By Luiza Ch. Savage - Wednesday, January 9, 2013 - 0 Comments
Last night, Kathryn Bigelow’s new film about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, Zero Dark Thirty, premiered here in Washington, DC. The theatre at the Newseum was packed with journalists, talking heads and a smattering of senators. Outside, protesters in Guantanamo Bay-style orange jumpsuits expressed their opposition to torture and the way it is portrayed in the film.
A few weeks ago, the acting head of the CIA, Michael Morell, wrote that the movie gives a exaggerated impression of the role the harsh interrogation techniques played in the hunt for Bin Laden:
The movie “creates the strong impression that the enhanced interrogation techniques that were part of our former detention and interrogation program were the key to finding Bin Laden. That impression is false.”
“The truth is that multiple streams of intelligence led C.I.A. analysts to conclude that Bin Laden was hiding in Abbottabad. … Some came from detainees subjected to enhanced techniques. … But there were many other sources as well.”
Bigelow, whose previous film, The Hurt Locker, about an army bomb squad in the Iraq War, won six Oscars fincluding best picture, best director, and best original screenplay, introduced the film last night by saying she had “no agenda in making this film.” Screenwriter, Mark Boal, engaged in a post-screening Q-and-A with Martha Raddetz, the ABC News reporter who moderated the vice presidential debates. (Raddetz also interviewed Chris Pratt, the actor who plays one of the Navy SEALs who raided the compound. He described the experience of filming the climactic raid scene inside a replica of the fortress-like hideout that filmmakers had built to scale on location in the country of Jordan.)
Boal told Raddetz that he was surprised by the some of the political reaction that greeted the film before it had even opened in Washington, DC. (In addition to the CIA comments, the Senate Intelligence Committee is investigating where the filmmakers got their information.) Perhaps he should not have been surprised. It’s hard to watch this gripping and suspenseful film and not come away with the strong impression that water-boarding and torture were key factors obtaining the intelligence that led to bin Laden.
The film opens with an extensive torture scene – including waterboarding – of an apparently fictional or composite detainee, described as a nephew to 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Later, after his torture has ended and he has been allowed to sleep and is eating comfortably – but with the implicit threat of more abuse hanging over him – his CIA interrogators fool him into thinking that he had already began talking while under extreme sleep deprivation and had given up names that foiled a plot. They get him to relax and start talking more about his travels before his capture, including naming three other men who were with him at one point. Two of those names were familiar to the CIA already, but they third name is new; he describes the man as merely a computer guy. But this third man will turn out to be the courier who will lead the CIA to Bin Laden’s hideout. (In real life, none of the three detainees who are known to have been waterboarded gave up the courier’s name and identity.)
There is then a montage in which other detainees tell interrogators that they knew of the man, including one who says he sometimes delivered messages for Bin Laden but was just one of many couriers; it is not clear what treatment, if any, they were subjected to or even whether they were in American hands or some foreign service. Later, yet another detainee is introduced who talks freely to his interrogators because he does not want to be tortured again, he says without adding details; this detainee fills in the crucial description that the man is, in fact, Bin Laden’s most trusted courier. Yet another detainee lies about the man while being truthful about other information, which confirms that the man must be particularly important. (The rest of the hunt – learning the courier’s real name and the dogged manhunt to track him down in Pakistan — do not involve interrogations, coercive or otherwise. The CIA, for example, discovered some information about the man had been submitted by another country’s intelligence service shortly after 9/11 but had gone overlooked in its files; and used bribery, electronic surveillance, and the cell phone’s signal to hone in on their target.)
Here is a detailed New York Times report in May 2011 about the role that torture played in the trail that led the CIA to bin Laden’s trusted courier, and then to his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan:
But a closer look at prisoner interrogations suggests that the harsh techniques played a small role at most in identifying Bin Laden’s trusted courier and exposing his hide-out. One detainee who apparently was subjected to some tough treatment provided a crucial description of the courier, according to current and former officials briefed on the interrogations. But two prisoners who underwent some of the harshest treatment — including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times — repeatedly misled their interrogators about the courier’s identity.
In his comments after the screening, Boal portrayed the movie as ambiguous about the role of torture.
“I remember hearing that the head of the CIA had made a statement about the movie and that was a pretty intense moment… I wasn’t totally expecting that,” said Boal.
“I think there is a lot in that statement that falls in line with the movie. The movie to me portrays a lot of different techniques over the years.”
Boal called “Bigelow” “gutsy” in portraying the interrogation techniques.
“The fact that she was willing to tackle that and not shy away from that part of the story, I’m very proud of the fact that she did that. I think she did a great job of capturing some of the essence of the issues involved. We are talking about a ten year man-hunt that had hundreds if not thousands of people involved…”
Likewise, former Democratic senator, Chris Dodd, now the head of the Motion Picture Association of America, gave a full-throated defense of the film: “It’s a movie. This isn’t a documentary,” he said.
