Bin Laden’s death: things grow curiouser and curiouser

AS the days go by, the number of questions and lies around the killing of Osama bin Laden by American secret service troops seems to only grow longer. And the doubts emanate right from statements made by the head of the country and all the way down.

(Reuters has posted graphic images taken after the raid.)

Here’s a sample of the questions that I would like to see answered:

President Barack Obama said the operation had commenced in August year when evidence was obtained by the CIA that bin Laden may be hiding in Pakistan. That means it was eight months before the actual hit took place. Was this not enough time to plan things properly, including a version of events that needed to be made public, a designated spokesman, and a co-ordinated release of information?

If the Americans, as stated, were unsure, until they entered the building , that bin Laden was really inside, how come they had already arranged for an imam (a Muslim religious leader) to be on a warship ready to bury the man?

Why was this imam waiting in readiness if, as is being touted, the mission was a kill or capture mission?

Why did the Americans pretend that their own officials (Obama and his senior aides) had followed the raid minute by minute when the CIA director Leon Panetta himself said that there was a period of about 20 to 25 minutes when nobody in Washington had any idea about what was going on?

Why did the Americans shoot an unarmed man and then give out – even Obama mentioned it – that he had resisted arrest?

Why did the Americans say bin Laden had used one of wives as a human shield when the woman had actually run towards them and they had shot her in the foot?

Why did the Americans claim the house in which bin Laden was hiding was worth a million US dollars when in reality it was worth only a quarter of that?

Why was this house described as a mansion when it was really tatty inside?

Why did American officials say a son of bin Laden named Hamza was killed and later change the name to Khalid?

Why did Americans claim that there was a fierce 40-minute firefight with people in the Abbottabad house where bin Laden was and later change it to just one person in the house having a gun? And that one person was killed moments after the raid commenced.

With so many unanswered questions and lies hanging over this event, can one really blame the conspiracy theorists for going into overdrive?

Bin Laden’s death: the old American habit of lying is back

THE US of A sure knows how to screw up things. For them, the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by American forces was an act that would have guaranteed a lot of good karma right across the world.

The problem is, they tried to embellish the tale of his death with unnecessary lies. There’s a simple rule about lies – much in the same way that cadavers float to the surface, lies generally get exposed. The only variable is their shelf life.

It hasn’t taken long for the Americans’ lies to be exposed. For one, bin Laden was unarmed when he was killed. The Americans said he had fired back at them when they entered the room in which he was; now it turns out that both bin Laden and one of his wives were in that room, both were unarmed and the woman rushed towards the Americans and they shot her in the foot. This is straight from the White House, courtesy its spokesman Jay Carney.

Bin Laden was then killed in cold blood. The Americans lied when they said they could not have taken him alive. Of course, anyone who knows anything about Afghanistan knows that the Americans did not want to capture him alive and put him on trial – a lot of what he would have said in a courtroom would have been pretty damaging to the CIA.

Another lie the Americans told was about bin Laden using the woman in the room as a human shield – turns out he did no such thing. The Americans shot the woman in the foot when she ran towards them as they entered the room. Bin Laden did not grab her and hold her in front of him as a shield. An attempt to paint him as a coward failed. Why did they try to do so?

There are other lies that are being exposed: CIA veteran Bob Baer, speaking to the BBC, pointed out that it would have been impossible for the type of helicopters used in the raid to kill bin Laden to operate in the area without being noticed as they make an awful racket (he exaggerated to get his point across, saying that they could have been heard in Karachi, more than 1500 kms away).

Baer also pointed out that it would have been impossible for the helicopters to enter Pakistani airspace without being spotted on radar; given that Pakistan shares a border with two countries it distrusts – India and Afghanistan – it is on the alert round the clock. The Pakistanis were in on the whole thing – nothing else explains this.

Baer was also adamant that the raid could not have happened without Pakistani troops being present – though, he said, they would have stayed outside the premises as they did not want to be involved in the killing.

It is inconceivable that the Pakistan armed forces were not aware that bin Laden was living in Abbottabad which is about 122 kilometres from the Pakistan capital, Islamabad. Abbottabad is also home to the Pakistan Military Academy and Baer made the point that it was impossible for a foreigner to be in the area without gossip spreading about his or her reason for being there.

