Adonis Diaries

Archive for March 2nd, 2015


Declassified Memos: New torture files

Last week, I wrote, both here and in the New York Times, that after reading all 828 pages of the released SSCI report on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation program and responses to it from the CIA and Republican committee members, I had concluded that the report’s focus on whether the techniques used by the CIA were “effective” was misguided, and essentially gave a pass to too many culpable actors beyond the CIA, especially in the White House, the Cabinet, and the Justice Department.

“New Torture Files”: Declassified Memos Detail Roles of Bush White House and DOJ Officials Who Conspired to Approve Torture

This week, in the name of correcting the record, and thanks, ironically, to the CIA’s own effort to defend itself, I want to place blame where it rightly belongs – with the CIA, to be sure, but also with specific high-level officials and lawyers outside the agency who were directly involved in reviewing the CIA’s tactics, and either said yes or failed to say no.

It’s now been brought to my attention that lost in all the focus on the irresolvable “efficacy” debate were a series of newly declassified documents that fill out the picture of joint responsibility that is the real story of our descent into torture.

These new documents, not addressed in any other reporting on the subject of which I am aware, name names, describe specific meetings, and demonstrate that many well-respected lawyers and statesmen said yes when they should have said no.

They provide an important – if likely uncomfortable for some – addition to the narrative, and show just how widespread the blame for the torture program really goes.

The SSCI deserves credit for prompting disclosure of the new documents, which were declassified by the CIA in response to the report’s allegations.

Had it not been for the SSCI investigation, it is likely that these documents would remain classified to this day. But as is all too often the case, when the CIA saw that it might be in its own interest to disclose what it previously said could not be revealed without endangering national security, it declassified.

Feeling the heat of the SSCI inquiry, the CIA chose to declassify a series of memoranda and communications that reflect and record multiple high-level meetings at the White House and the DOJ involving the torture program.

The CIA’s interest in declassification is clear.  It wants to show that it repeatedly sought – and received legal assurances from higher-ups that its actions were legal and authorized. But as is so often the case when co-conspirators try to deflect blame by pointing the finger at others, the CIA’s newly declassified documents don’t so much exculpate it as inculpate others.


An alleged CIA prison near Kabul, Afghanistan. Image credit: Trevor Paglen via Wikimedia Commons.

The new documents are reproduced at a mysterious website dedicated to defending the CIA, with a name only a security consultant could have dreamt up, “” They recount in detail multiple meetings and communications, in which White House and DOJ officials repeatedly gave the CIA a green light to torture.

Some parts of the story have been told before, in particular by the DOJ Office of Professional Responsibility, which recommended in 2009 that Jay Bybee and John Yoo, the OLC lawyers who wrote the first memos authorizing the CIA program, be referred to their respective bars for disciplinary proceedings.

(That recommendation was overridden in 2010 by a senior Justice Department official, David Margolis).

The new documents, however, fill in the gaps with a great deal of important and damning detail, and show that responsibility extends beyond Bybee and Yoo to a host of other top lawyers and government officials.

The overall picture that the new documents paint is not of a rogue agency, but of a rogue administration.  Yes, the CIA affirmatively proposed to use patently illegal tactics — waterboarding, sleep deprivation, physical assault, and painful stress positions.

But at every turn, senior officials and lawyers in the White House and the Department of Justice reassured the agency that it could — and should — go forward.  The documents reveal an agency that is extremely sensitive to whether the program is legally authorized and approved by higher-ups — no doubt because it understood that what it was doing was at a minimum controversial, and very possibly illegal.

The documents show that the CIA repeatedly raised questions along these lines, and even suspended the program when the OLC was temporarily unwilling to say, without further review, whether the techniques would “shock the conscience” in violation of the Fifth Amendment. But at every point where the White House and the DOJ could have and should have said no to tactics that were patently illegal, they said yes.

From the start, the administration crafted its policies to give the CIA leeway.  In February 2002, for example, even before the CIA detainee and interrogation program had formally begun, President Bush issued a memo declaring that while the Geneva Conventions do not apply to al Qaeda and Taliban detainees, US Armed Forces would nonetheless as a matter of policy treat detainees humanely.

At the time, critics, myself included, focused on Bush’s caveat that “military necessity” might justify inhumane treatment.  But a new document reveals that the administration also intentionally drafted the memo to exclude the CIA.

(To his credit, Marty Lederman may have been the first to identify the significance of the focus on the Armed Forces, but that was not until many years later in January 2005.)

