With the assassination of Osama bin Laden, US foreign policy – or, rather, the rationale for it – has a giant hole in its very center: the task of the War Party is to fill it, and quickly.
Without a human face to put on the Terrorist Threat, without an ever-elusive target to lure us even deeper into the Muslim world, domestic political support for our post-9/11 multi-trillion–dollar excursion will quickly dry up. In a sense, the War Party is facing the same prospect they faced when the Soviet Union collapsed: total and complete irrelevance. That is particularly true at this conjuncture, with the US hurtling toward economic catastrophe and Americans getting noticeably restive in the face of cutbacks and severe economic straits.
What’s a warmonger to do?
Simple: come up with a new enemy, a fresh face – or, better yet, an entire nation that can be demonized and made to play the role of stand-in for bin Laden. That nation, as you’ve probably already guessed, is Pakistan.
“I’ve not seen any evidence, at least to date, that the political, military or intelligence leadership of Pakistan knew about Osama bin Laden at Abbottabad, Pakistan,” said national security adviser Thomas Donilon on the Sunday talk show circuit. Normally, such a statement would absolve the Pakistanis, or seem to: I’ll only note that the “leadership” could be taken to refer to the upper echelons of the Pakistani political and military establishment, clearly leaving open the possibility some in the mid-to-lower levels might have been in on the secret of bin Laden’s whereabouts.
Furthermore, Donilon’s words belie the US government’s actions, which were to demand from Pakistan the names of its intelligence operatives – an unusual request, to say the least. Rather than come out and say what they apparently believe, US officials – speaking “on background” – are accusing the Pakistanis of de facto complicity. “It’s hard to believe that [Pakistan’s top military commander Ashfaq Parvez] Kayani and [ISI director-general Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja] Pasha actually knew that Bin Laden was there,” a “senior administration official” told The New York Times. “But, added the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic sensitivity of the issue, ‘there are degrees of knowing, and it wouldn’t surprise me if we find out that someone close to Pasha knew.’”
Pasha is expected to resign shortly, but the effort to target him as a secret terrorist sympathizer dates back to last year, when accusations surfaced that he personally met with the militants of Lashkar e Taiba (LET), and gave them money just before they pulled off the Mumbai attacks. The larger campaign to portray the Pakistanis, and the ISI in particular, as secretly aiding and abetting bin Laden has a longer history, and a very strange one.
The narrative being sold by the American “mainstream” media reads like the script of a very bad made-for-TV movie, or the kind of “thriller” that skips the theaters entirely and only comes out on DVD. This tall tale is intertwined with the murky, film-noir -esque saga of David Headley.
Headley has pleaded guilty to charges of acting as a scout for the perpetrators of the Mumbai terrorist attack, as well as having plotted to bomb the offices of a Danish newspaper that printed cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed. He faces a sentence of life in prison, and his story of having collaborated with Pakistani military intelligence, who supposedly directed and financed both plots, is apparently the price he paid for the terms of the deal he made with US prosecutors – life in jail in the US, instead of India, which has demanded his extradition.
While Headley’s complicated tale of international intrigue and transcontinental terrorism is pretty much swallowed whole by the Western media, in India skepticism abounds. This jaundiced view stems from Headley’s rather interesting personal history.
The 48-year-old Headley was born in Washington, D.C., to a Pakistani father, Sayed Salim Gilani, who worked for Voice of America, and Alice Headley, daughter of former football star L. Coleman Headley. Headley’s half-brother, Danyal, was formerly the official spokesman for Pakistan’s Prime Minister. Headley/Gilani is the latest in a growing list of high-profile Western converts to Islamist terrorist organizations: “Azzam the American,” Anwar Awlaki, and a surprising number of others who play prominent roles in Headley’s narrative.
He trained at a military academy in Pakistan before being brought back to America by his mother, who had by that time obtained a divorce. His first drug arrest occurred in 1987, where he made a deal with the DEA in return for a lighter sentence. In 1997 he was arrested on drug charges again, accused of smuggling heroin in from Pakistan. Again, he cooperated with the feds, in exchange for information about his Pakistani contacts, and got off with fifteen months in a resort-style prison for law enforcement’s favorite criminals at Fort Dix. According to the terms of his sentence, this was to be followed by a period of supervised release. However, the US Justice Department cut that short, requesting his immediate discharge: the feds had other plans for Headley, who was sent to Pakistan – the first of several US government-paid trips – to engage in undercover work for the Drug Enforcement Agency. From there it was but a hop, a skip, and a short jump to a Lashkar-e-Taiba training camp.