The film “celebrates the work of the people of this town, to the world and to people in this country, who don’t think anything we do very well gets done at all. This is a great moment.”
Dodd compared the movie to the film Philadelphia, which raised awareness about AIDS and To Kill a Mockingbird, which highlighted racism. The torture controversy, he argued, is irrelevant.
“The fact that we are sitting here bickering a bit about whether or not there is a scene or two in this movie which some people think captures an acknowledgement or acceptance or approval of a certain strategy I think misses the point entirely. I think for years to come this film will be a way in which an awful lot of people will recognize the incredible efforts of some remarkable Americans whose names we will never ever know and never get the chance to personally thank — and for that reason I am thankful for what they did,” Dodd said.
But it was hard not to feel as if they were talking about a different, more ambiguous movie than the one that had just been screened.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 at 4:08 PM - 0 Comments
Independent MP Peter Goldring—he resigned from the Conservative caucus 11 months ago—has issued a statement to condemn the CBC’s reporting on a Canadian Forces video that poked fun at Osama bin Laden.
Edmonton East Member of Parliament Peter Goldring has expressed outrage and disgust over the manner in which the CBC conducted cheap, amateur, yellow journalism of the worst sort against Canada’s proud military.
The 2010 video of a private party skit in question involves a Canadian soldier dressed up in Taliban attire and posing as Osama bin Laden`s brother, ‘Eugene’. The CBC has latched on to this video and used it to paint the Canadian military and its members as both offensive and culturally insensitive persons.
“This video was meant as nothing more than a little black humour intended for a private audience,” Mr. Goldring stated. “The Canadian military didn’t make this video public, The CBC did. The CBC, who did the right thing to report it to the Canadian military, then had the opportunity to do the next right thing and simply put this video in the garbage can along with the rest of the copies where it belongs. Instead, the CBC are the ones inciting hate and hurting the Arab community worldwide by blasting this video out through national media to be picked up internationally.
“By engaging in yellow journalism and irresponsibly disseminating it for the world to see, the CBC hurt Canada’s image, our military’s image, and unnecessarily offended Arab’s around the world. By spinning this and putting it out for international consumption, the CBC is propagating racism. They took a video that was internal, personal, and limited to a very few, and turned it into an outward Canadian racial attitude for the rest of the world to believe.
“By calling upon CBC comedian Shaun Majumder – a visible minority – to speak out on the supposed ‘cultural insensitivities’ of this video is the height of hypocrisy, as Shaun has portrayed bin Laden as an Arab himself. The CBC attempted to detonate a racist scandal where there simply was none to be found.
“To frame this in perspective, the late Leslie Nielsen has portrayed Osama bin Laden in film – does that make him decidedly racist or insensitive? No, in fact he is recognized on Canada’s Walk of Fame and has also received an Order of Canada.
“Shaun Majumder – the CBC spokesperson condemning the actions in this video – has portrayed Osama bin Laden in skits himself, most notably in a spoof video poking fun at both bin Laden as well as the H1N1 virus during the outbreak. Majumder never faced any backlash or criticisms for his portrayal although it certainly could be said that he was propagating racial hatred not in a simple private event but worldwide.
“This video should not have been news-worthy, but the irresponsibility of the CBC’s reporting has served to define what this harmless skit has now morphed into.
“In the face of this incident, we have to thank the men and women of our Canadian military who were doing nothing more than relieving themselves of the endless stresses of their jobs with a little bit of black comedy that from time to time many people of all races of all countries enjoy, and ended up showing us where the evil truly exists in this country – the CBC headquarters.
“God help us if we have a CBC that does harm to our military and to our country worldwide by exploitative sensationalism.
“I call on the Prime Minister to call up the CBC to issue a sweeping apology to not only our military but our entire country. Their reckless reporting surrounding this non-story has done a great disservice to both our military and out country’s reputations.
“It’s time to consider whether the CBC is with Canadians or against.”
Defence Minister Peter MacKay said the video included “inappropriate content and poor taste.”
By Michael Friscolanti - Thursday, September 27, 2012 at 9:15 AM - 0 Comments
Child soldier. Convicted terrorist. Khadr is about to return to Canada, but no one has been able to see his full seven-hour interview at Guantánamo Bay. Until now.
Omar Khadr has spent so much of his young life answering questions. (Some honestly, some not.) The faces of his interrogators have changed over the years—men, women, American, Canadian—but the questions rarely did. The gist of every grilling was the same. How does a 15-year-old kid from Toronto end up on the front lines of Afghanistan? What was your father’s relationship with Osama bin Laden? Did you throw the grenade that killed Sgt. Christopher Speer? (As one CSIS spy famously told him: “You didn’t just fall off the turnip truck . . . You could probably tell us a lot of interesting things.”)