A newly declassified February 2003 memo drafted by CIA General Counsel Scott Muller reports that Justice Department lawyer John Yoo told Muller in January 2003 “that the language of the [February 2002] memorandum had been deliberately limited to be binding only on ‘the Armed Forces’ which did not include the CIA.”

Yoo also confirmed that in drafting his memo authorizing the CIA program, he had considered the intent and effect of the February 2002 memo, and concluded that it posed no bar.

The newly declassified documents also reveal that Condoleezza Rice, National Security Adviser, and John Bellinger, her lawyer, both of whom many years later sought to restrict use of the CIA’s techniques, were personally and intimately involved in the initial approval of the tactics.

In April 2002, shortly after Abu Zubaydah was captured, Bellinger arranged the first meeting on the subject of enhanced interrogation, and told OLC that the State Department should be kept out of the loop. His boss, Rice, gave policy approval to the tactics in July 2002, pending legal sign-off by the Department of Justice, which came one week later, in the now infamous August 1, 2002 memo drafted by Yoo and Bybee.

The documents do not reveal what Rice was told by Bellinger, her counsel, about the legality of approving waterboarding, extended sleep deprivation, and the like, but there is no sign that he told her the tactics were illegal. If he had done so, it would have been very difficult for her to approve the tactics in the face of such advice.

In December 2002, Bellinger twice confirmed to CIA General Counsel Muller that “use of the type of techniques authorized by the Attorney General had been extensively discussed and was consistent with the President’s …. February Memo.”

On January 13, 2003, in a meeting with Muller, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, Counsel to the Vice-President David Addington, Yoo, and Defense Department General Counsel Jim Haynes, Gonzales and Addington also reaffirmed that the February 2002 memo about humane treatment did not apply to the CIA.

And three days later, in a meeting with Rice, Secretary of Defense Dnnald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Vice-President Dick Cheney, and Haynes, Muller yet again raised the possible inconsistency between “what the CIA was authorized to do and what at least some in the international community might expect in light of the Administration’s public statements about ‘humane treatment’ of detainees.”

According to Muller, “Everyone in the room evinced understanding of the issue.  CIA’s past and ongoing use of enhanced techniques was reaffirmed…. Rice clearly distinguished between the issues to be addressed by the military and CIA.”

In July 2003, after Jim Haynes wrote a letter to Senator Pat Leahy contending that US policy “is to treat all detainees and conduct all interrogations, wherever they may occur, in a manner consistent with [the Constitution],” the CIA again raised concerns about whether the administration’s public commitment to humane treatment could be squared with its program – understandably, as its tactics were the very opposite of humane, and would plainly be unconstitutional if applied to anyone protected by the Constitution.

Another newly declassified document shows that CIA Director George Tenet sent a memo to Rice requesting express reaffirmation of the CIA’s program.  Later that month, Tenet met with, among others Attorney General Ashcroft, DOJ lawyer Patrick Philbin, Rice, Gonzales, Bellinger, and Cheney to review the program.

Ashcroft, backed by a full explication by Philbin, “forcefully reiterated the view of the Department of Justice that the techniques being employed by the CIA were and remain lawful and do not violate the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment.”  When Ashcroft was told that Khaled Sheikh Mohammed had been waterboarded 119 times, Ashcroft replied “that he was fully aware of the facts and that CIA was ‘well within’ the scope of the [OLC] opinion.”  Cheney, Rice, and Ashcroft all confirmed that the CIA was “executing Administration policy.”

After the Abu Ghraib photos were released in April 2004, the CIA again sought reaffirmation of its program.  In fact, in May 2004, Tenet suspended the interrogation program, and expressly requested the NSC Principals and the Attorney General to approve of the CIA’s tactics yet again.

The next month, the Washington Post published the August 2002 OLC memo, the first written approval of the torture tactics, which until then had remained a secret.  As soon as that memo became public, then-OLC head Jack Goldsmith withdrew it; what everyone went along with in private was not sustainable once exposed to the light of day.

Yet at a meeting in July 2004 with Rice, Ashcroft, Gonzales, Bellinger, and Deputy Attorney General James Comey, Rice said that the CIA’s techniques were in her view humane, and Ashcroft reaffirmed their legality (apart from waterboarding, which the DOJ was then reevaluating).

The next month, Daniel Levin, the new head of the OLC, authorized the use of the waterboard for a particular detainee (although the CIA did not ultimately use the waterboard in that instance).

In December 2004, as has been previously reported, Levin issued a new memo on interrogation techniques, to replace the withdrawn August 1, 2002 memo.  Its rhetoric was designed to sound more reasonable than the initial memo, but it included a critical footnote, stating that the OLC did not believe any of its conclusions regarding previously approved interrogation techniques would be different under the new standards.

