Uzair. “My father was very, very distraught,” Mustafa Paracha, Uzair’s younger brother, recalled. Saifullah wrote to the US ambassador in Pakistan, seeking an appointment to clear his son’s name, though at this stage Uzair had not been charged with a specific crime. According to Mustafa Paracha, his father also spoke to Hamid Gul, the now-deceased former head of Pakistan’s spy agency who wielded influence among Pakistani militant groups and with the Afghan Taliban.
At the same time, Saifullah could not abandon his business commitments. When his business partner in New York asked him to come to Bangkok for a meeting, he went ahead and booked a flight. On 5 July 2003, as Saifullah’s family saw him off at the airport, Mustafa, who was 14 at the time, says he felt apprehensive. “I think he [Saifullah] had the idea that something was about to go wrong, but didn’t really have an idea what,” Mustafa said. As they left the airport, Mustafa had a “weird, impending feeling of doom”.
In Bangkok, as Saifullah left the airport, he was captured by masked men, who hooded him and bundled him into a car. According to his lawyer, Gaillard T Hunt, when Saifullah realised what was happening, “His first thought was: ‘This is an American operation. I’ll be all right.’”
Saifullah was taken to what was most likely a black site in Thailand operated by US intelligence agencies. “They blindfolded him and hung him up on hooks and cut his clothing off,” Hunt said. “He definitely was abused, at the first encounter there in Thailand. But his policy all along was ‘I’m completely innocent, I’ll talk to anybody. No need to use thumbscrews.’”
A few days after his capture, Saifullah was transported from Thailand to Bagram airbase in Afghanistan. A year later, he was transferred to Guantánamo. In 2004, Saifullah had a combatant status review tribunal hearing at Guantánamo, to determine whether or not he could be classified as an “enemy combatant”. If he was found to be an enemy combatant, he would remain at Guantánamo; if not, he would be transferred out.
At Saifullah’s tribunal hearing, a basic summary of unclassified evidence against him was set out. The allegations included that he had met Osama bin Laden twice, supported the Taliban and al-Qaida, been involved in a plan to smuggle explosives into the US, offered media facilities to al-Qaida, taken al-Qaida money for investment, and helped al-Qaida efforts to get hold of chemical and biological weapons.
Saifullah denied the allegations, save for the fact that he had met Bin Laden.
He was declared a combatant.
One key element of the case against Saifullah came from his son, Uzair. When he was first taken in for questioning at FBI offices in New York, Uzair had denied knowing that Majid Khan belonged to al-Qaida, and said he knew nothing about any terror plots. It wasn’t until 4am, after hours of questioning, that Uzair changed tack, telling law enforcement that he “wouldn’t be surprised” if his father were linked to al-Qaida, as Saifullah had met Bin Laden and described him as a “very humble guy”. That night, Uzair agreed to stay at a hotel, accompanied by FBI agents. It was not until the following morning that he was advised of his Miranda rights.
Over the next couple of days, as the questioning continued, Uzair offered more contradictory statements. After having denied he knew that Majid Khan was a member of al-Qaida, for instance, he then said he did know after all. Uzair went back to the night of the meeting at the ice-cream parlour in Karachi. That evening, when Khan had given Uzair a lift on his bike, he had allegedly hinted to Uzair how “good brothers” could help them out.
On 31 March, three days after he had voluntarily agreed to be questioned by law enforcement agents, Uzair was formally placed under arrest as a material witness.
Later, Uzair would claim that he had lied to law enforcement agents. At the time he was first questioned, Uzair was 23 years old and did not have a lawyer by his side. He claimed that his mobile phone was taken from him, he was subjected to a strip search, and that he was threatened with arrest or jail if he tried to invoke his right to a lawyer. (The government denies these accusations.) “I had already told them the truth and I did not go home,” he said at trial. “That is when I started lying.”
Uzair said he’d lied even after his arrest, with his lawyer, a government prosecutor and law enforcement agents present. He’d lied that his father was involved with al-Qaida, and about the alleged transactions and meetings between his father and members of al-Qaida.
