Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Cold Blooded Murder

Even more depressing news from an already depressing part of the world: a Palestinian militant group announced they had "executed" 18 year old Israeli settler Eliyahu Yitzhak Asheri, who had been kidnapped in the West Bank on Sunday. A body found near Ramallah appears to be that of Asheri. More detail here.

I am not going to mince words here - Asheri may have been a settler, but murdering him in cold blood is a completely despicable act. I hope that someone, whether it be the Palestinian authorities or the Israelis, catch the bastards who murdered Asheri and bring them to justice.


Israeli radio is reporting that a West Bank militant has been arrested in connection with Asheri's murder.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Abusing the "T" word

Terrorism.... what is terrorism?

Earlier today, eight Palestinian militants infiltrated a military base in Kerem Shalom, Israel, using a 300 meter tunnel they had constructed underneath the Gaza security fence. They blew up an armored personnel carrier and attacked a tank and a watch-tower, killing two Israeli soldiers, wounding several more, destroying the tank and taking one Israeli soldier, Corporal Gilad Shalit, as prisoner. More details here from Haaretz.

According to Palestinian militant groups, the attack was in response to Israel's killing of Palestinian militant leader Jamal Abu Samhadana by an airstrike this month.

One thing that I find annoying about this attack is the verbiage used in the news media. The Palestinians who carried out the attack are "terrorists", the dead soldiers were "murdered", and the Israeli soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit was "kidnapped". However, when the situation is reversed, an attack by Israel on the Palestinians is a "targeted killing", an "airstrike", a "shelling", or something similar, and Palestinian militants are "captured" by Israel.

The use of words like "terrorism", "murder", and "kidnapping" in this case is inappropriate. The Palestinians militants attacked an Israeli military base from which attacks had previously been launched into Palestinian territory. In a state of war, a military installation like this is a valid military target. The events this morning were a guerrilla attack, not terrorism. For the Israelis, this makes the Palestinians who carried out this attack enemies, but it does not automatically make them terrorists. There is a big difference between a guerrilla attack and a terrorist attack.

Calling events like this terrorism dilutes the concept of terrorism, and dilutes the revulsion we should all feel when seeing real acts of terrorism. Hijacking or blowing up airplanes is terrorism. Wantonly murdering innocent civilians is terrorism. A bombing on a bus or in a restaurant is terrorism. Shooting schoolgirls or farmers walking a bit too close to your sniper tower is terrorism. Crashing planes into the World Trade Center is terrorism. And, wantonly shooting artillery shells (by Israel) or Qassam rockets (by Palestinians) into populated areas is terrorism. Terrorism is evil, terrorism is wrong, and terrorism is something that none of us in the civilized world should stand for.

Let's not dilute the concept of terrorism by lumping guerrilla attacks against military targets into it.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Miami Terror Arrests: the unstated link

Miami terrorist suspects, source Miami Herald

Yesterday, seven men in Miami were arrested for planning to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago. The Miami Herald named the five suspects as Narseal Batiste, Patrick Abraham, Naudimar Herrera, Burson Augustin, Rotschild Augustine, Lyglenson Lemorin, and Stanley Grant Phanor. The Guardian provides some detail behind the investigation:

Over several months of meetings, Mr Batiste allegedly swore a loyalty oath to al-Qaida and outlined his plans for a "full ground war" in which his group would "kill all the devils we can". He provided a shopping list of demands, including radios, bullet-proof vests, machine guns, binoculars, cars, and $50,000 (£27,500) in cash, the indictment alleges. The undercover operative also provided Mr Batiste with camera equipment, which he used to collect footage of the Sears Tower and the Miami FBI building.
The man who Batiste met with, who he thought was an al-Qaeda terrorist was actually an FBI agent, leading to the arrest of the group. Five of the group are US citizens, one is an illegal immigrant from Haiti, and one is a legal permanent resident ("green card" holder).

One link that many in the news media seem to be missing is to an American group called the Nation of Islam, the American religious group founded in Detroit in the 1930s and currently led by Louis Farrakhan. The members of the Nation of Islam call themselves Muslims, but their beliefs and practices are radically different from mainstream Islam - to the extent that many mainstream Muslims do not consider members of the Nation of Islam to be Muslim at all - this article explains some of the reasons behind this. The Nation of Islam holds the belief that blacks are the original humans and God's chosen people, and that whites are a race of "devils" created to torment and oppress God's chosen people (blacks).