In other words, nothing material had changed. The OLC was still saying yes.  About six months later, still another OLC head, Stephen Bradbury, wrote two memos opining that none of the CIA’s techniques were cruel, inhuman, or degrading, nor would they violate the Constitution if employed against detainees in the United States.

In short, the newly declassified documents reveal that the CIA was very nervous about the legal authority for its interrogation program – even after DOJ and White House officials had repeatedly given the program their blessings.  It is almost as if the CIA had a guilty conscience; it knew what it was doing was wrong, so it had to be repeatedly reassured that it was okay.  Above all, it seems, the agency wanted to make sure it had legal cover.

But the newly declassified documents also underscore an equally important point, one not sufficiently emphasized by the SSCI Report and the coverage of it:  the CIA was only one part of this conspiracy to commit war crimes.

The scheme had the participation and express or tacit assent of many others, from President Bush and Vice-President Cheney and the NSC Principals on down to Justice Department lawyers John Yoo, Jay Bybee, Patrick Philbin, Daniel Levin, Stephen Bradbury, DOD General Counsel Jim Haynes, Counsel to the Vice-President David Addington, and Counsel to the National Security Adviser John Bellinger.

Not one of these people said no.

Had any one of them done so, the program might well have been stopped in its tracks.  Yet most of them have gone on to lucrative, prestigious, and/or powerful positions in private practice, the academy, or other government positions.

Where is the accountability for their part in the CIA’s grievous wrong?


Double game: The circus of British intelligence on War on Terror

Every time there’s a terrorist attack that makes national headlines, the same talking heads seem to pop up like an obscene game of “whack-a-mole”.

Often they appear one after the other across the media circuit, bobbing from celebrity television pundit to erudite newspaper outlet.

A few years ago, BBC Newsnight proudly hosted a “debate” between Maajid Nawaz, director of counter-extremism think-tank, the Quilliam Foundation, and Anjem Choudary, head of the banned Islamist group formerly known as al-Muhajiroun, which has, since its proscription, repeatedly reincarnated itself.

One of its more well-known recent incarnations was “Islam4UK“.

The circus: How British intelligence primed both sides of the ‘terror war’ #Religion

Author Info Wrap Nafeez Ahmed. 27 February 2015

Both Nawaz and Choudary have received huge mainstream media attention, generating press headlines, and contributing to major TV news and current affairs shows.

But unbeknown to most, they have one thing in common: Britain’s security services. And believe it or not, that bizarre fact explains why the Islamic State’s (IS) celebrity beheader, former west Londoner Mohammed Emwazi – aka “Jihadi John” – got to where he is now.

A tale of two extremists

After renouncing his affiliation with the Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT), Maajid Nawaz co-founded the Quilliam Foundation with his fellow ex-Hizb member, Ed Husain.

The Quilliam Foundation was set-up by Husain and Nawaz in 2008 with significant British government financial support. Its establishment received a massive PR boost from the release of Ed Husain’s memoirs, The Islamist, which rapidly became an international bestseller, generating hundreds of reviews, interviews and articles.

‘Jihadi John’ was able to join IS for one simple reason: from Quilliam to al-Muhajiroun, Britain’s loudest extremists have been groomed by the security services

– See more at:

In Ed Husain’s book – much like Maajid Nawaz’s tome Radical released more recently to similar fanfare – Husain recounts his journey from aggrieved young Muslim into Islamist activist, and eventually his total rejection of Islamist ideology.

Both accounts of their journeys of transformation offer provocative and genuine insights.

But the British government has played a much more direct role in crafting those accounts than either they, or the government, officially admit.

Government ghostwriters

In late 2013, I interviewed a former senior researcher at the Home Office who revealed that Husain’s The Islamist was “effectively ghostwritten in Whitehall”.

The official told me that in 2006, he was informed by a government colleague “with close ties” to Jack Straw and Gordon Brown that “the draft was written by Ed but then ‘peppered’ by government input”.

The civil servant told him “he had seen ‘at least five drafts of the book, and the last one was dramatically different from the first.’

The draft had, the source said, been manipulated in an explicitly political, pro-government manner. The committee that had input into Ed Husain’s manuscript prior to its official publication included senior government officials from No. 10 Downing Street, the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, the intelligence services, Foreign & Commonwealth Office and the Home Office.

When I repeatedly put the question to Ed Husain as to the veracity of these allegations, he did not respond.