In August 2003, Uzair was charged with providing material support to a terrorist organisation and for his assistance to Majid Khan – who, the government said, Uzair knew was an al-Qaida associate. He was held at the notoriously grim Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York for two-and-a-half years before his trial finally began. For most of this time, Uzair says, he was placed in solitary confinement. “About one in 10 guards treated us like human beings. About one in 10 hated us with a passion and terrorised us at every opportunity,” Uzair wrote in a chapter for Hell is a Very Small Place, a book about solitary confinement.
In autumn 2003 Uzair was offered a plea deal: five to eight years in jail if he pleaded guilty. He refused. In December 2003, he was put in an extreme form of solitary confinement, “special administrative measures”. One recent report described these measures as “the darkest corner of the US federal prison system, combining the brutality and isolation of maximum security units with additional restrictions that deny individuals almost any connection to the human world.”
Uzair felt this was a ploy to coerce him into taking the plea deal. His lawyers told him to take it. His relatives, who believed he was innocent, agreed, begging him to take the plea deal. But Uzair was adamant. “Basically, he did istikhara,” said one relative, who wished to remain anonymous, referring to a religious practice where a person prays for guidance. “And the istikhara did not say to take the plea deal. Which, you know … we tried our best.” The relative believes that the cruel treatment Uzair was subjected to made it impossible for him to make rational decisions.
At his trial, which finally began in November 2005, Uzair’s defence rested on the claim that although he did try to help Majid Khan obtain documents to allow him to enter the US, he did not realise that Khan was an al-Qaida terrorist or that he was plotting an attack on the US.
On 23 November 2005, Uzair was found guilty of providing material aid and financial support to al-Qaida terrorists. On 20 July 2006, he was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Karachi is a city of more than 14 million people, but it can feel like a small, gossipy town, particularly in wealthy neighbourhoods: everyone goes to the same few schools, belongs to the same social clubs and hangs out at the same cafes. As word spread about Uzair and Saifullah, people couldn’t quite fathom the news. After all, the Parachas were a wealthy family who, as far as their acquaintances and relatives knew, were religious but had no links to religious extremism or militant political movements.
“It was shocking,” Uzair’s schoolmate who remembered him as a “burger”, said in an email. “I always thought that if he would do anything bad that would be related to an overdose of booze or drugs which are considered to be the symbols of our liberal elites but it was completely the other way round. Islamic extremism and him??!?”
Although Karachi’s elite rally around some human rights causes, the fate of Guantánamo prisoners is not one of them. In the years after 9/11, many affluent Pakistanis embraced a selective amnesia about the recent past, backing the military regime of General Pervez Musharraf – who claimed to be promoting an “enlightened” and “moderate” Islam – while they turned a blind eye to the rendition of hundreds of men to US authorities and the enforced disappearances of Pakistanis by their own state. Even as homegrown militancy thrived, terrorism was, and is still, seen as a problem that only emerged after September 2001, rather than something that had existed, often with the support of the state, for decades.
The Parachas don’t fit into any of the stereotypes of the other Pakistanis who have been caught up in the war on terror: they’re not poor, nameless men who were mistakenly picked up in a warzone, nor do they seem like fanatical jihadist plotters. Instead, for many Pakistanis, Saifullah looks awkwardly like a typical wealthy businessman – whose meetings and contacts might not have sounded any alarm bells in Pakistan before 9/11.
After all, the Pakistani government dealt with the Taliban and other militant groups, militant leaders regularly appeared in the press, and well-connected businessmen wouldn’t have dreamed they’d be charged for associating with such figures. Saifullah made no secret of his meeting with Bin Laden – his son Mustafa told me that as a kid, before 9/11, he had even told his schoolfriends that his father had met Bin Laden.
With Saifullah at Guantanamo and Uzair in prison in the US, the Paracha family was torn apart. In Pakistan, Saifullah’s many contacts faded away, while relatives refused to come to their house. Uzair’s younger brother Mustafa remembers their attitude as “‘we don’t know you, we don’t want to know you, we don’t care about you, we never knew you’”. Religious organisations that Saifullah had supported now ignored Farhat, Saifullah’s wife, according to his niece.
Farhat was traumatised, recalls Zofeen Ebrahim, a journalist who interviewed her and other members of the family several times from 2006 to 2009. “She told me that she had gone through so much, that she was taking medical counselling, psychiatric help, she was in depression,” Ebrahim said. “But if you look at the family, they were such a normal family like yours or mine would be.”