Two things that lead me to suspect the link between this group in Miami and the Nation of Islam:
  • All of the suspects are black, and most are American citizens. None of the suspects have any ties to the Middle East (the root of mainstream Islam) or southeast Asia. If this group were mainstream Muslims, I would expect at least one or two of their members would have their origin or ancestry from one of these places. The Nation of Islam, however, is made up almost entirely of black Americans.
  • The Nation of Islam often refer to whites and Jews as "devils". The leader of this Miami terrorist group said he wanted to blow up the Sears tower to kill all the "devils" he could - I wonder if he was referring to whites and Jews in that statement.

Do I think the Nation of Islam as a whole had anything to do with the nefarious plot these guys in Miami were working on? Of course not! But, it seems plausible this group may have been an splinter group of the Nation of Islam, or received some inspiration from them.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Canadian terrorist arrests

Canada is one of these countries that doesn’t generate much news – at least the kind of news that gets much mention outside Canada. That all changed three weeks ago…

Like many Canadians, I was shocked on the first Saturday of June, when I read the news and heard about the police breaking up a terror cell, confiscating explosives, weapons, and arresting several young Muslim men who had planned to wage a bombing campaign against Canadian government targets. The next day’s headlines were no less amazing: four hundred police officers had been involved with the bust, seventeen suspects were arrested, and additional suspects connected to the case were arrested in Britain. And, several of the suspects were from Mississauga, the same upscale suburb of Toronto that I lived in for five years.

When I first read the headlines, I was in shock – this did not sound like the Canada I know, and certainly did not sound like the Mississauga I know. Canada is one country where Muslims have generally blended well with the population, keeping their own identity, but respecting the identity of others and contributing to the mosaic of Canadian society and the Canadian political system.

In the days that followed the arrests, several pundits began questioning Canada’s immigration system and Canada’s multiculturalism program - the encouragement of immigrant groups to retain their own identity while contributing to a larger mosaic. Some painted a picture of a system that was broken, and suggested that the existence of this terrorist cell was evidence of the failure of Canada's multiculturalism concept.

I’d argue the exact opposite: the reason these terrorist plots were foiled before they could cause any damage was the direct result of Canadian multiculturalism. The integration of Muslims into Canadian society are actually one of the best successes of Canada’s multiculturalism program. In many parts of the world, Muslims live is isolated banlieues or ethnic ghettoes, have little interaction with mainstream society, and are largely disaffected from the political system; whereas in Canada, many Muslims live in mixed communities, are politically active, and are well represented in Canadian politics. In many parts of the world, there is considerable enmity between Jews and Muslims, but in Canada these groups tend to get along just fine. And, in the case of this terrorist plot, Muslim Canadians were the ones who tipped off the authorities to suspicious behavior of some plotters, allowing them to monitor this group for a long time, resulting in 17 arrests in Canada along with others in the United States and Britain.

Let us consider how far removed from the mainstream some of these miscreants were. At least six out of the seventeen suspects arrested were regular attendees at this tiny storefront mosque called the al-Rahman Islamic Center for Islamic Education, sandwiched between a convenience store and a Pakistani kabab restaurant in Mississauga. The eldest of the suspects, and the apparent spiritual leader of the younger people in the group, Qayyum Abdul Jamal, was a volunteer at this tiny mosque and was one of about half a dozen people who regularly led prayers there. Many of the remaining 16 young men who were arrested were former students of Jamal, or people who had fallen under Jamal's influence.

News reports about Jamal paint a classic picture of a man in midlife crisis. At 43 years old, Jamal's neighbors have not seen him holding down any sort of job, while his wife pays the bill by driving a school bus. With nothing to do but mope around the house and be miserable, Jamal spent his time by volunteering at this tiny mosque. He started out cleaning the carpets, and was eventually allowed to become one of about half a dozen men who took turns leading prayers there. Jamal's neighbors describe him as simply quiet and unfriendly, but at the mosque, his pent-up anger translated into an angry vitriol. Fellow mosque members describe him as being “more aggressive” than the other prayer leaders, and where, according to the Washington Post, his “angry view of the world, and his belief that the West is at war with Muslims, boiled over.”