I also asked Nawaz whether he was aware of the government’s role in “ghostwriting” Husain’s prose, and whether he underwent a similar experience in the production of Radical. He did not respond either.

While Husain was liaising with British government and intelligence officials over The Islamist from 2006 until the book’s publication in May 2007, his friend Nawaz was at first in prison in Egypt.

Nawaz was eventually released in March 2006, declaring his departure from HT just a month before the publication of Husain’s book.

Husain took credit for being the prime influence on Nawaz’s decision, and by November 2007, had joined with him becoming Quilliam’s director with Husain as his deputy.

Yet according to Husain, Nawaz played a role in determining parts of the text of The Islamist in the same year it was being edited by government officials. “Before publication, I discussed with my friend and brother-in-faith Maajid the passages in the book,” wrote Husain about the need to verify details of their time in HT.

This is where the chronology of Husain’s and Nawaz’s accounts begin to break down.

In Radical, and repeatedly in interviews about his own deradicalisation process, Nawaz says that he firmly and decisively rejected HT’s Islamist ideology while in prison in Egypt.

Yet upon his release and return to Britain, Nawaz showed no sign of having reached that decision. Instead, he did the opposite.

In April 2006, Nawaz told Sarah Montague on BBC Hardtalk that his detention in Egypt had “convinced [him] even more… that there is a need to establish this Caliphate as soon as possible.”

From then on, Nawaz, who was now on HT’s executive committee, participated in dozens of talks and interviews in which he vehemently promoted the Hizb.

I first met Nawaz at a conference on 2 December 2006 organised by the Campaign Against Criminalising Communities (CAMPACC) on the theme of “reclaiming our rights”.

I had spoken on a panel about the findings of my book, The London Bombings: An Independent Inquiry, on how British state collusion with Islamist extremists had facilitated the 7/7 attacks.

Nawaz had attended the event as an audience member with two other senior HT activists, and in our brief conversation, he spoke of his ongoing work with HT in glowing terms.

By January 2007, Nawaz was at the front of a HT protest at the US embassy in London, condemning US military operations in Iraq and Somalia. He delivered a rousing speech at the protest, demanding an end to “colonial intervention in the Muslim world,” and calling for the establishment of an Islamic caliphate to stand up to such imperialism and end Western support for dictators.

Yet by his own account, throughout this very public agitation on behalf of HT from mid-2006 onwards, Nawaz had in fact rejected the very ideology he was preaching so adamantly.

Indeed, in the same period, he was liaising with his friend, Ed Husain – who at that time was still in Jeddah – and helping him with the text of his anti-HT manifesto, The Islamist, which was also being vetted at the highest levels of government.

The British government’s intimate, and secret, relationship with Husain in the year before the publication of his book in 2007 shows that, contrary to his official biography, the Quilliam Foundation founder was embedded in Whitehall long before he was on the public radar.

How did he establish connections at this level?

MI5’s Islamist

According to Dr Noman Hanif, a lecturer in international terrorism and political Islam at Birkbeck College, University of London, and an expert on Hizb ut-Tahrir, the group’s presence in Britain likely provided many opportunities for Western intelligence to “penetrate or influence” the movement.

Dr Hanif, whose doctoral thesis was about the group, points out that Husain’s tenure inside HT by his own account occurred “under the leadership of Omar Bakri Mohammed,” the controversial cleric who left the group in 1996 to found al-Muhajiroun, a militant network which to this day has been linked to every major terrorist plot in Britain.

Bakri’s leadership of HT, said Dr Hanif, formed “the most conceptually deviant period of HT’s existence in the UK, diverting quite sharply away from its core ideas,” due to Bakri’s advocacy of violence and his focus on establishing an Islamic state in the UK, goals contrary to HT doctrines.

When Bakri left HT and set-up al-Muhajiroun in 1996, according to John Loftus, a former US Army intelligence officer and Justice Department prosecutor, Bakri was immediately recruited by MI6 to facilitate Islamist activities in the Balkans. And not just Bakri, but also Abu Hamza al-Masri, who was recently convicted in the US on terrorism charges.

When Bakri founded al-Muhajiroun in 1996 with the blessings of Britain’s security services, his co-founder was Anjem Choudary. Choudary was intimately involved in the programme to train and send Britons to fight abroad, and three years later, would boast to the Sunday Telegraph that “some of the training does involve guns and live ammunition”.

Historian Mark Curtis, in his seminal work, Secret Affairs: Britain’s Collusion with Radical Islam, documents how under this arrangement, Bakri trained hundreds of Britons at camps in the UK and the US, and dispatched them to join al-Qaeda affiliated fighters in Bosnia, Kosovo and Chechnya.