At the time, the younger Paracha children were still in school, and Farhat and her eldest daughter, Muneeza – who went to the same business school as Uzair – dealt with legal appeals, gave interviews and tried to handle Saifullah’s business affairs. Farhat also worked hard to keep her children on the straight and narrow. When Mustafa “messed up his A-levels tremendously”, as he put it, his mother told him he had to step up. “I made a resolve at that point in time – I’m going to work really, really super hard,” Mustafa told me. “I need to catch up with people studying at Harvard, because I’m going to hold myself to the same standards. My mom worked really hard to keep me in that school, to keep me going in a certain way … ” But there were challenges: a business relationship that went south entangled the family in even more legal and financial problems.
Mustafa and his siblings graduated from university, forged successful careers, and a new family dynamic emerged, revolving around their mother and a close-knit circle of relatives and friends. Around 2017, after years of interviews and court hearings – and seeing nothing come of it – the Parachas mostly stopped speaking to the press. While they continue to support Uzair and Saifullah, in Karachi they will always be seen as “that family” and treated with suspicion or wariness. Earlier this year, they sold their house in Karachi and moved to a new city for a fresh start.
One of Uzair’s fondest memories of his past, back when the Parachas were still a prosperous and well-respected family, were the Eids of his childhood. It was a time when they would get together, a time when Saifullah would preside over dinners and check up on relatives. Those days are long gone.
At Guantánamo, the detainees have become a family of sorts and Saifullah has become something like an elderly uncle, who detainees call “chacha” (the Urdu word for uncle). He has taught informal business classes, advising detainees on the kinds of businesses they could develop after they were released. Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, his current lawyer from the non-profit Reprieve, describes Saifullah as a prolific letter-writer who communicates with prison authorities on detainee issues.
A guard post at the Guantánamo Bay detention centre in Cuba
A guard post at the Guantánamo Bay detention centre in Cuba. Photograph: Paul J Richards/AFP/Getty Images
Every month, Saifullah has a video call with his family, arranged by the International Committee of the Red Cross. They’re only allowed to share family news, and talk about things such as marriages, births, graduations and deaths. In the years Saifullah has been held at Guantánamo, three of his siblings have passed away. Saifullah tells his family he is well, and even makes the occasional joke, referring to Gitmo as “shitmo”. Even without access to the internet, he likes to stay up to date with the world. When Mustafa mentioned he was interested in renewable energy, Saifullah said he’d read a whole case study on the subject.
Periodic review-board tribunals – instituted by the Obama administration to review detainee cases and recommend further detention or transfer – have denied Saifullah release. On 25 September 2018, the review board ruled that detaining Saifullah remained necessary to protect against “a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States”. The statement said the factors that contributed to the board’s determination included his past involvement and interaction with al-Qaida members.
“The detainee statements regarding his mindset and potential for re-engagement are not credible in light of his continued minimization of his interactions with Al Qaeda, the change in justification for engaging with Al Qaeda, failure to exhibit any remorse for the actions he does acknowledge, and dishonesty in his responses to Board questions,” the statement read.
In the years since he was convicted, Uzair has lost hair and gained weight. He is now 38 years old, and his incarceration and solitary confinement have left him with deteriorating eyesight and claustrophobia. He served time at ADX Florence in Colorado – one of the US’s most notorious high-security prisons – and then at Terre Haute in Indiana.
Uzair approached his incarceration as a way of learning. He memorised the Qur’an, he studied Arabic, he read every Islamic book in the prison library – by his estimate, over 50,000 pages on everything from Islamic jurisprudence to Qur’anic sciences. He used to read the Economist, but hasn’t for a while, and occasionally gets copies of the Pakistani newspaper Dawn. Last year, he self-published a book called Secular Stagnation – an account of US economic history that explores the causes of the recession. “I am deeply grateful for the blessings that allowed it all to come to fruition,” he wrote in the acknowledgments, “so much of it was due to opportunities far beyond my control.”