About a year ago, Wajid Khan the elected member of parliament for the area (and himself a Canadian Muslim) was invited to speak at the al-Rahman Center, and Qayyum Jamal, who was leading prayers that day, was supposed to introduce him. Instead of an introduction, however, Jamal started on a personal diatribe, telling the congregation that Canadian troops are in Afghanistan to rape Muslim women. Wajid Khan, in a Reuters interview described Jamal as an "idiot" with "piss-poor" command of the English language, and spoke about what happened next:
"I just got up right away and I pushed him aside and started to address the crowd and criticised him for talking nonsense. People agreed with me, that this was bullshit." … Khan said he had been told that angry members of the congregation later confronted Jamal outside the center and "kind of roughed him up" to show their displeasure.

Jamal used his position at the mosque to spend time with teenagers and young men: impressionable people who could infuse his extremist concepts. The Globe and Mail interviewed several teenagers in the Mississauga area where Jamal lived, who told stories about all the times Jamal had joined them for soccer games or cricket matches, and of the lessons he taught at the mosque. But, as the same Globe and Mail article pointed out, some parents and others at the mosque were starting to see through Jamal's rosy exterior:

One of the mosque's board members, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said a few parents barred their children recently from attending the mosque because they were worried about Mr. Jamal's growing influence. If Mr. Jamal is guilty of terrorist scheming, the centre will have to shoulder "some blame" for allowing him to propagate his hard-line version of Islam on vulnerable young minds, the board member told The Globe.

"In that sense, maybe we should be more vigilant," he said. "If something happened on your watch, even though you may not be condoning it or promoting it, you have to be careful."

In summary, the existence of a small fringe group of seventeen people is not sufficient cause to judge a community of almost a million people in Canada. In fact, I would argue that the fact this fringe group was not able to obtain enough support for their cause, and was turned in by members of their community is evidence of how well this community has integrated itself into the mosaic of Canadian society. In short, success, not a failure, of Canadian multiculturalism.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Update coming soon

I am currently typing my next blog post, which talks about the terror arrests in Canada two weeks ago.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

A modern Romeo and Juliet story gets foiled (updated yet again)

Original Post (June 9):

This story is just unreal.... a 16 year old American girl from a small town in Michigan tricked her parents into getting a passport for her, under the ruse that she was planning a bus trip to Canada with one of her friends. This past Sunday, her parents found out the whole bus trip story was a lie, and the next day, they found their daughter missing. The parents called the police, who tracked her to a flight from Detroit to Amman, Jordan, en-route to Tel Aviv, Israel.

Their daughter was en-route to meet up with a 25 year old Palestinian guy from Jericho, who she had met on, and who had apparently bought her a plane ticket.

More from CNN (along with a picture of the girl):

DETROIT, Michigan (AP) -- A 16-year-old girl who flew to the Middle East to see a man she met on was detained in Jordan and was headed home Friday, an FBI spokesman said.

U.S. officials persuaded Katherine Lester to take the return flight from Amman, FBI Special Agent Robert Beeckman said from the agency's Detroit office.

Katherine had disappeared from her home in Gilford, in eastern Michigan, on Monday and apparently planned to visit a man whose MySpace account describes him as a 25-year-old from Jericho, said Tuscola County Undersheriff James Jashinske.

The sheriff's department contacted the FBI, which traced the teen to a flight from New York to Amman, Jashinske said. On Thursday night, her family received word from U.S. officials that she had been stopped as she arrived in Amman en route to Tel Aviv, Israel.

The Saginaw News adds even more:

Investigators learned that she boarded an airplane bound for Amman at JFK International Airport in New York, said Tuscola County Undersheriff James E. Jashinske. The craft was to continue from Amman to Tel Aviv, Israel, on Thursday.


Shawn Lester said her daughter vanished from home Monday, a day after she exposed a lie about planning to travel to Canada with a longtime best friend.

With two bags packed, Lester drove her daughter Sunday to a Bay City bus station, where the friend's family was to meet them. When they didn't show, her daughter demanded her mother leave her there to wait.

Suspicious, Shawn Lester called the family and learned there was no trip. She brought her daughter home.