Shortly before the 2005 London bombings, Ron Suskind, a Wall Street Journal Pulitizer Prize winning investigative reporter, was told by a senior MI5 official that Bakri was a longtime informant for the secret service who “had helped MI5 on several of its investigations”. Bakri, Suskind adds in his book, The Way of the World, reluctantly conceded the relationship in an interview in Beirut – but Suskind gives no indication that the relationship ever ended.

A senior terrorism lawyer in London who has represented clients in several high-profile terrorism cases told me that both Bakri and Choudary had regular meetings with MI5 officers in the 1990s. The lawyer, who works for a leading firm of solicitors and has regularly liaised with MI5 in the administration of closed court hearings involving secret evidence, said: “Omar Bakri had well over 20 meetings with MI5 from around 1993 to the late 1990s. Anjem Choudary apparently participated in such meetings toward the latter part of the decade. This was actually well-known amongst several senior Islamist leaders in Britain at the time.”

According to Dr Hanif of Birkbeck College, Bakri’s relationship with the intelligence services likely began during his “six-year reign as HT leader in Britain,” which would have “provided British intelligence ample opportunity” to “widely infiltrate the group”. HT had already been a subject of MI6 surveillance abroad “because of its core level of support in Jordan and the consistent level of activity in other areas of the Middle East for over five decades.”

At least some HT members appear to have been aware of Bakri’s intelligence connections, including, it seems, Ed Husain himself. In one passage in The Islamist (p. 116), Husain recounts: “We were also concerned about Omar’s application for political asylum… I raised this with Bernie [another HT member] too. ‘Oh no’, he said, ‘On the contrary. The British are like snakes; they manoeuvre carefully. They need Omar in Britain. More likely, Omar will be the ambassador for the khilafah here or leave to reside in the Islamic state. The kuffar know that – allowing Omar to stay in Britain will give them a good start, a diplomatic advantage, when they have to deal with the Islamic state. Having Omar serves them well for the future. MI5 knows exactly what we’re doing, what we’re about, and yet they have in effect, given us the green light to operate in Britain.”

Husain left HT after Bakri in August 2007. According to Faisal Haque, a British government civil servant and former HT member who knew Ed Husain during his time in the group, Husain had a strong “personal relationship” with Bakri. He did not leave HT for “ideological reasons,” said Haque. “It was more to do with his close personal relationship with Omar Bakri (he left when Bakri was kicked out), pressure from his father and other personal reasons which I don’t want to mention.”

Husain later went on to work for the British Council in the Middle East. From 2003 to 2005, he was in Damascus. During that period, by his own admission, he informed on other British members of HT for agitating against Bashar al-Assad’s regime, resulting in them being deported by Syrian authorities back to Britain. At this time, the CIA and MI6 routinely cooperated with Assad on extraordinary rendition programmes.

Husain then worked for the British Council in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, from late 2005 to the end of 2006.

Throughout that year, according to the former Home Office official I spoke to, Husain was in direct contact with senior Whitehall officials who were vetting his manuscript for The Islamist. By November, Husain posted on DeenPort, an online discussion forum, a now deleted comment referring off-hand to the work of “the secret services” inside HT: “Even within HT in Britain today, there is a huge division between modernisers and more radical elements. The secret services are hopeful that the modernisers can tame the radicals… I foresee another split. And God knows best. I have said more than I should on this subject! Henceforth, my lips are sealed!”

Shortly after, Maajid Nawaz would declare his departure from HT, and would eventually be joined at Quilliam by several others from the group, many of whom according to Nawaz had worked with him and Husain as “a team” behind the scenes at this time.

The ‘ex-jihadists’ who weren’t

Perhaps the biggest problem with Husain’s and Nawaz’s claim to expertise on terrorism was that they were never jihadists. Hizb ut-Tahrir is a non-violent movement for the establishment of a global “caliphate” through social struggle, focusing on the need for political activism in the Muslim world. Whatever the demerits of this rigid political ideology, it had no relationship to the phenomenon of al-Qaeda terrorism.

Nevertheless, Husain and Nawaz, along with their government benefactors, were convinced that those personal experiences of  “radicalisation” and “deradicalisation” could by transplanted into the ongoing “war on terror” – even though, in reality neither of them had any idea about the dynamics of an actual terrorist network, and the radicalisation process leading to violent extremism. The result was an utterly misguided and evidence-devoid obsession with rejecting non-violent extremist ideologies as the primary means to prevent terrorism.