Uzair says he does not regret his decision to turn down the plea deal. “Sometimes the loss is hard to bear but other times I have to remind myself that this was God’s will and I benefited a lot from my time in prison,” Uzair wrote to me recently. The experience of incarceration, Uzair says, has “been a lesson in humility, patience, reliance on Allah, and other important lessons in life.” To his family, Uzair comes across as particularly devout. He once argued with his younger sister over the phone about her adulation of the poet Rumi, who Uzair called a heretic.
“I am not sure I would enjoy the company of my younger self,” he wrote. “I have changed a lot.”
Fifteen years after Saifullah and Uzair were captured, their cases remain murky. Was Saifullah a devious financier, who, along with his son, knowingly helped terrorists who were planning to attack the US, or were they merely pawns in a plot they knew nothing about? Should Saifullah’s interaction with Bin Laden before 2001, and his dealings with a man that he knew was connected to Bin Laden, be seen as a sign of obvious guilt, or simply business meetings that many conservative Pakistanis wouldn’t have been alarmed by? The full extent of evidence against Saifullah is still classified, and Saifullah’s case in the US about the legality of his detention is still ongoing.
The Parachas have continued to insist on their innocence. Their claim, that they didn’t knowingly or deliberately provide assistance to al-Qaida, has become stronger with time, as more details have emerged in additional declassified documents as well as in the Senate torture report and previously unseen transcripts of tribunal hearings from Guantánamo. (In 2012, in exchange for a reduced sentence, Majid Khan pleaded guilty to war crimes, including working with al-Qaida and helping to plot terrorist attacks in the US. Ammar al-Baluchi is still in Guantánamo, awaiting trial.)
In a stunning reversal this summer, a US federal judge ruled that Uzair’s conviction should be thrown out, and granted him a new trial based on evidence that has emerged since he was convicted. That evidence includes newly declassified statements from Ammar al-Baluchi, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Majid Khan. These statements throw doubt on the claim, made by the prosecution in the original case, that Uzair knew he was helping an al-Qaida member. In his statement granting the motion, the judge wrote: “The Court concludes that the newly discovered material evidence would yield a fundamentally different trial and likely create a reasonable doubt” about Uzair’s guilt.
Ramzi Kassem, a professor of law at the City University of New York who has handled terrorism cases as a defence attorney, told me: “The ruling in the Paracha case isn’t just an indictment of the endemic lack of transparency at Guantánamo and in its military commissions, which potentially cost Mr Paracha many years in prison. It also calls into question the integrity of post-9/11 terrorism trials in US courts more broadly. History will judge most of these cases harshly, in part because defendants are often denied exculpatory evidence on purported security grounds.”
Uzair is again being held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York, and was initially briefly held in solitary, back where he started all those years ago. In a filing in November countering Uzair’s motion for bail, attorneys for the Southern District of New York cited Majid Khan’s guilty plea to make the case that Uzair knew of his identity and that the government believes it has as strong a case as it did at the initial trial. James Margolin, a spokesperson for the US attorney’s office, declined to comment on whether the government would appeal the ruling for a new trial.
While Uzair will likely have another chance to convince a jury that he is innocent, the only way Saifullah can be released is if he is cleared by a periodic review board, or through a successful habeas petition in the US courts. Neither of those seem likely, and after years of optimism, Saifullah is losing his spirit. “The last couple of times he’s seemed more worried; earlier he’d be joking a lot,” says Saifullah’s niece, Riffat. His physical health is also deteriorating. Saifullah has a history of cardiac problems, as well as diabetes and psoriasis. He told his current lawyer that he was taken to intensive care twice last September. It seems increasingly likely that he will die at Guantánamo.
In Pakistan, Saifullah’s health or continued detention has not made him a cause célèbre. There are five Pakistani citizens detained at Guantánamo, including Ammar al-Baluchi and Majid Khan, but they find little mention in public or political discourse.
“They [the detainees at Guantánamo] have been detained as the ‘worst of the worst’,” says Farhatullah Babar, a former senator from the late Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples party, referencing a phrase from former US vice-president Dick Cheney. “I would say they are the wretched of the wretched. And nobody is bothered about the wretched of the wretched people.”
By Kevin Barrett, Veterans Today Editor
Ed Asner, Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for 9/11 Inquiry, is celebrating an important step towards 9/11 truth and justice.