On June 15, 2010, the man asking the questions was not a nameless interrogator. It was Michael Welner, a prominent forensic psychiatrist based in New York. Hired by Pentagon prosecutors, Welner’s job was, among other things, to personally assess Khadr in advance of his much-anticipated war crimes trial. When they sat down together that Tuesday morning, inside the razor wire of Guantánamo Bay, Khadr was a few months shy of his 24th birthday. With a full beard and a muscular frame, he looked nothing like the bony teenager who was shot and captured by U.S. troops eight years before.
“If I had to ask you about the five worst memories that you have in your life, what are they?” Welner asked him.
By Scaachi Koul - Tuesday, September 4, 2012 at 9:19 AM - 0 Comments
It’s been months since Osama bin Laden was killed by the U.S. Navy, but…
It’s been months since Osama bin Laden was killed by the U.S. Navy, but interest in his death hasn’t waned.
“Mark Owen,” the pen name of author and ex-Navy SEAL Matt Bissonnette answers some of those questions in No Easy Day: The First Hand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama bin Laden, a book about the lead-up to and execution of bin Laden. The book has already been one the No. 1 spot on Amazon’s bestseller list for two weeks, just from pre-orders.
Here are some things we’ve learned from reports about No Easy Day.
1. The author’s description of events contradicts official statements. Bissonnette says bin Laden was hit in the head when he looked out his bedroom window while SEALs rushed a stairwell in his direction. Bissonnette says he was behind a “point man” going up the stairs. He says he heard suppressed gunfire, and when they followed him into his bedroom, Osama was crumpled in a corner with a hole in his head and women wailing over his still-twitching body.
2. Even Navy SEALS think Joe Biden tells “lame jokes” and reminds them of “someone’s drunken uncle at Christmas dinner.”
3. The SEALS weren’t huge fans of President Obama either, saying that killing bin Laden will earn Obama a second term.
4. Although the publishers say the book was vetted by a former special-operations attorney, it wasn’t reviewed by the military.
5. Bissonnette initially wanted the book to be released on September 11 so that it would be apolitical. The release date was bumped up a few more days due to overwhelming demand.
6. There were two guns in bin Laden’s room when he was killed, neither of which were loaded. Bissonnette calls him a “pussy” for not fighting for his life.
7. Still, Bissonnette admits that the SEALs were not on an assassination mission.
8. General counsel for the Defense Department, Jeh Johnson, wrote a letter to the author saying he had signed two nondisclosure agreements with the Navy in 2007 that prevents him from divulging classified information. Johnson says that after reading a copy of the book, the author is in “material breach and violation” of those agreements, and the Pentagon is considering legal action.
9. Bissonnette may have written his account because of bad blood in SEAL Team 6. An e-book written by fellow Special Operations veterans say Bissonnette was pushed out of his unit after expressing interest in leaving the Navy and starting a small business. Bitter over being sent home, he wrote a book. The e-book will be on sale a day before Bissonnette’s book.
10. Bissonnette has since had his identity revealed in the U.S. Al-Qaeda members have been calling for his death online.
By Nicholas Köhler and Chris Sorensen - Friday, May 11, 2012 at 1:24 PM - 0 Comments
Ben Mulroney has a big audition, Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s in trouble, again, and Justin Bieber gets in the ring
Still punching above his weight
Somehow, with little consequence except the continued appreciation of British children, the puppet Mr. Punch has managed to commit domestic abuse, infanticide and other slapstick crimes for 350 years now. On May 9, 1662, the diary of Samuel Pepys, notes that he witnessed at London’s Covent Garden piazza what he described as “an Italian puppet play . . . which is very pretty, the best that ever I saw.” With his red nose and squawks, produced by a “swazzle” sound-making device played by a “professor”—the puppeteer inside the booth—the anarchic Punch still enthralls, a disturbing testament to the comic power of senseless violence.
Tragedy of a ruined bruin
Captured mid-fall in a stunning snapshot by student photographer Andy Duann, a 280-lb.black bear tranquilized after stealing into a tree at the University of Colorado campus in Boulder became an instant celebrity last month. Not two weeks later the bear was dead, struck by two cars near the university. Authorities had hauled the slumbering animal to the mountains, but the wilds of Colorado are dry this spring and the bear was on his way back to campus when he was struck.
By Gustavo Vieira - Friday, May 4, 2012 at 5:13 PM - 0 Comments
A sheaf of letters obtained at Osama bin Laden’s last refuge in Pakistan showed…
A sheaf of letters obtained at Osama bin Laden’s last refuge in Pakistan showed that the former Al Qaeda leader planned to release a package of special materials to the media ahead of the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
Journalists in the United States, the United Kingdom and in four other countries, including Canada, were mentioned by Al Qaeda’s spokesman Adam Gadahn, as possible recipients of the materials in the letters.