Through the Quilliam Foundation, Husain’s and Nawaz’s fundamentalist ideas about non-violent extremism went on to heavily influence official counter-terrorism discourses across the Western world. This was thanks to its million pounds worth of government seed-funding, intensive media coverage, as well as the government pushing Quilliam’s directors and staff to provide “deradicalisation training” to government and security officials in the US and Europe.

In the UK, Quilliam’s approach was taken up by various centre-right and right-wing think-tanks, such as the Centre for Social Cohesion (CCS) and Policy Exchange, all of which played a big role in influencing the government’s Preventing Violent Extremism programme (Prevent).

Exactly how bankrupt this approach is, however, can be determined from Prime Minister David Cameron’s efforts to express his understanding of the risk from non-violent extremism, a major feature of the coalition government’s Orwellian new Counter-Terrorism and Security Act. The latter establishes unprecedented powers of electronic surveillance and the basis for the “Prevent duty,” which calls for all public sector institutions to develop “risk-assessment” profiles of individuals deemed to be “at-risk” of being drawn into non-violent extremism.

In his speech at the UN last year, Cameron explained that counter-terrorism measures must target people who may not “encourage violence, but whose worldview can be used as a justification for it.” As examples of dangerous ideas at the “root cause” of terrorism, Cameron pinpointed “conspiracy theories,” and most outrageously, “The idea that Muslims are persecuted all over the world as a deliberate act of Western policy.”

In other words, if you believe, for instance, that US and British forces have deliberately conducted brutal military operations across the Muslim world resulting in the foreseeable deaths of countless innocent civilians, you are a non-violent extremist.

In an eye-opening academic paper published last year, French terrorism expert and Interior Ministry policy officer Dr Claire Arenes, noted that:

By definition, one may know if radicalisation has been violent only once the point of violence has been reached, at the end of the process. Therefore, since the end-term of radicalisation cannot be determined in advance, a policy intended to fight violent radicalisation entails a structural tendency to fight any form of radicalisation.”

It is precisely this moronic obsession with trying to detect and stop “any form of radicalisation,” however non-violent, that is hampering police and security investigations and overloading them with nonsense “risks”.

Double game

At this point, the memorable vision of Nawaz and Choudary facing off on BBC Newsnight appears not just farcical, but emblematic of how today’s national security crisis has been fuelled and exploited by the bowels of the British secret state.

Over the last decade or so – the very same period that the British state was grooming the “former jihadists who weren’t” so they could be paraded around the media-security-industrial complex bigging up the non-threat of “non-violent extremism” – the CIA and MI6 were coordinating Saudi-led funding to al-Qaeda affiliated extremists across the Middle East and Central Asia to counter Iranian Shiite influence.

From 2005 onwards, US and British intelligence services encouraged a range of covert operations to support Islamist opposition groups, including militants linked to al-Qaeda, to undermine regional Iranian and Syrian influence. By 2009, the focus of these operations shifted to Syria.

As I documented in written evidence to a UK Parliamentary inquiry into Prevent in 2010, one of the recipients of such funding was none other than Omar Bakri, who at the time told one journalist: “Today, angry Lebanese Sunnis ask me to organise their jihad against the Shiites… Al-Qaeda in Lebanon… are the only ones who can defeat Hezbollah.” Simultaneously, Bakri was regularly in touch with his deputy, Anjem Choudary, over the internet and even delivered online speeches to his followers in Britain instructing them to join IS and murder civilians. He has now been detained and charged by Lebanese authorities for establishing terror cells in the country.

Bakri was also deeply involved “with training the mujahideen [fighters] in camps on the Syrian borders and also on the Palestine side.” The trainees included four British Islamists “with professional backgrounds” who would go on to join the war in Syria. Bakri also claimed to have trained “many fighters,” including people from Germany and France, since arriving in Lebanon. Was Mohammed Emwazi among them? Last year, Bakri disciple Mizanur Rahman confirmed that at least five European Muslims who had died fighting under IS in Syria had been Bakri acolytes.

Nevertheless in 2013, it was David Cameron who lifted the arms embargo to support Syria’s rebels. We now know that most of our military aid went to al-Qaeda affiliated Islamists, many with links to extremists at home. The British government itself acknowledged that a “substantial number” of Britons were fighting in Syria, who “will seek to carry out attacks against Western interests… or in Western states”.

Yet according to former British counterterrorism intelligence officer Charles Shoebridge, despite this risk, authorities “turned a blind eye to the travelling of its own jihadists to Syria, notwithstanding ample video etc. evidence of their crimes there,” because it “suited the US and UK’s anti-Assad foreign policy”.