According to Asner and the Committee, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman has announced that the Department of Justice will comply with 18 USC Section 3332 regarding the Lawyers’ Committee’s Petition. That means that a Special Grand Jury should soon be seated to launch an independent investigation of the unsolved crimes of September 11, 2001, beginning with the apparent explosive demolition of the World Trade Center complex including its three skyscrapers.
Asner, one of the biggest TV stars in US history, announced: “The U.S. Attorney’s decision to comply with the Special Grand Jury Statute regarding our petitions is an important step towards greater transparency and accountability regarding the tragic events of 9/11.”
The city is approaching a terrible milestone — nearly 10,000 people have suffered cancers linked to the toxic dust and smoke at Ground Zero, The Post has learned.
With the 17th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks a month away, the federal World Trade Center Health Program has counted 9,795 first responders, downtown workers, residents, students and others with cancer deemed 9/11-related…
Link to full article below.
In a rare interview, veteran investigative journalist Seymour Hersh talks about his illustrious career and how he believes the official versions of some the biggest news stories of our time just don’t add up.
by Youssef El-Gingihy @ElGingihy
(This article was taken down shortly after publication, then reinstated, so here is the full text, just in case.)
I’m about to interview the 81-year-old doyen of investigative journalism Seymour Hersh. Sy Hersh – as he is affectionately known by those close to him – was once described by the Financial Times as “the last great American reporter”. Hersh has brought out his memoir Reporter covering the span of his career as one of the iconoclastic journalists of the 20th century – the man who exposed the My Lai massacre in Vietnam and who later brought the abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison in the Iraq War to the attention of the world.
Hersh has recently been in London for a talk at the Centre for Investigative Journalism at Goldsmiths. It makes for a raucously entertaining two hours in which he holds court on everything from Vietnam and the war on terror to the Skripal novichok poisoning, Trump and the alleged Russian hacking of the election. Octogenarian Hersh is already back in Washington by the time we speak on the phone.
He has been ploughing his furrow since long before I was born. It is hard not to be in awe of the man. You could say that I am just a tad nervous. His street-wise Chicago demeanour means that he can be a tough interviewee. Luckily for me, Hersh is in a good mood – he is extremely jovial and spends most of the interview chuckling as he regales me with tales of his illustrious career.
The media co-op training citizens to hold power to account
During the 1970s, Hersh covered Watergate for The New York Times and revealed the clandestine bombing of Cambodia. And in what he describes as “the big one”, he also uncovered the CIA’s large-scale domestic wiretapping programme surveilling the anti-war movement and other dissident groups (in contravention of its charter not to spy on US citizens). He has consistently been a thorn in the side of the establishment.
Along with Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, Hersh is perhaps responsible for the glamorous image of the investigative reporter – shirt sleeves rolled up making calls for the latest scoop or meeting anonymous sources on deep background in undisclosed locations. The reality is undoubtedly far less glamorous and largely consists of hard graft. As Hersh relates in his memoir, he inherited his industrious work ethic from his father and never knew any other way of living.
The My Lai stories seared Hersh’s writing into history and brought home the brutality of the American war machine
The story of how Hersh came to write his memoir after swearing never to write about family matters is typically Hershian. He was working on a book on Bush vice president Dick Cheney when the backlash against whistleblowers meant that he could no longer protect his sources. As a result, he offered to sell his pied-à-terre in order to pay back the generous advance but Sonny Mehta – the editor-in-chief of Alfred Knopf – persuaded him to write an autobiographical account.
Reporter reads like the cross-pollination of Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March and All the President’s Men. Hersh grew up in the Chicago suburbs and was forced to take over the running of the family laundry business in his teens after his father died of lung cancer. He did not shine at school and was not destined for an intellectual life, seemingly stumbling into a career as a newspaper man.
Serendipity would have it that he answered the phone the morning after an all-night poker game in which he lost all of his money. The call was from City News. He happened to be staying at his old apartment that night having forgotten to inform his future employers that he had changed address. And so began inauspiciously one of the most remarkable careers in journalism. If it was not for Hersh’s penchant for all-night poker games, we may never have known about all manner of deep state malfeasance.