From the Toronto Star:
Among the journalists Gadahn favoured were Eric Margolis, a longtime columnist with the Toronto Sun, and Canadian author Gwynne Dyer, a syndicated columnist based in London.
Margolis, Dyer and others would receive a link to a password-protected website to download materials perhaps five days before the anniversary.
Al Qaeda’s plans to mark the Sept. 11, 2001, anniversary were included in a trove of documents bin Laden allegedly wrote and received between September 2006 and April 2011.
The correspondence was obtained last year in the raid in Pakistan that killed bin Laden. Seventeen of those documents, a collective 175 pages, were published Thursday by the U.S. Army’s Combating Terrorism Center.
By Colby Cosh and Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, December 6, 2011 at 6:00 AM - 2 Comments
From Norway gunman Anders Behring Breivik to cancer fraudster Ashley Kirilow: portraits of evil
MADMAN OF NORWAY
Anders Behring Breivik, a 31-year-old Norwegian ultranationalist obsessed with the Muslim presence in Europe, allegedly killed eight people in a bombing of government buildings in Oslo and 69 more in a shooting rampage. Most of the victims were teenagers attending a summer camp held on the island of Utøya by the youth wing of the country’s Labour Party. “I had to save Norway and Western Europe from Muslim takeover,” Breivik later told a court. “Labour has betrayed the country and the people.”
HAREM COULDN’T SAVE HIM
U.S. Navy SEALs killed 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden after the CIA discovered him living in a three-story compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, 1,300 m from the national military academy. The SEALs chosen to enter Pakistan without notifying the country’s compromised government cheered when told, “We think we found Osama bin Laden and your job is to kill him.” Bin Laden’s last line of defence ended up being two shrieking wives who unsuccessfully tried to shield him as SEALs broke into his bedroom.
By Michael Petrou - Tuesday, November 22, 2011 at 9:10 PM - 13 Comments
Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf surely knew that Osama bin Laden was hiding in a compound a short walk from a Pakistani military academy, says Conservative MP Chris Alexander, who previously served as Canada’s first resident ambassador in Afghanistan after the overthrow of the Taliban.
“I can’t prove Musharraf’ knowledge, but everything I know about Pakistan’s system would tell me that he as chief of the army staff and he as president would have known,” Alexander said during a speech today at the International Development Research Centre in Ottawa. Continue…
By Luiza Ch. Savage - Tuesday, November 8, 2011 at 8:40 AM - 4 Comments
Sure, he’s pulling troops out of Iraq, but he’s found lethal new ways to flex America’s military muscle
Barack Obama used U.S. air power to prevent a massacre and facilitate the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi in Libya. He sent a team of Navy SEALS to conduct a secret surgical strike in Pakistan that took out Osama bin Laden, America’s public enemy number one. He sent a Predator drone armed with Hellfire missiles to assassinate an American citizen in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki, whose extremist preaching was linked to several attempted terrorist attacks against the U.S. All three objectives were achieved without invasion, occupation, or the loss of American lives.
The last decade was dominated by the Bush administration’s “shock and awe” display of U.S. military might, a swagger that descended into a “long war” of occupation and nation building in Afghanistan and Iraq that left thousands of Americans dead and wounded, and cost upward of a trillion dollars. But cold, calculating and nimble, Obama has turned a new page on the projection of American power. His emphasis on technology, intelligence, and leaning on allies is leaving a smaller and less costly U.S. military footprint on the globe, but one that is proving to be just as lethal to its adversaries.
In his first days as President, Obama ordered interrogation techniques cleaned up and the prison at Guantánamo Bay to be closed within a year. Congress objected, and Guantánamo has remained open, but the President has added zero detainees to the inmate population. Indeed, he’s barely taken any prisoners—instead, he has presided over many more drone strikes against terrorist suspects than George W. Bush. He is not waterboarding enemy prisoners who have been removed from the battlefield; he is killing them where they stand. (The administration denies frequent accusations that it is killing militants when capturing them would have been feasible.)
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, September 27, 2011 at 8:45 AM - 7 Comments
“Now we have a lot of people running around using language like ‘torture.’ I heard one of your members of Parliament saying we used it on hundreds of people at Guantanamo. Not true,” said Mr. Cheney, who became a lightning rod for critics of the Bush administration, particularly over the war on Iraq, during his eight years as vice-president.
“We did not use torture. … We did what we absolutely needed to do. We had an obligation to gather intelligence to ensure that we didn’t get struck again, and I think it worked,” he said, noting that Mr. Mohammed, in particular, produced a “gold mine” of information “after he’d been through the process.”