This terror-funnel is what enabled people like Emwazi to travel to Syria and join up with IS – despite being on an MI5 terror watch-list. He had been blocked by the security services from traveling to Kuwait in 2010: why not Syria? Shoebridge, who was a British Army officer before joining the Metropolitan Police, told me that although such overseas terrorism has been illegal in the UK since 2006, “it’s notable that only towards the end of 2013 when IS turned against the West’s preferred rebels, and perhaps also when the tipping point between foreign policy usefulness and MI5 fears of domestic terrorist blowback was reached, did the UK authorities begin to take serious steps to tackle the flow of UK jihadists.”

The US-UK direct and tacit support for jihadists, Shoebridge said, had made Syria the safest place for regional terrorists fearing drone strikes “for more than two years”. Syria was “the only place British jihadists could fight without fear of US drones or arrest back home… likely because, unlike if similar numbers of UK jihadists had been travelling to for example Yemen or Afghanistan, this suited the anti-Assad policy.”

Having watched its own self-fulfilling prophecy unfold with horrifying precision in a string of IS-linked terrorist atrocities against Western hostages and targets, the government now exploits the resulting mayhem to vindicate its bankrupt “counter-extremism” narrative, promoted by hand-picked state-groomed “experts” like Husain and Nawaz.

Their prescription, predictably, is to expand the powers of the police state to identify and “deradicalise” anyone who thinks British foreign policy in the Muslim world is callous, self-serving and indifferent to civilian deaths. Government sources confirm that Nawaz’s input played a key role in David Cameron’s thinking on non-violent extremism, and the latest incarnation of the Prevent strategy; while last year, Husain was, ironically, appointed to the Foreign Office advisory group on freedom of religion or belief.

Meanwhile, Bakri’s deputy Choudary continues to inexplicably run around as Britain’s resident “terror cleric” media darling. His passport belatedly confiscated after a recent pointless police arrest that avoided charging him, he remains free to radicalise thick-headed British Muslims into joining IS, in the comfort that his hate speech will be broadcast widely, no doubt fueling widespread generic suspicion of British Muslims.

If only we could round up the Quilliam and al-Muhajiroun fanatics together, shove them onto a boat, and send them all off cruising to the middle of nowhere, they could have all the fun they want “radicalising” and “deradicalising” each other to their hearts content. And we might get a little peace. And perhaps we could send their handlers with them, too.

– Nafeez Ahmed PhD, is an investigative journalist, international security scholar and bestselling author who tracks what he calls the ‘crisis of civilization.’

He is a winner of the Project Censored Award for Outstanding Investigative Journalism for his Guardian reporting on the intersection of global ecological, energy and economic crises with regional geopolitics and conflicts.

He has also written for The Independent, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Scotsman, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, Quartz, Prospect, New Statesman, Le Monde diplomatique, New Internationalist. 

His work on the root causes and covert operations linked to international terrorism officially contributed to the 9/11 Commission and the 7/7 Coroner’s Inquest.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: Abu Hamza al-Masri speaks at a rally in Trafalgar Square in London 25 August, 2002 (AFP)

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School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS): Passed academic boycott of Israel

Campaigners at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, are celebrating a big victory for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement after a referendum to endorse an academic boycott of Israel passed by a landslide.

London’s SOAS backs Israel boycott in referendum landslide

The results, released Friday after five days of voting, showed that an overwhelming 73% of more than two thousand voters backed the boycott. Those eligible to vote on whether SOAS should cut all ties with Israeli academic institutions included students, faculty and contract staff.

Although other university communities, student unions and academic bodies in several countries have backed the boycott in referendums, the all-inclusive nature of the SOAS vote is precedent setting.

Rally on SOAS campus in support of the call for academic boycott.

(BDS Working Group)

Following the announcement of the results, the SOAS “Yes” Campaign issued a statement emphazising that the victory “has demonstrated the popular appeal of BDS as a powerful form of protest and resistance.”

“By voting in favor of the academic boycott, the SOAS community has confirmed its unwavering commitment to freedom, equality and justice for all Palestinians and has reasserted its call for an end to Israeli apartheid, oppressive occupation, and settler-colonialism,” the statement, quoted in full below, adds.

Festive atmosphere

Students anxiously gathered to await the results before their 7pm release at the SOAS bar.

Every sector of the SOAS community endorsed the BDS call: 75 percent of students; 91 percent of cleaners, security and catering staff and 60% of academics voted in favor of the boycott.

The atmosphere at the bar was festive.