Oh, and by the way, Headley, never a religious type – he left behind a trail of embittered and apparently quite battered wives – somewhere along the line experienced a miraculous “conversion” to the puritanical strain of Islam embraced by LET. The perfect religion for a former drug pusher, ex-con, and consistent womanizer who just happened to work for the DEA – don’t you think?
Headley’s rap sheet has some other interesting items: in 2005, he was arrested in New York City after battering one of his many wives. She told authorities about his involvement with LET, and his shopping for night goggles on behalf of his terrorist patrons. However, somehow her testimony fell through the cracks – or perhaps she wasn’t telling federal agents anything they didn’t already know.
As Headley tells it, he “trained” a total of five times at a LET camp in Pakistan, and his testimony is backed up by that of yet another Western convert to radical Islam, Willie Brigitte – another “character,” similar in many ways to Headley, whose personal history seems like something out of a novel – not a very good novel, one might add. Born in Guadeloupe, a sunlit isle in the Caribbean, he moved to Paris to study, but joined the French navy instead, deserting twice in three years. In time, having gone through several careers and two wives, he suddenly saw the light and decided to become an Islamic militant. He trained in the French countryside with suspected members of al-Qaeda’s Algerian franchise, and before long wound up in – you guessed it – the very same LET training camp where Headley had taken up residence.
Also at this training camp: the handler of the Mumbai operation, one Sajid Mir – one of his classmates at the Pakistani military school. That’s too much synchronicity for a good novel, but what do you expect from amateurs?
Having been recruited into LET’s terrorist network, Brigitte was spirited off to Australia, where his handlers arranged for him to marry yet another Western convert to radical Islam, one Melanie Brown, who is described in news accounts as a former member of the Australian army, having served in military operations in East Timor, an officer with access to classified information. An interesting choice of spouse for a terrorist, to say the least.
Something about this wild and murky tale is just not right, and the Indians – especially the Indian opposition parties – have picked up on it big time. Major Indian media routinely depict Headley as a CIA agent who knew about the Mumbai attacks in advance while his bosses in Washington kept this information close to their vests.
Which reminds me: a month after 9/11, Fox News reported that Israeli agents operating in the US had advance knowledge of the terrorist attacks and failed to inform us. As Carl Cameron put it:
“Since September 11, more than 60 Israelis have been arrested or detained, either under the new patriot anti-terrorism law, or for immigration violations. A handful of active Israeli military were among those detained, according to investigators, who say some of the detainees also failed polygraph questions when asked about alleged surveillance activities against and in the United States. There is no indication that the Israelis were involved in the 9-11 attacks, but investigators suspect that they Israelis may have gathered intelligence about the attacks in advance, and not shared it. A highly placed investigator said there are “tie-ins.” But when asked for details, he flatly refused to describe them, saying, “evidence linking these Israelis to 9-11 is classified. I cannot tell you about evidence that has been gathered. It’s classified information.’”
When one examines the breadth of material unearthed by Fox News in that chilly winter of 2001, and absorbs Cameron’s analysis over the course of a lengthy four–part series, and then compares this carefully researched reporting to Headley’s cock-and-bull story, the imbalance is all too evident. Yet Cameron’s story fell like a stone into the journalistic ether, while Headley’s fanciful malarkey garners serious attention.
The campaign to nominate Pakistan as the villain of the moment conveniently comes at a time when the Obama administration has stepped up its military operations in that country – and shows every sign of wanting to go further. This is the perfect excuse to intervene more openly.
Faced with the irrefutable arguments of war opponents that the ten-year occupation of Afghanistan has achieved nothing and no longer has much point (if it ever did), the defenders of US policy among our national security theoreticians have fallen back on the contention that the real value of our military presence is the supposedly stabilizing effect it has on Pakistan, which would otherwise fall to the terrorists, or terrorist-sympathizers at the very least. It’s all about Pakistan, they aver, ominously noting the country’s status as a member of the nuclear club.