The utility of waterboarding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is a matter of some debate. So far as the hunt for Osama bin Laden, for instance, John McCain has said that torturing Mr. Mohammed actually produced false and misleading information.
By Luiza Ch. Savage - Monday, September 19, 2011 at 10:20 AM - 53 Comments
As the economy sinks and hope turns into despair, the president’s odds of re-election are fading fast
Two and a half years into Barack Obama’s presidency, Obamamania has given way to Obamamisery. Fourteen million Americans are out of work. The unemployment rate remains stuck above nine per cent. The net number of new jobs created last month was exactly zero. And nearly one in six Americans live in poverty—the most in 27 years.
Sure, the former Illinois senator was dealt a raw hand—elected in the midst of an economic crisis and two long, costly wars, at the burst of a credit and real estate bubble that would take years to unwind. In his inaugural address, the new President acknowledged “a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable.” But Obama had promised to be the man of hope and change. “Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America,” he told the millions people who had travelled from around the country and the globe to witness him take office and end the era of George W. Bush.
In January 2009, the unemployment rate was 6.9 per cent and Obama’s approval ratings were over 60 per cent. The question that framed his presidency was whether he would lead the country out of crisis the way Franklin Delano Roosevelt led the country out of the Great Depression, or whether he would become the next Jimmy Carter—a weak, one-term president done in by economic malaise and failures abroad.
By Michael Petrou - Friday, September 9, 2011 at 10:30 AM - 2 Comments
Muslims are rising up—for democracy and civil rights. Why bin Laden’s call to extremism has failed.
Osama bin Laden enjoyed talking about his death. And like other hyper-religious Islamists, he claimed to long for it. “So let me be a martyr, dwelling in a high mountain pass among a band of knights who, united in devotion to God, descend to face armies,” he wrote in a poem he recited in a 2003 audiotape.
Bin Laden could embrace dying because he believed the war he had declared on Jews and “crusaders” was bigger than him and any other individual. It would sweep the Muslim ummah, or nation. “I am just a poor slave of God,” he said in December 2001, shortly after slipping away from the American bombardment of Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan. “If I live or die, the war will continue.” With God’s grace, he said, the “awakening” had begun.
Now bin Laden is dead, assassinated by U.S. commandos in a May raid on his secret compound deep inside Pakistan. And indeed, the war between al-Qaeda and its many enemies continues. But al-Qaeda’s destructive nihilism is becoming a lonelier and lonelier pursuit. A decade after its most spectacular and murderous success, al-Qaeda is a shrunken shell of what it once was, rejected by increasing numbers of Muslims and even its onetime spiritual allies.
By Charlie Gillis - Thursday, September 8, 2011 at 9:05 AM - 0 Comments
After her husband was killed in the north tower, Cindy Barkway decided to prove good is better than evil
On the morning of May 2, having just returned from a family cruise along Canada’s east coast, Cindy Barkway waited in the kitchen of her Etobicoke, Ont., home with a piece of momentous news. “They’ve killed Osama bin Laden,” she told her nine-year-old son David as he descended, bleary-eyed, from his upstairs room. She scanned his face for reaction: when he laughs or frowns, the boy can look hauntingly like the father he never knew. This time she got an uncomprehending stare.
“Who?” he asked.
“The guy who killed Daddy,” said David’s older brother Jamie, exasperated, and with that the younger boy brightened. Since they were toddlers, Cindy has been conditioning her sons with early-years style accounts of their father’s death in the north tower of the World Trade Center—how David Sr., a trader with BMO Nesbitt-Burns, had gone to a meeting in New York; how an angry man had sent airplanes to fly into the tall building; how their dad and a lot of other blameless people died in a tragedy that changed the world.
Cindy was six months pregnant on Sept. 11, 2001, with the boy she’d name after her late husband. She had joined David Sr. on his fateful trip to New York to do a bit of shopping, so she bore witness to the smoke billowing from the towers before she knew what caused it (a drugstore clerk told her that the buildings had been struck by hijacked airliners). This cascade of misfortune would bring uninvited celebrity: as the loved one of a Canadian victim who was actually in New York at the time, she became the focus of intense interest to her own country’s media. She also counted among the so-called “9/11 moms” featured on Oprah Winfrey and Primetime with Diane Sawyer.
By Andrew Coyne and Paul Wells - Tuesday, September 6, 2011 at 9:30 AM - 12 Comments
Andrew Coyne and Paul Wells debate the successes and failures of the world’s response after 9/11 and how safe we are today
ANDREW COYNE: Perhaps the best way to think about the legacy of Sept. 11 is to think of all the things that haven’t happened. Most obviously, there has been no successful terrorist attack on American soil since then—nor any attempted attack originating from Canadian soil. Neither have there been any of the consequences that might well have followed from a second, possibly worse attack, or in some cases were predicted to follow from the first: no wholesale victimization of Muslims, no long, black night of repression of dissent, no cataclysmic clash of civilizations, and so on.