It is well known that Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence has a soft spot for extremists. The agency was provided with billions of dollars by the Americans during the war against the Soviets and it channelled the funds to the various militias in Afghanistan, with the lion’s share going to the Pashtun groups; Pashtuns are present in Pakistan in large numbers, hence the bias.

The ISI is close to the Afghan Taliban and also the local version, the Pakistan Taliban. There are plenty of sympathisers within ISI ranks, men who want to see Pakistan become a fundamentalist Islamic state.

To believe that a unit like this was unaware of the presence of bin Laden in Abbottabad is like asking one to believe that the moon is made of cheese.

This constant changing of the story has led to one thing – the proliferation of conspiracy theories on the internet.

There have been conspiracy theories aplenty about the September 11 attacks despite the fact that the two masterminds, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi bin Al-Shibh, spoke to journalist Yosri Fouda of Al-Jazeera and detailed the plot.

Fouda, along with Nick Fielding of the Times, wrote a book titled Masterminds of Terror in 2003 detailing the modus operandi of the attacks but this has not quelled the conspiracy theorists. You can’t get closer to the plot than by reading this book.

There are already plenty of conspiracy theories on the internet about bin Laden’s death. I hope it doesn’t turn out that the Americans got the wrong man!

Bin Laden’s death: the fallout

THE death of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan today means that the US President Barack Obama will have absolutely no problem getting re-elected.

Bin Laden was killed by American secret service troops in Abbotabad, an affluent suburb close to the Pakistan capital, Islamabad.

Not that Obama has looked like having a worthwhile challenger from the Republican side in his bid for another four years in the White House; however, given the fractured state of the American nation, there was always a possibility that someone from the right would be able to capitalise on the dissatisfaction caused by the financial problems dogging the country.

That possibility is now precisely zero.

A second fallout of the killing is that Pakistan will face increased attacks within its borders. When Obama announced the news, he had to walk a tightrope – he could not let on that Pakistani troops had also been involved but at the same time he could not make it look as though the Americans had violated Pakistan’s sovereignty.

But given that such a killing could not take place in a suburb like Abbotabad, home to the wealthy and educated for the most part, without Pakistani cooperation at a very high level, it is impossible to believe any report that says Pakistani special forces were not involved as well. This will not win Pakistan’s rulers any brownie points with their own population.

Pakistan has had few settled periods in its own history. It has been under martial rule for most of its existence after a painful partition from India in 1947. It has festering internal problems all over the place and is beholden to the US for aid. To the West and many other countries bin Laden was a terrorist; to Pakistan and many other countries who have suffered due to the wishes of American imperialism, he was seen as someone who had managed to gain some revenge.

And to people like the Palestinians, who have suffered under the yoke of Israeli occupation for decades, bin Laden was a hero who kept to the straight and narrow, demanding justice for them while taking the fight to the one country which has ensured that Israel is not held to account.

In Britain, there must be at least a few people who are old enough to recall the manner in which the colonial empire used its policy of divide and rule to ensure that India did not stay united and wonder if, with the benefit of hindsight, that was a wise policy. The child born of that policy, Pakistan, (which ironically means the land of the pure), has been implicated as playing some role or the other in practically every single notable act of terrorism in the last 30 years.

Does the US now draw the curtain on Dubya’s war on terror? Can it pull back troops from Afghanistan now that the reason for them going there no longer exists? What does it do with the body? Muslims bury the dead as soon as possible; the Americans have removed bin Laden’s body to the Bagram air base in Pakistan and will have to decide whether they show it to the world or else quietly bury it. Either option will create its own problems.

The US has painted this as a major victory; yet is it really so? Is the fact that the most powerful nation in the world took nearly 10 years to capture a man like bin Laden a demonstration of superior military and tactical ability? The killing has left as many questions as existed before.

As soon as Afghanistan is debated, the old terrorism bogey rears its head

THE Australian government, under pressure from the Greens, a party that is lending it support as it governs as a minority government, has begun a debate on why the country has troops in Afghanistan.