Katherine Lester was sleeping when her mother left the house Monday morning. When the mother returned at 2 p.m., the teen was gone -- and so were her bags.
This story has a few interesting elements. It seems this girl was leading a double-life for a long time. The girl's parents probably had no idea she had a MySpace account (or perhaps even what MySpace is), or who she was talking to online. The girl's mother Shawn Lester described her as never having had a boyfriend, but for her to want to go off on such a long trip to meet the man from Jericho, she must have known him for a long time, perhaps even a year or two. Perhaps she had no interest in a boyfriend in her small Michgan home-town because she already had one online. Evidently, she knew her parents would object to the relationship - the fact she hid it from them for so long, and created such a complex façade to conceal her trip abroad suggests she suspected she knew what her parents would think and chose to conceal it from them.

The story also exposed an interesting legal situation. The police confiscated the family's computer to conduct an investigation, and are probably trying to see if the guy from Jericho had done anything illegal - chatting online with a 16 year old is perfectly legal (at least in Michigan), but soliciting her for sex is not. If the police do find evidence on the computer's hard drive, the issue gets more complex - if he was in Jericho at the time he was chatting with her, the big question would be whether it violates Palestinian rather than Michigan law. Another interesting legal situation is that there is apparently no law barring a 16 year old with a valid passport traveling internationally without her parents' consent. The Jordanian authorities detained Katherine Lester in Amman and were successful in convincing her to return to the US, but if she had insisted on continuing to Israel, it is not clear whether there would have been any law that could have stopped her.

Perhaps the most interesting element in the story will be what happens next, as Katherine Lester is on her way back to Michigan. Will she continue her online relationship with the guy in Jericho? And, what will happen in a bit over a year from now, when she turns 18 and is old enough that her parents can no longer stop her?

An interesting story indeed...

Update (June 12):

After a long search for links, I hit pay dirt today. Here is what appears to be the link to Katherine Lester's friend's MySpace profile, a man who goes by the screen name "Abdullah Psycho" on MySpace (the "Psycho" part seems to be in reference to his music). If you see the entries in his Friends column, you'll see what appears to be Katherine Lester's own profile.

Update 2 (June 14):

Like a good wine, this story seems to get better with age. Here is a bit more detail that came out today:

NABLUS, West Bank (AP) - The mother of a West Bank man who invited a 16-year-old American to the Mideast to get married says she is distraught that the teenager has returned home and hopes to bring the couple together.
Sana Jinzawi says she was waiting at the airport in Tel Aviv to pick up Katherine Lester, who met her 20-year-old son Abdullah on the popular Web site.

``She was going to sign a marriage contract as soon as she got here,'' the mother said, adding she told Lester to ``bring a pink dress for the engagement party and a white dress for the wedding.''
``She wanted to convert to Islam and wear the head covering and live with us and adopt our culture,'' Sana Jinzawi said.

Sana Jinzawi was also quoted as having "no idea" that Katherine's parents didn't know about the wedding plans.

For the past few days, I'd been curious if those two had been communicating online since Katherine got back to the States after her aborted trip. Both of their "Last Login Date" fields in their MySpace profiles had stayed current, suggesting they were both coming online every day. Then, earlier today, Katherine left this public comment on Abdullah's profile:

Hi baby!!! I MISS U!!! I swear you are so adorable. I love you and noone will change that ever. You are my hero baby, life and i will always be here for you. You are my husband and no matter what ppl say nothing will change that. You are My habibi, ..and u will aways be my habibi. I love you so much...I cant wait to be with you and to hold your hand and to whisper in your ears that i love you, ...I want to be with you forever and ever, .I love u, .. MWAH

I am sure Katherine knows full well that her family know about Abdullah's profile (after all, they were the ones who provided it to the news media). And, she obviously knows full well that whatever she writes there in public will be seen by whatever news organizations are monitoring that site, and various bloggers (a few open-minded ones like me, and several more not-so-open-minded ones too). It seems like a public message to the world that she is still just as determined as she ever was, and she doesn't care who knows it, or what they think of it.

As for me, the more I read about this story, the more genuine it seems. Abdullah (at least from his site) seems like a decent person. As for Katherine, from her picture you can see she likely could have her pick of almost any of the guys in her school if she wanted to, and thus it's obvious to me Abdullah was not any kind of "last resort". They're both a bit young to be thinking of marriage, but it's not unheard of. If they're still that serious about it in a year when Katherine turns 18, I would not be surprised to see them follow through with it.