This is of more than theoretical interest. If, 10 years later, al-Qaeda seems a depleted force, there was no guarantee things would turn out that way, nor did it seem likely at the time. Reviewing television footage from the day, what is striking is the sense of bewilderment in the voices of the normally phlegmatic anchormen, as the planes keep dropping out of the sky. Who could blame them? As of about noon that day, you could have told me California had fallen into the sea and I’d have believed you.
The audacity of attacking the world’s most powerful nation in such spectacular, head-on fashion still has the power to shock. More than anything else, Sept. 11 was a show of strength: look what we can do to you, it announced. And there is nothing you can do to stop it.
By macleans.ca - Monday, August 22, 2011 at 1:00 PM - 0 Comments
Canada’s navy and air force are Royal once more, Syrian forces launch a brutal naval assault on its own people
Forty-three years after Canada adopted the ugliest of bureaucratic names for its military services, Ottawa has reversed itself. Now, Land Forces Command will once again be called the Canadian Army; the Royal Canadian Navy replaces Maritime Command; and Air Command returns to the Royal Canadian Air Force. While some opponents call the royal names divisive, the Canadian Forces calls them an “important and recognizable” part of our military heritage. But let’s hope it doesn’t put a crimp in the military’s budget: that’s a lot of letterhead to replace.
The oracle has spoken
Warren Buffett says it’s time to stop coddling billionaires. In an opinion piece this week, the famous investor argues ultra-wealthy Americans like himself should pay income tax at the same rate as the middle class. “People invest to make money, and potential taxes have never scared them off,” he wrote. It’s a useful counterpoint to anti-tax conservatives like U.S. presidential hopeful Rick Perry, who said recently that making the rich pay income taxes kills investment. Shared sacrifice, both in spending cuts and higher taxes, are needed to get the U.S. economy back on track.
By Richard Warnica - Thursday, July 28, 2011 at 10:00 AM - 4 Comments
As the 10th anniversary of the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil approaches, apprehension is building
On Sept. 11, 2011, 10 years to the day after terrorists crashed two passenger jets into the towers at the World Trade Centre in New York, 15 Americans will run out for a pool match against Ireland at the Rugby World Cup in New Plymouth, New Zealand. The date of the game is a coincidence, organizers say. There is no special reason the Americans are playing then. But the particular timing is not lost—either on the players or the security officials charged with keeping the tournament safe. The New Zealand Police have established a special unit to oversee the World Cup. A spokesman said they have “no indication” of any threat tied to the game. But they are “aware” of the occasion. As for the players, team captain Todd Clever was one of the first to see the schedule when it was released. The date of the Ireland match stood out right away. “It was yelling at me,” he said: “9/11/11.”
New Zealand sits just west of the international date line, so the men of the U.S. rugby team will be among the first Americans to live through the 10th anniversary. But as the sun moves east and the morning breaks elsewhere that day, millions more will mark an occasion that, a decade after the attacks, remains heavy with apprehension, sorrow and the niggling fear that it might just happen again.
This year’s milestone could be particularly poignant. It marks not only 10 years since nearly 3,000 people died in the worst-ever terrorist assault on American soil, but also comes just months after the man who oversaw the attacks was himself killed. U.S. Special Forces shot Osama bin Laden dead at a compound in Pakistan in May. Documents found in the raid suggest the 9/11 mastermind hoped to pull off another plot a decade after his greatest triumph. According to initial reports, bin Laden wanted to bomb a train to mark the occasion. (Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists killed hundreds in train bombings in Spain and Britain in 2004 and 2005.) Media reports have since indicated he was looking to shoot down Air Force One, assassinate U.S. Gen. David Petraeus, or fly a small plane into a sporting event. According to the Wall Street Journal, those plans never went past the earliest stages. Bin Laden kept vetoing targets, others have reported. And there are questions about how much influence the Saudi still had with al-Qaeda when he died.
By Michael Petrou - Wednesday, July 20, 2011 at 10:10 AM - 6 Comments
Massoud Khalili on his dreams for a new Afghanistan, and why forgiveness is so much harder than revenge
Massoud Khalili woke up five days after the 9/11 attacks after drifting in and out of consciousness and near death for a week.
Khalili, son of Khalilullah Khalili, one of Afghanistan’s greatest modern poets, was a close friend of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Afghan guerrilla commander known as the Lion of Panjshir. He was with him in northern Afghanistan on Sept. 9, 2001, when al-Qaeda agents posing as journalists detonated a bomb hidden in a video camera, killing Massoud and filling Khalili’s body with shrapnel.
The assassination was a gift from bin Laden to his host, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, who had been fighting Massoud’s soldiers since 1996.