Curiously, just a couple of days after this debate began, we witnessed the spectacle of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation or ASIO – which has yet to announce the capture of any criminal – announcing that it is following hundreds of terror threats and that it has nipped in the bud countless others which could have led to unmeasurable bloodshed on Australian soil.

Call me a sceptic, but this kind of juxtaposition of events has been seen countless times in America during the time when John Ashcroft was attorney-general. With just one motive – heightening the atmosphere of fear. There are never any specifics given (due, of course, to “operational considerations”) but you are expected to believe that threats by the dozen are being snuffed out day after day by an organisation that has done nothing of note ever since it was founded.

The connection is quite clear – the Australian prime minister talked of the terrorist threat being the reason why Australian troops are in Afghanistan, in order to ensure that the country does not again become a haven for the likes of Osama bin Laden. Of course, this is all rather passé given that bin Laden has long fled Afghanistan and is taking refuge in the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan.

Doubtless, one needs someone to point out that that threat still exists. Up pops the ASIO director-general with his terrorists-are-hiding-under-your-bed spiel. We’ve come full circle. The only thing that remains is for all moms to check carefully under their children’s beds to check that uncle Osama isn;’t hiding there tonight.

I know it’s too much to hope that the government will actually tell people the truth but they must seriously think Australians are a bunch of mugs to be taken in by this kind of charade.

Some facts about Afghanistan: right now, the Americans are helping the Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan government in the faint hope that there will be no bloodbath when, as is bound to happen, the Taliban takes power in Afghanistan again. The Afghan government has been secretly talking to the Taliban and recently said so itself.

The American government will have to do something concrete in the next 18 months else Barack Obama will end up being a one-term president. And yet the Australian prime minister keeps talking about the country’s troops being there for the next 10 years!

Of what use is such a “debate” where all the old falsehoods are used to justify the sending of 20-year-olds to die for no rhyme or reason?

What are Western troops doing in Afghanistan?

TWENTY-ONE Australian soldiers have died in Afghanistan since Canberra decided to join the American mission to that country. Thousands of American soldiers have been killed, and a goodly number of other Western forces have also paid the ultimate sacrifice. But to what end?

All these deaths have been in vain, for it looks very much like the Taliban will slowly come back to power; indeed, the Americans are already talking to the Taliban through proxies in Saudi Arabia in order to try and save face when they (US troops) are forced to crawl back to their bases. That will come about sooner rather than later as the American public will stomach just so many deaths; after that, it will become too much of a political hot potato for President Barack Obama to handle.

After all, the man does not want to be a one-term president. Keeping troops in Afghanistan will push down the ratings of a man who is already not going too well in the opinion polls.

The Americans sent forces to Afghanistan back in 2001, in retaliation for the attacks by al-Qaeda on the US mainland. Even at that stage, it was not very clear what their mission was, apart from exacting revenge. Killing Osama bin Laden was said to be top of the list; presumably killing his top lieutenants was also a priority.

Nine years on, bin Laden is very much alive. His chief aide, Dr Ayman Al Zawahiri, is alive and kicking as well. And the mission to Afghanistan has gone dangerously downhill. A great deal of the money poured into Afghanistan by Western and Arab donors has ended up in the pockets of sundry warlords. Many have repatriated some part of what they have managed to swindle, in the expectation that once the Taliban returns to power, they will have to flee the country if they want to stay alive.

Nobody had any illusions that the Americans would unseat the Taliban, the Islamic fundamentalist party which was governing Afghanistan at the time of the September 2001 attacks. But was that the end-all and be-all of the American mission? If the aim was to disrupt the activities of terrorists who were likely to plan future attacks on America, then that hasn’t been fulfilled.

Afghan president Hamid Karzai, who could be better described as the mayor of Kabul as his writ runs only thus far, is already talking to one of the Taliban leaders, Sirajuddin Haqqani, in the hope that he may be able to survive the return of the religious fundamentalists to power. It is highly unlikely that Karzai will be able to stay on and he is probably planning his departure now.