Members and students from all political groups on campus, including the Justice for Cleaners campaign, LGBTQIA+ Society, and the Students’ Union celebrated alongside Palestine Society and BDS Working Group members to the melodies of Palestinian folkloric and Arab pop music until late into the night.

This video, made by Amar Shabandar, records the moment the results were announced.


The call for academic boycott had already been endorsed by these and other groups at SOAS, including the Tamil Society and Kashmir Solidarity Movement.

Indeed, the SOAS Students Union has had a BDS policy since 2005.

The Students’ Union-run campus shop, for instance, continues to exclude all Israeli products from its shelves.

Similarly, the LGBTQIA+ Society recently voted in favor of keeping anti-Zionism as part of its safe-space policy.

Among the most powerful SOAS supporters of BDS is the Justice for Cleaners campaign, mainly comprised of outsourced SOAS cleaners who have been campaigning for their rights since 2006.

Journalists affiliated with right-wing newspapers maintained a strong presence on campus yesterday, constantly trying to pressure Palestine Society members into making statements and justifications to them.

Their efforts having failed, the journalists, together with the “No” campaigners, disappeared before the results were announced.


Breakdown of the referendum results.

(BDS Working Group)

On Wednesday, the “No” Campaign invited Israeli and pro-Zionist scholars to speak at SOAS. During the event, speakers made racist statements and the Israeli flag kept falling off the wall.

At least one member of the racist Jewish Defense League (JDL) was present at the event co-organized by the right-wing Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland.

Israeli universities backed Gaza attack

The BDS victory at SOAS is the first step toward putting pressure on management to implement an academic boycott of Israel, particularly against  Hebrew University with which SOAS has institutional ties.

Hebrew University, along with most other Israeli universities, fully supported Israel’s summer assault on Gaza that killed more than 2,200 people, more than 500 of them children.

The “Yes” Campaign, run mainly by the BDS Working Group in collaboration with the Students’ Union and Palestine Society, registered more than one victory.

It has shown the interconnection between liberation struggles against all forms of oppression, whether class-based or patriarchal. It has also been inclusive of Jewish students and academics long denied a platform in Israel and among Zionist groups in the UK.

The Palestine Society has constantly reaffirmed its commitment to the struggle against racism, including anti-Semitism, and will continue to campaign for a full implementation of the academic boycott.

Other universities, in the UK and elsewhere, should follow the path the SOAS community has taken.

“Yes” Campaign press release

A historic victory for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement was achieved today in the referendum on the academic boycott of Israel, at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London.

Out of 2,056 votes cast, an overwhelming majority of 73 percent voted in favor of boycotting Israeli academic institutions. This victory reinforces the demands of the BDS call issued in 2005 by Palestinian civil society organizations.

The voting took place between 23 and 27 February. The referendum was school-wide, that is, it was open to all members of the SOAS community. This included current students, academics, non-academic staff, university governors and outsourced workers such as cleaners, security and catering staff.

SOAS represents one of the most diverse student bodies in the UK with roughly 6,000 students and staff of multi-faith backgrounds from over 133 countries.

The referendum was called for by the Students’ Union, and was conducted in an open, fair and transparent environment. Both the Yes and No campaigners were given equal platforms to hold panel discussions and debates.

The academic boycott campaign was led by students and staff from various nationalities, backgrounds, and faith groups reflecting the broad support for the boycott.

It has demonstrated the popular appeal of BDS as a powerful form of protest and resistance.

By voting in favor of the academic boycott, the SOAS community has confirmed its unwavering commitment to freedom, equality and justice for all Palestinians and has reasserted its call for an end to Israeli apartheid, oppressive occupation, and settler-colonialism.

Presently, SOAS has ties with the Hebrew University, which unapologetically joined the “war effort” last summer when the Israeli army murdered over 2,000 Palestinians in Gaza.

In October 2014, the US weapons-producer Lockheed Martin announced that a cooperation agreement had been signed with Yissum, a technology firm that belongs to the Hebrew University.

The academic boycott campaign stresses that the boycott does not contradict academic freedom as it targets Israeli institutions complicit in the oppression of Palestinians, not individuals.

Open enquiry, free exchange of ideas, and intellectual freedom are crucial to every academic community, but freedom can only be real when it is afforded to all. This has to include the Palestinians.

The Palestine Society and the BDS campaign at SOAS state:

“This historic result has brought us one step further in our struggle for freedom and justice. We do not tolerate any collaboration with academic institutions which are complicit in human rights violations and which do not practice the values of academic freedom and equality.

We call upon other universities to show their solidarity by joining the academic boycott.”




March 2015

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