Khalili, then the anti-Taliban United Front’s ambassador to India, was partially blinded in the attack. Lying in his hospital bed, he opened his one good eye and saw his wife of more than 20 years. She watched him wake and recited a verse from the Quran: “From God we come, and to him we will return.”
Khalili thought he might die and wanted to do so with a clean conscience. He asked his wife to forgive him if he had ever raised his voice against her in all their years of marriage. Then he asked what happened to his friends and comrades who were in the room when the bomb went off.
Some are dead, some lived, she said. Massoud is gone.
Khalili asked about the al-Qaeda agents who tried to kill him.
They’re dead, she told him.
Today, 10 years later, Khalili strides with gusto around the garden of his summer home overlooking the Shomali Plain north of Kabul. The garden is full of fruit trees, flowers and birds. “I don’t allow my gardener to use guns here,” he says. “I’ve killed so many men. I don’t want to kill birds.”
Khalili is once again an envoy, but now of a government in Kabul rather than of a tiny and embattled rump state in the country’s north. He is Afghanistan’s ambassador to Spain. When he is home, he lives in a house built for his father by Mohammed Zahir Shah, the former king of Afghanistan. His wife’s paintings cover its walls. There are also many photos of Massoud, including what is likely the last one ever taken of him. Khalili had his camera with him when the bomb exploded. The film survived intact and when developed revealed an image of Massoud in a helicopter reading a biography of the prophets.
There is also a photo of Khalili himself with a bandolier of bullets draped across his shoulders. He sits on the ground, tilting his face toward sun with his eyes closed. It was taken in 1984, in the midst of the Afghan jihad against the Soviets. He looks blissfully happy. “The only thing we had was hope,” he says. “The only weapon we had was hope. In the mountains it was a dream to have a parliament and a president and boys and girls going to school. The worst parliament in the world is still something. Because you have it.”
Back in his summer garden, Khalili weaves among fruit trees and points to a distant hilltop. There, he says, is where Alexander the Great made his camp. “Of all the conquerors that we have had, we loved Alexander the Great because he brought us this civilization and thinkers and philosophers and painters. He conquered with this, and we believe that if he wasn’t a prophet, he was one of the saints. My father never called him Alexander, always Sir Alexander.”
He shifts his gaze east, points to snow-covered mountain peaks, and traces a line between them. “That’s the route we would take to hike into the Panjshir Valley from Pakistan,” he says, referring to the days when he and his fellow mujahedeen received weapons from CIA operatives in Pakistan and hauled them back to Panjshir to use against the Soviets. “They couldn’t move on the ground,” he says of the Russians. “But their helicopters would just fly over our houses.” Then, in 1986, the mujahedeen got Stinger surface-to-air missiles from the United States. “They no longer controlled the skies,” he says.
The Afghan mujahedeen eventually forced the Soviets from their country. But the fighting didn’t end. There was civil war, and the war against the Taliban, and then the murder of Khalili’s friend and commander, Massoud. Khalili has returned to their old redoubt in the Panjshir Valley only once since then, to see his tomb. “It was the first time I was there alone. Before it was always with him. Before there was always someone there, someone tall, who I was walking with or following.”
Now, despite a parliament in Kabul and girls in school, war persists. “But there is hope,” says Khalili. “I have an army now, police now, though not very strong. And despite corruption, we have money. And people have not raised their white flags to the Taliban. Some, yes, but not all.” Khalili cautions Afghanistan’s Western allies against a rushed exit from Afghanistan. “We should never leave the snake half-wounded,” he says. “Never fulfill a promise halfway. We would love to see them go when they have finished their job, and when we have completed our job.”
In recent months, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has intensified efforts to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban. Khalili doesn’t think these will amount to much. “I don’t believe in moderate Taliban. You’re in Taliban or you’re not in Taliban,” he says. “They won’t talk. They fight. So what can you do? You defend. My father once wrote that war is the worst possible option. But sometimes it is an option. Because mercy to the wolf is cruelty to the lamb. Some things are so principled that you cannot make a deal on—human rights, rights of women, education. You bring peace to Afghanistan like that, with no freedom; it’s like peace in a graveyard. Stability in a graveyard is good for dead people.”
Yet Khalili doesn’t wish to prolong enmity among his fellow Afghans. Almost 100 years ago, Amanullah Khan, another Afghan king, hanged Khalili’s grandfather. Khalili once asked his father, the poet, why he never said anything bad about Khan in his poems. “He said to forgive is the most difficult thing. The easiest is to seek revenge,” says Khalili.
Khalili’s own son was with him when he woke from his coma following the al-Qaeda attack in 2001. Khalili called him to the bed. “I said, ‘Listen to me. I may be dead soon. Whatever I am about to ask of you, you tell me you’ll agree.’ ” His son initially refused, but Khalili’s wife yelled at him and he gave in.