The problem is that the Americans have repeated the mistakes of Great Britain and the Soviet Union and tried to install a government of their liking in Afghanistan. Nobody has ever been able to do that. Afghans do not like outsiders and no matter how much money is used to try and bribe them, they will smile, take the money and then support their own. That is an Afghan trait and has not changed for centuries. Boning up on history would have helped the Americans no end.

Given the number of troops that have been deployed in Afghanistan, it is a joke to even think of controlling the country. Hardly had the troops been deployed when the Americans decided to invade Iraq and made that mission the top priority. The porous borders with states that are not exactly inclined to be helpful to the Americans have compounded the problem. The behaviour of mercenaries hired by the Americans – so-called contractors who handle various security-related tasks – has not helped to any degree. These mercenaries are often prone to smash up a local man’s car simply because they suspect him of being a militant. Not many people in Afghanistan have cars to begin with.

But even if the Americans and their allies had gone on a massive PR blitz to try and endear themselves to the Afghans, it wouldn’t have made much difference. The Afghans don’t mind living in a mess – as long as it is of their own making. They don’t like being invaded, they don’t like foreigners. In fact, which country likes to be ruled by outsiders? The American mission to Afghanistan will end in defeat; it might be a good idea to cut the losses and run right now.

For top-grade racism, you can’t beat the US

THERE have been a few instances in the last three months when racism has reared its head in Australia, via the utterances of sportspeople. One was the case of one of the coaches of the NSW rugby league team, Andrew Johns, who referred to a player from Queensland as a black cunt.

Then there were two former AFL players who made disparaging comments about Aborigines. But when it comes to xenophobia and racism you can’t beat the US of A.

Time magazine columnist Joel Stein recently demonstrated the supremacy of that country in the practice of racism – through the written word. In a column that expressed regret about the fact that Edison, the town in New Jersey which he grew up, was no longer lily white, Stein bettered even many of those who were masters of this art in the old Jim Crow days.

Stein’s beef was with Indians, who have apparently settled in Edison in such large numbers that they have changed the complexion of the town. Restaurants which once served white people’s food now serves curry, theatres which once screened movies fit for the white man now screen Bollywood masala. Stein didn’t miss out on a contemptuous reference to Hindu deities. He had the whole bag.

If all that wasn’t enough, Stein went one step further and threw in a reference to the insult levelled at Indians in Edison – dotheads – evoking memories of the infamous Dot Busters hate group which was responsible for a number of crimes against Indians in the 1980s.

There was more: Stein said he had no problem with Indian engineers migrating to his hometown; he didn’t like it when the lower classes such as merchants came in in numbers. I have never read a column where someone manages to bring in every possible racist angle within such a short stretch. One has to hand it to Stein – if the Ku Klux Klan is looking for a grand vizier, they know where to look.

If the column was about any group of white people and was written in the same vein, Time would never have published it. That’s something one can say with certainty. But people of colour – even the US president Barack Obama – are somehow illegitimate in their own country. There is still a bunch of ignorant, stupid Americans who claim that Obama was born outside the US.

Stein’s open racism – and the pathetic defence he offered – are examples of the fact that people whom one considers civilised are quite often not what they seem. What is inside comes out when people are under pressure and shows their real character. Of course, after the deed is done, we have the pathetic defence: “I never meant to hurt anyone. I don’t have a racist bone in my body.”

Surprising that people who lay claim to being educated know so little about themselves.

Hamas official’s murder: things get murkier

ISRAEL has come under more pressure after additional revelations from Dubai about the murder of Hamas official Mahmoud Al Mabhouh – namely that the identities of another 15 people were stolen and used by those who carried out the killing.

The Mossad is suspected of carrying out the assassination; Israel, as it always does, has refused to either confirm or deny the allegations.

Six of the 15 had British passports and three had Australian passports. Some of those whose identities have been used have dual nationality and live in Israel, making it some kind of first.

Mossad has generally not used its own citizens’ identities to carry out operations abroad though in the past it has not been too bothered about violating the sovereignty of other countries where such operations are concerned.

There are Arabs said to be involved too, with two Palestinians being held in Dubai and Syria reported to be holding an associate of Mahbouh.