Speaking from my own experience, a friendship or romance that starts on the internet can be very strong. My wife and I got our start in a long-distance Internet relationship before we got married, and I know others who have done the same. It can work, and in many cases, it is a recipe for a good relationship, since you first get to know each other without physical attraction clouding your judgment.

I wish Katherine and Abdullah all the best in their current relationship and in deciding what to do for their futures.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Israeli shelling bears its ugly fruit (updated)

Original Post (June 11):

Over the past several months, Israel has repeatedly shelled "empty" areas of the Gaza Strip, in an attempt to scare off would-be launchers of Qassam rockets. Two days ago, this shelling bore fruit.

A farmer named Ali Ghalia took his family to one of these "empty" areas of beach to have a nice quiet picnic with his family. The family's picnic was blown apart, allegedy by a rocket or a shell fired by an Israeli gunboat, leaving 12 year old Huda Ghalia walking back and forth among the dead bodies of her family and wailing.

Here is an English translation of this heart-wrenchingly horrible story (hat-tip Digital Oasis).

12 year old Huda Ghalia Posted by Picasa

BEIT LAHIA (Gaza Strip), June 10, 2006, (WAFA)- The tears have not yet left the innocent face of the astonished girl, Huda Ghalia 12, who lost yesterday 7 members of her family while they were enjoying their weekend at the shore of Beit Lahia town, north of Gaza. Huda and her sisters and brothers were happy for enjoying their first weekend together without thinking of homework as they have just finished their school exams.

Ghalia family went to a semi-virgin area at the sea shore. The white sandy heaps and little wild plants scattered at the northern parts of the shore. The Ghalia family preferred to set closed to the shore. The children were so happy to play with water and the white and clean sand. Their mothers were happy to see the rare smiles on the faces of their sweets. Huda's father, Ali, 45, a farmer, cocked corn before playing cards with other family members. Hanadi, 18 month, was laying in her cradle while her mother, Hamdiyya, was shaking it smoothly.

These enjoyable moments did not continue for a long time. The Israeli navy gunboats shot two bombs between the enjoying people. Ali hailed a taxi and demanded the family members to evacuate the scene as soon as possible. They collected their luggage and the children collected their toys and left the dangerous place. Huda, who was lightly wounded in the arm, said that her family left the scene of bombardment and sat between the white sandy heaps, waiting for the taxi. "I was eating corn and my mother was breast feeding Hanadi, 18 month. Other children were playing with toys, and my sister Amani, 22, was hugging her baby, Mohammed," the astonished child said while she was crying. My sisters Sabreen, 3 was making domes with sand and Ilham, 7, was laughing at her. Ilham was trying to pick up a piece of corn and asked me not to be far because the taxi is coming.

"Suddenly, a rocket hit our family, I was far just several meters. The rocket fallen between my mother, father sisters and brothers, the dust was so intensive that I did not see any thing," she said while laying on her bed at Kamal Udwan Hospital.Seven members of the family were killed on the spot, the father Ali, 45, his son Haitham, 6 months, daughter Hanadi, 18 months, daughter Sabreen 3, daughter Ilham 7, daughter Alia 25 and Ali's second wife Raifa 26. Several other children and girls were wounded."I was so scared and fled away for several meters, and then I came back. I saw my brothers and sisters bleeding. I saw a head and hands but did not realise for whom they belong. I saw my father, he was dead and lied on the heap."Eyewitness, Moneer Ghabin, said that he saw the "unbelievable and horrible" scene at the sea soon after the bombardment.

"My friends and me have just arrived the sea to enjoy our week end, we heard a strong explosion, we went to inspect what happened, it was unbelievable and horrible," Ghabin said. "Huda was running between the sandy heaps as she was looking for something. She was moving like a shuttle between the parts of bodies of her family, she was scared, astonished, surprised and crying," Ghabin said. We visited, Saturday, Ghalia's family. Ayham, 20, the son of Ali, said that he was talking to his father just seconds before the crime. "When the shell hit us I do not know what happened, just after seconds I realised that my family was turned into a heap of flesh, unconsciously, I carried a hand or a leg I do not know to whom it belongs, I did not know what to do, and do not know why it was happened," Ayham said. We moved to the scene of the crime, yellow corn covered with red mud.