In fact, he struggled for many years to find secure employment. The My Lai stories changed everything. Hersh’s writing has been seared into history. From the mother of one of the soldiers telling him, “I sent them a good boy, and they made him a murderer.” Or one of the other soldiers, who begins his account by stating plainly, “It was a Nazi-type thing.”
The massacre prompted global outrage when Hersh published his scoop in November 1969 and increased domestic opposition to US involvement in the Vietnam War
The descriptions of babies being tossed up in the air and bayoneted or of soldiers arriving for their first tour to find a military jeep speeding by with human ears sewn to its dashboard are bone-chilling. The My Lai story brought home the brutality, depravity and monstrosity of the American war machine fuelling the anti-war movement.
Yet even with a Pulitzer Prize in hand, he still could not land his dream job at The New York Times. His cantankerous tendencies may not have helped, having hung up twice on executive editor Abe Rosenthal.
Hersh is honest enough to admit that today he might not have made it. He worked during the heyday of American journalism – when he was paid handsomely for exposes and when media outlets had the financial muscle to fund serious writing. When he covered the Paris Peace Accords for The Times, he was put up at the world famous five-star deluxe Hotel de Crillon.
The day after 9/11 we should have gone to Russia. We did the one thing that George Kennan warned us never to do – to expand NATO too far
It is not long before we discuss contemporaneous events including the alleged Russian hacking of the US presidential election. Hersh has vociferously strong opinions on the subject and smells a rat. He states that there is “a great deal of animosity towards Russia. All of that stuff about Russia hacking the election appears to be preposterous.” He has been researching the subject but is not ready to go public… yet.
Hersh quips that the last time he heard the US defence establishment have high confidence, it was regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He points out that the NSA only has moderate confidence in Russian hacking. It is a point that has been made before; there has been no national intelligence estimate in which all 17 US intelligence agencies would have to sign off. “When the intel community wants to say something they say it… High confidence effectively means that they don’t know.”
Hersh is also on the record as stating that the official version of the Skripal poisoning does not stand up to scrutiny. He tells me: “The story of novichok poisoning has not held up very well. He [Skripal] was most likely talking to British intelligence services about Russian organised crime.” The unfortunate turn of events with the contamination of other victims is suggestive, according to Hersh, of organised crime elements rather than state-sponsored actions – though this files in the face of the UK government’s position.
Hersh says the Russian hacking of the Trump election ‘appears to be preposterous’ … but he’s not ready to go public about it yet (Reuters)
Hersh modestly points out that these are just his opinions. Opinions or not, he is scathing on Obama – “a trimmer … articulate [but] … far from a radical … a middleman”. During his Goldsmiths talk, he remarks that liberal critics underestimate Trump at their peril.
He ends the Goldsmiths talk with an anecdote about having lunch with his sources in the wake of 9/11. He vents his anger at the agencies for not sharing information. One of his CIA sources fires back: “Sy you still don’t get it after all these years – the FBI catches bank robbers, the CIA robs banks.” It is a delicious, if cryptic aphorism.
I ask about how the war in Syria has been a divisive issue for the left. Hersh wrote a series of controversial long reads for the London Review of Books insinuating that the Assad government might not have been responsible for the chemical weapons attacks. He had been writing for decades at The New Yorker, which turned down these pieces leading to a falling out.
In “The Red Line and the Rat Line”, Hersh argued that both sides had access to chemical weapons. He even went one better and postulated that the rebels or even the Erdogan Turkish government may have carried out a false flag attack to twist Obama’s arm into escalating US involvement as this would have crossed his self-imposed red line.
The journalist says the official story of the novichok poisoning ‘has not held up very well’ and says it is more likely Russian organised crime rather than state-sponsored action (PA)
Hersh also highlighted that a “rat line” of arms had been set up between Libya and Syria by the CIA with the involvement of MI6 using front companies. This was designed to supply the Syrian rebels including jihadi groups in their efforts to oust Assad – startling revelation considering that the US is prosecuting a war on terror and intending to neutralise Islamic State.
Hersh deals with criticisms of the Assad regime one by one. He brusquely tells me: “If Assad loses he will be hanging from a lamp-post” with his wife and children alongside him. He elaborates that, “Heinous things happen in war”, recounting the Allies’ firebombing of Japanese and German cities as well as the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the Second World War. His point is that all sides commit war crimes.