The murder took place in January and it took 10 days for the Dubai Police to conclude that it was not a natural death.

Both Britain and Australia have traditionally been extremely good allies of Israel and the fact that both countries appear to have been treated with contempt will obviously rankle.

The Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, did not mince his words, saying that if it was found that Israel was involved in stealing Australian travel documents, then it would not be the act of a friend.

The whole affair looked like settling down when these fresh allegations broke. Now it is likely to drag on for quite a while.

Another targeted assassination – Mossad at work?

EVER since the former Mossad operative, Victor Ostrovsky, wrote what was then, in 1990, a sensational account of life as a Mossad agent, people have known for a fact that Israel targets people for assassination. The list of those targeted has to be approved at the highest governmental level.

Mossad, which normally carries out these operations, generally does not leave many loose ends lying around. If the agency carried out a hit in Dubai last month on Hamas operative Mahmoud Al Mabhouh, it looks like it made some serious errors and left far too much evidence lying around.

Dubai keeps footage of all visitors, right from the time they arrive at the airport. Hotels also have plenty of surveillance cameras and the faces of the 11 people who took part in killing Mabhouh are now available worldwide after the Dubai Police found out the nationalities which the alleged killers had adopted.

If Israel was involved – and no other nation has an interest in seeing Mahbouh dead – it won’t be getting too much sympathy from the rest of the world over this killing, as the operatives used German, French, British and Irish passports to enter Dubai. These passports have now found to be fakes.

Details of the people who were allegedly involved have also been published. At least one does not exist.

Security camera footage from the Al Bustan Rotana Hotel shows the 11 operatives, 10 men and a woman, from the time they entered the hotel. It’s an interesting tale, no doubt about that.

The tale of the killing, as detailed by the Dubai authorities, reads like a high-grade mystery novel. But then most of the operations which Ostrovsky detailed in his book, By Way of Deception, read much the same.

A film that leaves the rest for dead

AT TIMES one encounters a work of art so finely crafted, a work that leaves one so satisfied, that thereafter one cannot view anything of the same genre and experience a similar sense of satisfaction.

The film Syriana is one such work which transcends practically every superlative and leaves one wondering when, or indeed whether, any filmmaker will ever come close to such a masterful effort.

Syriana (original script here) was made in 2005 by Stephen Gaghan who spent four years researching before he created this epic. And it shows.

The film brings together a number of stories:

  • that of a CIA veteran who is returning to the US and finds himself sent out on a mission that turns sour and results in the agency turning its back on him;
  • that of a lawyer who is trying to smooth out a merger between two oil companies and finds himself in possession of information that could end up being political dynamite;
  • that of a religious group in the Middle East which is looking for candidates to serve as suicide bombers;
  • that of a couple of Pakistani expats who lose their jobs because of the merger of the aforementioned oil firms and become prime recruitment material for Islamic terrorism;
  • that of an oil industry consultant who ends up as economic adviser to a sheikh who expects to become leader of a small Gulf country only to find his brother installed as leader instead because of American presssure;
  • and that of the aforementioned sheikh and his efforts to go against the grain and how they end in tragedy.

Despite being a film about people and situations from the East and West, despite including dialogue in five languages, despite drawing half-a-dozen story threads into a coherent whole, the film never, just never, gets boring or descends into stereotypes.

I have never seen a film which shows that the director has so completely understood the psyche of people from the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East, the Western world, and all their attendant cultures that he never puts a foot wrong. Directors often get things 95 percent right and that is deemed acceptable; Gaghan gets it 100 percent right all the time.

The film resonated with me because I could relate to it on different levels: as someone who has grown up on the Indian subcontinent, as one who now lives in a Western country, and as one who has spent a considerable amount of time in the Middle East.

The editing is so finely tuned that one scene begins almost before the other ends. The dialogue is taut and loaded with meaning; one has to see the film at least twice before all the little nuances of the excellent screenplay can be grasped.

If truth be told, one can’t praise this film too much. All of the above is just understatement. One has to see the film to begin to comprehend exactly why it is a statement of the times, a mirror to society and an apt illustration of the fact that in the inter-connected world we live in, an act somewhere far away can have unintended repercussions in our own backyard.