Pakistan, like Libya, is yet another Western fiction, created by the British in the course of their imperial self-dissolution – an inherently unstable combination of affluence and shocking poverty, modernity and medievalism, perpetually teetering on the brink of disorder. US officials are no doubt all too aware of this fragility, and it’s hard to believe anyone with an ounce of responsibility would deliberately act to upset that delicate balance. In public, the White House lauds the Pakistanis – who have, after all, actually apprehended far more top-level terrorists than we have. In his announcement of the raid, the President went out of his way to mention how instrumental Pakistan’s cooperation had been to bin Laden’s undoing. Yet he also went out of his way to mention that we didn’t tell anyone in advance – including the Pakistanis, presumably – about “Operation Geronimo.”
This administration is playing a truly dishonorable game, making friendly noises at Islamabad in public, while anonymous officials accuse Pakistan of treachery. Donilon’s remark that he saw no evidence of Pakistan’s guilt “at least to date” is similarly ambiguous. If the serpent-tongued minions of this administration don’t have the courage to come out and say what they mean, then I expect some Republicans will.
Don’t forget that election season is upon us – not for all you normal people, but for the professionals, those whose lives revolve around Washington and its power plays. If you think 9/11 is going to fade away as a living issue because we’ve reached “closure” with bin Laden’s summary execution, then you don’t know politicians, and you don’t know the War Party: as far as they’re concerned, we’re never going to reach closure. If we’ve gotten bin Laden, then let’s go after his alleged collaborators and purported enablers – heck, let’s go after his wives!
A program of perpetual war requires a constant supply of fresh enemies: bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic – and, hey, whatever happened to Manuel Noriega, anyway? Bin Laden was good for the War Party as long as he lasted, and they’ll no doubt wring as much advantage out of his ghost before it fades into history. Yet one can be sure a suitable, and even more dramatically satisfying replacement will soon be found. After all, we must have a justification for spending trillions [.pdf] overseas while our citizens are thrown out of their homes by the millions and forced to stand in line for food stamps.
This is the sort of behavior one expects from politicians, for whom the road to war is the road to power. The real crime is that our “news” media, which is supposed to stand guard against the routine deceptions of our public officials, instead functions as a mere court stenographer, transcribing the official version of events no matter how far-fetched, as in Headley’s case. As US government prosecutors take Headley’s “testimony” as holy writ and use it as a basis for further prosecutions, the accusation that the Pakistani military and intelligence authorities are really just a front for al-Qaeda – or is that vice-versa? – will gain momentum, not to mention the imprimatur of the US Justice Department. The groundwork for an outright invasion of Pakistan will be laid, paving the way for yet another war – this time against a nation armed with nukes.
Even John McCain, you’ll recall, balked at Obama’s declared intention of going into Pakistan. Now that we’ve done it in such a spectacular manner, one can only wonder if, next time, our visit isn’t quite so brief.
The case against Pakistan rests on the “suspicion” that they must have known about bin Laden’s headquarters in Abbottabad because, after all, the Pakistani equivalent of West Point is within walking distance, and Abbottabad is a “garrison city,” as the news accounts put it. Yet what, exactly, is it about a “garrison city” that would make it impregnable to a determined infiltrator – especially in Pakistan, where the poverty rate makes corruption a way of life? If al-Qaeda had the wherewithal to successfully infiltrate the US, and train for their deadly mission right under our noses for a period of years, penetrating Abbottabad shouldn’t have proved impossible, as indeed it was not. Once in, bin Laden and his household could hide in plain sight, an ingenious and – for six years – very successful plan that required nothing but boldness, which bin Laden, whatever his other characteristics, surely possessed in abundance.
The mainstream media disdains “conspiracy theories” – unless they are being pushed by powerful people and talked about in Washington. Then these theories become “facts,” and are reported as such.
We’ve seen this time and again, most vividly in the run-up to the Iraq war – indeed, in the run up to practically every war we’ve ever had. It used to be, however, that we only found out later how we were lied to, and what the true facts are – years later. Today, with the rise of the internet and the technology of instant communication, the lies of the War Party are no sooner uttered than they’re debunked.
And that’s why we here at Antiwar.com have kept chugging along, for all these years – because, after all, somebody has to do it.