Pinky orange coloured shoes of children were among different toys scattered near a mattress saturated with blood.The white sand was turned into red mud where a tuft of little girl's hair and pieces of flesh were covered with a kite.Tens of people gathered at the scene gazing at the shoes and toys of children. They where astonished for what happened.Samir Kullab, 33, was carrying his bag leaving the shore. His children were following him when he said that the Israelis commit the crime because "they feel angry to see Palestinians enjoy their life".Kullab said that he did not know why it was happened and "promised" that he will never come or allow his children to come to see the sea again.

It is good to see that some of the most vocal and shocked-sounding media response to this horrible event was in the Israeli press, such as this article in Haaretz. The problem is that being shocked is just not enough: it must translate into action. Artillery shells are a blunt-force instrument - how many more orphans like Huda Ghalia does Israel need to produce before the Israeli government orders a stop to this indiscriminate method of killing its Palestinian neighbors?

For the solution to this cycle of violence, perhaps we can look no further than Huda's brother Aiham, one of only three family members to survive the attack:

Despite having lost nearly his entire family, Aiham refused to speak of revenge. "Every state and people has good and bad people. I know there are people in Israel who want peace and others who want war. It's not clear to me now how we will go on, we've lost everything," he said.
Source: Haaretz

I wish there were a few more people like Aiham on both sides of this conflict...

Update (June 13):

Since I wrote this post, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) has been conducting its own investigation, and according to this CNN article, they are planning to announce an interesting conclusion:

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- An explosion on a Gaza beach that killed seven people last week was caused by explosives planted there by Palestinian militants, not artillery fire from an Israeli navy gunboat, Israeli military sources said.

An Israeli commando unit used the beach to enter Gaza for a mission in recent weeks, prompting the militants to place the mines, the sources said.

Intelligence information gathered by Israeli investigators showed that Hamas quickly removed the remaining mines from the beach after the blast, the sources said.
A blast from a landmine is certainly a plausible explanation. After all, what the witnesses saw was a gunboat offshore, saw the explosions, and concluded (reasonably) that the explosions were from rounds fired by the boat. But, they did not actually see the rounds fired from the gunboat.

So, now we have a problem: the Palestinians believe that the Ghalia family were hit by a round fired by an Israeli gunboat (a plausible and logical explanation), and the Israeli Defense Force has concluded that the Ghalia family stumbled into a landmine (another plausible and logical explanation). Who is right? The problem is, there is so much distrust between those two sides that the Palestinians are not likely to believe the Israeli authorities, and vice-versa.

Big Pharaoh made a very good suggestion in his post earlier today: an international inquiry. Of course, such an inquiry would need to be conducted by someone who is viewed by both the Palestinians and Israelis as impartial, and it would help if both sides were to agree to a cease-fire while the inquiry is going on. As for which country to have run such an inquiry, a nation that has relations with both sides (such as Turkey, Jordan, or perhaps even Russia) would be high on the list, or a nation that has little engagement with either side (such as Japan or Brazil) may work well too. An inquiry by a truly unbiased commission would hopefully produce a result that could be accepted by both sides.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Stirring up the Pot

A few days ago, someone forwarded me an interesting article about the Iraq War, written by the American author and journalist Greg Palast. Greg is no stranger to controversy, having spent much of his journalistic career digging up dirt on corporate malfeasance and various politicians, and this article is no exception to his track record of creating controversy.

I found Greg Palast's article interesting and provocative when I first read it, and wrote him on Saturday to request permission to republish it in full, with comments enabled, in the hopes of stimulating some good discussion here. As I've pointed out before, this blog has a very multinational readership, with readers and commenters from around the world, and I am hoping this article may stimulate some good debate - and since Greg's own site does not have a comments section, I think this will be especially valuable. I heard back from a member of Greg's staff today, and so, here is the article, reprinted in full, with the author's permission.

Greg's article focuses on Jay Garner, the retired general who helped setup the Kurdish safe-haven after the first Gulf War, and who was abruptly dismissed and replaced by Paul Bremer early after the US invasion of Iraq.

According to this article, and an earlier interview with Garner, he was fired because of his insistence to proceed quickly with elections, and to quickly put Iraqis in charge of whatever privatization was to be done. According to Garner, his ideas did not fit with a policy document he refers to euphemistically as "The Plan", and thus Garner was out and Paul Bremer was in.