In fact, he tells me that the US has also deployed barrel bombs. One could obviously add much more to this catalogue including the use of Agent Orange and other chemicals in Vietnam as well as the use of white phosphorus and depleted uranium in Iraq. “Where is the moral equivalence?” Hersh asks. All of which reminds me of gung-ho US General Curtis LeMay’s infamous statement that if he had lost the Second World War, he would have been tried for war crimes.
Amesbury major incident after couple exposed to novichok
Hersh tells me that this is “as close to a just war” because Assad is fighting to prevent an Islamist takeover and the imposition of Sharia law. Critics will rebut that this is a reductively simplistic analysis of the situation with moderate forces on the ground. And surely there is no doubt that the Baathist Assad regime is a brutal dictatorship? Hersh casually drops into the conversation that he met Assad five or six times before the war – a reminder of the astonishing life that he has led meeting the good, the bad and the ugly.
We move on to talk about the covert funding and arming of Islamists going back to the Mujahideen during the Soviet war in Afghanistan. This was overseen by western intelligence agencies as well as the Saudis and Pakistanis. Hersh recounts how Jimmy Carter’s fiercely anti-communist national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski planned to lure the Russians into their own Vietnam – a quagmire that would catalyse the downfall of the Soviet Union.
During the Goldsmiths event, Hersh vaguely alludes to a funding programme that he has come across but does not divulge further. Most well informed people are aware of the origins of this story. Very few realise that this has been a wide-scale secretive programme, which extended into the former Soviet states as well as across the Middle East and Africa up until the present day. It has been designed to facilitate geopolitical aims presumably on the basis that the ends justify the means. I mention 1950s British intelligence documents with the stated aim of neutralising Arab socialism and nationalism. “Imperialism is imperialism,” Hersh retorts.
Hersh was working on a book on Bush vice president Dick Cheney when the backlash against whistleblowers meant that he could no longer protect his sources (Getty)
In another article, “Military to Military”, Hersh disclosed top secret high-level communications between the military powers engaged in the Syrian theatre. When the US joint chiefs of staff bypassed Obama in order to pass on important intelligence in the fight against Islamic State, an Assad friend responded that they should bring him the head of Bandar to demonstrate good faith. Prince Bandar bin Sultan was the former Saudi ambassador to the US and the director general of the Saudi intelligence agency GID. According to reports in The Wall Street Journal, he acted as the lynchpin in arming the jihadis fighting Assad. Bandar remains close to the Bush clan. Unsurprisingly, the Americans declined the offer.
I enquire about the role of Bandar in various deep events including acting as the go-between in the CIA arming of the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, the BAE Al Yamamah arms deal notorious for massive bribes and kickbacks as well as Iran Contra. He even pops up in multiple instances in the 9/11 report, including in relation to payments from his wife Princess Haifa’s bank account being wired to a contact of two of the hijackers. Hersh does not dwell on this but believes that the Saudi crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman may well turn out to be worse than Bandar.
Sensing that Hersh may still be preoccupied with the Bush era having abandoned his Cheney book, I ask about an article he wrote in 2007 in The New Yorker entitled “The Redirection”. He tells me it is “amazing how many times that story has been reprinted”. I ask about his argument that US policy was designed to neutralise the Shia sphere extending from Iran to Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon and hence redraw the Sykes-Picot boundaries for the 21st century.
The guy was living in a cave. He really didn’t know much English. He was pretty bright and he had a lot of hatred for the US. We respond by attacking the Taliban. Eighteen years later… How’s it going guys?
He goes on to say that Bush and Cheney “had it in for Iran”, although he denies the idea that Iran was heavily involved in Iraq: “They were providing intel, collecting intel … The US did many cross-border hunts to kill ops [with] much more aggression than Iran”.
He believes that the Trump administration has no memory of this approach. I’m sure though that the military-industrial complex has a longer memory. Hersh was at a meeting in Jordan at some point in the last decade, where he was informed that, “you guys have no idea what you are starting” referring to the bloody sectarianism that was about to be unleashed in Iraq.