There is a range of emotions at play right through the film; there are moments of exhilaration when it looks like good will triumph, there are others when depression is the order of the day. The music is classy right through, every language spoken (English, Arabic, Urdu, Farsi and French are all used at various times) is translated correctly, with respect to both word and idiom.

Overall, there is a lesson for us all in the film: life cannot go on as it has, with the haves continuing to accumulate wealth while the have-nots continue to struggle for the bare necessities.

And the film also teaches us that the West cannot keep interfering in countries far beyond its borders to maintain its economic superiority, without facing a terrible backlash. Some part of that backlash arrived on September 11, 2001; Syriana sounds a grim warning that there may be more to come.

Why are the Americans still in Afghanistan?

MOST people who haven’t been living in a cave or under a rock for the last eight years know that American soldiers, and forces from a few other countries, were sent to Afghanistan in 2001, following the attacks that brought down the World Trade Centre.

The attacks were judged to have been carried out by Osama bin Laden, a Saudi who had taken refuge in Afghanistan after having his citizenship revoked, and the idea was to capture the man and make him stand trial.

Eight years and a bit later, the forces are still there, bin Laden is still at large, and the Americans are still talking about capturing him.

Indeed, the top American commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal has been quoted as saying that the capture of this elusive Saudi is crucial to defeating the Al Qaeda terror network which the West believes is a vast empire of terrorism controlled by bin Laden.

A few weeks back, there was a bit of news that runs counter to this talk: an US Senate report said that bin Laden was within the grasp of the US in 2001 but had been allowed to get away because the then US Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, rejected calls for reinforcements to take the Saudi into custody.

Get that? Did they want to capture the man or not? Or did Rumsfeld want an excuse for the Americans to continue to stay in Afghanistan? Once he had been captured, the Americans would have had no reason to stay there.

About the only change in Afghanistan of 2001 when the Americans attacked and now is the absence of the Taliban in positions of power and the presence of opium aplenty in the fields. When the Taliban ruled the country, there was not a single opium plant under cultivation.

The Americans have installed a puppet government, headed by a former oil company executive, Hamid Karzai. This gentleman was caught rigging elections a few months back but is still the president of the country. That’s what American democracy does for you – it helped an unelected man like George Bush to rule in the US and it helps Karzai to rule in Kabul.

But the Taliban have made gains and Karzai’s remit runs only as far as Kabul and only as long as there are men with guns from various foolhardy Western nations willing to guard him.

Initially, there was evidence that the Americans’ prime interest in Afghanistan was setting up a pipeline to carry gas from central Asian republics through Afghanistan to Multan in Pakistan. The proposed extension would move gas on to New Delhi, where it would connect with an existing pipeline.

This kind of project required a stable government in Afghanistan. And many have speculated that that is why the Americans went to the country. In 1998, an existing pipeline project had to be shut down after the Americans launched cruise missiles into Sudan and Afghanistan.

But the Americans are blissfully aware that no outside power has ever been able to bring stability to Afghanistan. The mix of warring tribes, all of different ethnic origins, has always ensured that unless a dictatorship, or something close to it, was in place, there would be organised chaos.

The pipeline project began in May 2002. By then the Taliban were defeated by American military power. And the opium fields had started to bloom again as Afghans returned to growing what is their main crop.

Given that American military forces have in the past been involved in smuggling drugs back to their country – the famous druglord Frank Lucas cut out the middlemen and made a fortune by getting drugs brought in to the US on American military planes from Vietnam – it is not unreasonable to assume that something similar is happening now.

After all, the biggest market for heroin, one of the many products produced from the opium poppy, is the US of A. It seems to come down to oil and drugs in the end. And for that many thousands of Americans have died. Soldiers from other countries have given their lives too in a meaningless war that has brought no peace to Afghanistan..

For it is becomingly increasingly clear that once the Western forces are out of the country – and that will happen by mid-2011 – the Taliban will be back in power. The pipeline will be guarded and the Taliban are unlikely to meddle there. The flow of drugs may lessen.