Is this article a big conspiracy theory, or is there truth to it? Was Jay Garner fired because he was incompetent, or because was not willing to play the part of a "yes-man"? And, was there a plan to sell off Iraq's assets, and what would the proceeds have been used for?

Decide for yourself:

By Greg Palast
Republished here with permission

They got him — the big, bad, beheading berserker in Iraq. But, something’s gone unreported in all the glee over getting Zarqawi … who invited him into Iraq in the first place?

If you prefer your fairy tales unsoiled by facts, read no further. If you want the uncomfortable truth, begin with this: A phone call to Baghdad to Saddam’s Palace on the night of April 21, 2003. It was Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on a secure line from Washington to General Jay Garner.

The General arrived in Baghdad just hours before to take charge of the newly occupied nation. The message from Rumsfeld was not a heartwarming welcome. Rummy told Garner, Don’t unpack, Jack — you’re fired.

What had Garner done? The many-starred general had been sent by the President himself to take charge of a deeply dangerous mission. Iraq was tense but relatively peaceful. Garner’s job was to keep the peace and, to use the President’s words, “Open Iraq’s arms to democracy.”

Unfortunately for the general, he took the President at his word. But the general was wrong. “Peace” and “Democracy” were the slogans.

“My preference,” Garner told me in his understated manner, “was to put the Iraqis in charge as soon as we can and do it in some form of elections.”

But elections were not in The Plan.

The Plan was a 101-page document to guide the long-term future of the land we’d just conquered. There was nothing in it about democracy or elections or safety. There was, rather, a detailed schedule for selling off “all [Iraq’s] state assets” — and Iraq, that’s just about everything — “especially,” said The Plan, “the oil and supporting industries.” Especially the oil.

There was more than oil to sell off. The Plan included the sale of Iraq’s banks, and weirdly, changing it’s copyright laws and other odd items that made the plan look less like a program for Iraq to get on its feet than a program for corporate looting of the nation’s assets. (And indeed, we discovered at BBC, behind many of the odder elements — copyright and tax code changes — was the hand of lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s associate Grover Norquist.)

But Garner didn’t think much of The Plan, he told me when we met a year later in Washington. He had other things on his mind. “You prevent epidemics, you start the food distribution program to prevent famine.”

Seizing title and ownership of Iraq’s oil fields was not on Garner’s must-do list. He let that be known to Washington. “I don’t think [Iraqis] need to go by the U.S. plan, I think that what we need to do is set an Iraqi government that represents the freely elected will of the people.” He added, “It’s their country … their oil.”

Apparently, the Secretary of Defense disagreed. So did lobbyist Norquist. And Garner incurred their fury by getting carried away with the “democracy” idea: he called for quick elections — within 90 days of the taking of Baghdad.

But Garner’s 90-days-to-elections commitment ran straight into the oil sell-off program. Annex D of the plan indicated that would take at least 270 days — at least 9 months.

Worse, Garner was brokering a truce between Sunnis, Shias and Kurds. They were about to begin what Garner called a “Big Tent” meeting to hammer out the details and set the election date. He figured he had 90 days to get it done before the factions started slitting each other’s throats.

But a quick election would mean the end of the state-asset sell-off plan: An Iraqi-controlled government would never go along with what would certainly amount to foreign corporations swallowing their entire economy. Especially the oil. Garner had spent years in Iraq, in charge of the Northern Kurdish zone and knew Iraqis well. He was certain that an asset-and-oil grab, “privatizations,” would cause a sensitive population to take up the gun. “That’s just one fight you don’t want to take on right now.”

But that’s just the fight the neo-cons at Defense wanted. And in Rumsfeld’s replacement for Garner, they had a man itching for the fight. Paul Bremer III had no experience on the ground in Iraq, but he had one unbeatable credential that Garner lacked: Bremer had served as Managing Director of Kissinger and Associates.

In April 2003, Bremer instituted democracy Bush style: he canceled elections and appointed the entire government himself. Two months later, Bremer ordered a halt to all municipal elections including the crucial vote to Shia seeking to select a mayor in the city of Najaf. The front-runner, moderate Shia Asad Sultan Abu Gilal warned, “If they don’t give us freedom, what will we do? We have patience, but not for long.” Local Shias formed the “Mahdi Army,” and within a year, provoked by Bremer’s shutting their paper, attacked and killed 21 U.S. soldiers.