I press him on the RAND and Stratfor reports including one authored by Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz in which they envisage deliberate ethno-sectarian partitioning of Iraq. Hersh ruefully states that: “The day after 9/11 we should have gone to Russia. We did the one thing that George Kennan warned us never to do – to expand NATO too far.”
‘I don’t necessarily buy the story that Bin Laden was responsible for 9/11,’ says Hersh (Getty)
We end up ruminating about 9/11, perhaps because it is another narrative ripe for deconstruction by sceptics. Polling shows that a significant proportion of the American public believes there is more to the truth. These doubts have been reinforced by the declassification of the suppressed 28 pages of the 9/11 commission report last year undermining the version that a group of terrorists acting independently managed to pull off the attacks. The implication is that they may well have been state-sponsored with the Saudis potentially involved.
Hersh tells me: “I don’t necessarily buy the story that Bin Laden was responsible for 9/11. We really don’t have an ending to the story. I’ve known people in the [intelligence] community. We don’t know anything empirical about who did what”. He continues: “The guy was living in a cave. He really didn’t know much English. He was pretty bright and he had a lot of hatred for the US. We respond by attacking the Taliban. Eighteen years later… How’s it going guys?”
The concept of perpetual war is not exactly unintentional. The Truman doctrine hinged on this. His successor Eisenhower coined the term “military-industrial complex”. In 2015, giant defence contractor Lockheed Martin’s CEO stated that the more instability in Asia Pacific and the Middle East the better for their profit margins. In other words, war is good for business.
In his ‘JFK’ biography Hersh writes that he agrees with the official story that Oswald was the lone assassin and it wasn’t a CIA conspiracy (Getty)
We also cover his recent work on the purported mythology surrounding Bin Laden’s death in his previous book The Killing of Osama Bin Laden. Hersh tells me: “He escaped into Tora Bora. My guess is the Pakistani intelligence service picked him up pretty early. It was likely that he was in Abbottabad [the military garrison town where he was eventually killed] for 5-6 years according to ISI [Pakistani intelligence] defectors.” At the same time, he states that the Americans did not know. “Nobody knows … Someone walked in and told us,” he says, referring to the Pakistani defector who picked up most of the bounty worth £25m.
Hersh has taken a lot of flak over recent years regarding his articles on Syria and Bin Laden. He has been accused of being an apologist for Assad and the Russians, though he maintains he is seeking out the truth.
Critics have also argued that Hersh is a conspiracy theorist, though notably in his John F Kennedy biography The Dark Side of Camelot, he writes that Oswald was the probable lone assassin. Several years ago, I grilled Hersh on this and he responded that he simply could not find anything more on Oswald whilst researching the book. It seems that this position is adopted by others on the left too such as Noam Chomsky, who views JFK as a liberal war hawk rather than a threat to the establishment.
I have to say I’m perplexed to say the least that a man who has spent his entire career dealing with covert action and spies buys the official version report hook, line and sinker. In Reporter, he warmly relates his dealings with Hollywood director Oliver Stone in the late Eighties. However, when Stone begins to expand on his thesis that Kennedy was assassinated by a CIA conspiracy in what would eventually become his tour de force magnum opus JFK, Hersh is completely dismissive, telling Stone that the idea is preposterous – to which Stone replies that he always knew Hersh was a CIA agent and walks off.
Hersh shows no signs of slowing down. He clearly has plenty of work in progress with the tantalising prospect of reporting on the alleged hacking of the Democratic National Committee and the US election. And who knows? Maybe that Cheney book will eventually see the light of day. It looks like there might still be a chapter or two to add to his memoir after all.
Youssef El-Gingihy’s new, updated and expanded edition of ‘How to Dismantle the NHS in 10 Easy Steps’, published by Zero Books, will be out later this summer
By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
UPDATE July 20: After backing off a plan to exclude the public from some of Thursday’s hearing about how much the FBI should have to disclose about 9/11, a federal appeals panel in Miami appeared to favor the idea of ordering a trial judge to hold a rare Freedom of Information Act trial.
Before hearing oral arguments, 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge William H. Pryor Jr. announced that at their conclusion the courtroom would be cleared so the judges could question in private government attorneys about records the FBI has marked secret.