The insurgency had begun. But Bremer’s job was hardly over. There were Sunnis to go after. He issued “Order Number One: De-Ba’athification.” In effect, this became “De-Sunni-fication.”

Saddam’s generals, mostly Sunnis, who had, we learned, secretly collaborated with the US invasion and now expected their reward found themselves hunted and arrested. Falah Aljibury, an Iraqi-born US resident who helped with the pre-invasion brokering, told me, “U.S. forces imprisoned all those we named as political leaders,” who stopped Iraq’s army from firing on U.S. troops.

Aljibury’s main concern was that busting Iraqi collaborators and Ba’athist big shots was a gift “to the Wahabis,” by which he meant the foreign insurgents, who now gained experienced military commanders, Sunnis, who now had no choice but to fight the US-installed regime or face arrest, ruin or death. They would soon link up with the Sunni-defending Wahabi, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was committed to destroying “Shia snakes.”

And the oil fields? It was, Aljibury noted, when word got out about the plans to sell off the oil fields (thanks to loose lips of the US-appointed oil minister) that pipelines began to blow. Although he had been at the center of planning for invasion, Aljibury now saw the greed-crazed grab for the oil fields as the fuel for a civil war that would rip his country to pieces:

“Insurgents,” he said, “and those who wanted to destabilize a new Iraq have used this as means of saying, ‘Look, you’re losing your country. You’re losing your leadership. You’re losing all of your resources to a bunch of wealthy people. A bunch of billionaires in the world want to take you over and make your life miserable.’ And we saw an increase in the bombing of oil facilities, pipelines, of course, built on — built on the premise that privatization [of oil] is coming.”

General Garner, watching the insurgency unfold from the occupation authority’s provocations, told me, in his understated manner, “I’m a believer that you don’t want to end the day with more enemies than you started with.”

But you can’t have a war president without a war. And you can’t have a war without enemies. “Bring ‘em on,” our Commander-in-Chief said. And Zarqawi answered the call.


Greg Palast is the author of the New York Times bestseller, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. Penguin Dutton has released Greg Palast's new book, Armed Madhouse: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Class War. Subscribe to his commentaries, and watch his reports for BBC Newsnight TV at

Full comments are enabled on this post, and for those of you who are new to my blog, I rarely delete any comments, but please keep them civil. Let's hear what you think - I'll chime into the discussion soon....

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Zarqawi Killed

Earlier today, the news came out that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in a bombing attack, along with a key lieutenant Sheikh Abd al-Rahman. Here is more from CNN:

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A painstaking, weeks-long intelligence operation, acting on tips from Iraqis and his own network, led to the U.S. airstrike that killed "al Qaeda in Iraq" leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the military said Thursday.
The U.S.-led coalition's most wanted man in Iraq was killed Wednesday evening in a U.S. airstrike on a safe house near Baquba, according to U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Bill Caldwell.
"Last night was the first time that we have had definitive, unquestionable information as to exactly where [al-Zarqawi] was located, knowing that we could strike that target without causing collateral damage to other Iraqi civilians and personnel in the area," Caldwell said.
In addition, Iraqi security and coalition forces conducted 17 simultaneous raids in Baghdad and its outskirts at the time of the attack, Caldwell said.
"A tremendous amount of information and intelligence was collected" from the raids, he said, "and is presently being exploited and utilized for further use. I mean, it was a treasure trove; no question."

This news could not have come at a much better time. With all the negative news and open investigations running about the alleged Haditha massacre, the US forces need all the good news they can get.

To conclude, I'll share a comment I got this morning on my Instant Messenger from one of my friends in Iraq (a Sunni Arab in this case) on how that family and others in the area took the news of Zarqawi's passing:

we had a celebration in the house
we called the relatives and our friends
to tell them
it was just like Eid
i am so glad
he was very bad guy
and did many bad things in the name of Islam
and now he is in HELL
the two woman were his assistors too btw

I couldn't have said it better myself...

Monday, June 05, 2006

Out of Town

Sorry for the delay in posting and responding to comments - I'm in Denver on a business trip for a week. You can look for a new post from me in the next couple of days.