“I said, ‘Son, I know you’re an Afghan and revenge is part of your culture. And if there is a war and you are recruited, go. Mercy to the wolf is cruelty to the lamb. But listen to me. I want to go from this life with no pain. Don’t fight on my behalf. I have already forgiven the boys who did this.’ ”
By macleans.ca - Monday, July 18, 2011 at 10:50 AM - 0 Comments
South Sudan celebrates the birth of a nation, while Ontario struggles to contain a C. difficile outbreak
The U.S. finally took a firm stand on Pakistan by suspending $800 million of the more than $2 billion in aid it offers the country each year. Pakistan has been, at best, an unreliable ally in the war on terror. It recently arrested a number of CIA informants who helped locate Osama bin Laden within its borders and cut visas for U.S. personnel operating near the Afghan border. Pakistan may not always see eye to eye with the U.S., but the fact is that American aid is what keeps its military and, lately, economy afloat. This warning shot should provide a crucial dose of reality.
Happy days, here again
A new quarterly Bank of Canada survey suggests a record 57 per cent of businesses “across all regions and sectors” will hire new employees over the next year (the highest level reported since 2005), while only four per cent expect to reduce staff. This coincides with a Statistics Canada report showing solid job growth for the third straight month, with a net gain of 28,000 jobs in June. That’s in sharp contrast to the U.S., where only 18,000 jobs were gained last month.
By macleans.ca - Monday, July 11, 2011 at 6:09 PM - 4 Comments
Pakistani doctor arranged fake vaccination program to infiltrate Abbottabad compound
The CIA recruited a Pakistani doctor to organize a fake vaccination program in Abbottabad, Pakistan in order to obtain Osama bin Laden’s DNA, the Guardian reports. Dr. Shakil Afridi, a senior health official who oversees the Khyber region, was allegedly approached by the U.S. intelligence agency last summer after it had tracked bin Laden’s courier, Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti, to the al-Qaeda leader’s Abbottabad compound. Dr. Afridi travelled to the Pakistani town in March to set up a free hepatitis B vaccination program, and paid government health workers, among the few people with access to the bin laden compound, generous sums to take part, thereby bypassing health services management. A nurse, Mukhtar Bibi, gained access to the compound while Afridi waited outside, and reportedly obtained DNA from bin Laden’s children, which was then compared to a sample taken from his deceased sister. Afridi is now in the custody of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, having been arrested for cooperating with the U.S. Relations between the two countries remained severely strained following the U.S. Killing of bin Laden on May 1st.
By Nicholas Köhler and Ken MacQueen - Friday, June 17, 2011 at 11:00 AM - 0 Comments
A 65-year murder mystery solved, Bieber takes a beating, and Danny Williams has got game
Done in by the velluvial matrix
Grads from the University of Alberta’s faculty of medicine were enjoying an after-dinner speech at their banquet last week when the words of Dr. Philip Baker, dean of the medical school, sounded vaguely familiar. “A couple of students recognized the term ‘velluvial matrix,’ ” class president Brittany Barber told the Edmonton Sun. “They googled it on their phones.” It showed Baker has borrowed heavily from a speech delivered last year at Stanford by Dr. Atul Gawande, a Boston surgeon and a writer for the New Yorker magazine. Accusations of plagiarism prompted an apology from Baker, who said he was inspired by Gawande’s speech, which “resonated with my experiences.” Baker added that he’s since spoken to Gawande, who “was flattered by my use of his text, took no offence and readily accepted my apology.” The university is investigating.
Dementia’s painful toll
It’s only been a few weeks since Ralph Klein and his wife, Colleen, revealed that the former Alberta premier is suffering from progressive dementia. Although the couple is said to be heartened by the good wishes they’ve received from across the country since then, Ralph’s decline, at age 68, has been rapid and devastating. “He’s starting to get a little bit worse,” Colleen told Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid. “I’m not sure he always recognizes me anymore. He never says my name.”
By Nancy Macdonald - Friday, June 3, 2011 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
Lady Gaga makes an entrance, Mark Zuckerberg learns a new skill and Saudi women are driven to rebel
Laying it down with Beantown
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson’s Twitter plea for help in coming up with a friendly wager with Boston Mayor Thomas Menino prompted some great ideas. “There’s a good one: sushi versus clam chowder, and swapping our best beers from two great beer-drinking cities,” Robertson told reporters in Stanley Park, a few steps from the iron statue of Lord Stanley—which currently sports a Canucks jersey. “One that I really like, that I’m going to campaign for with the mayor of Boston, is that the loser buys season’s tickets for a couple of inner-city kids in the winning city,” he said. Another favourite, he joked, would see the loser “swimming with an Orca” or “wrestling a bear.”
Ending the IMF boys’ club?
The bid by France’s Finance Minister Christine Lagarde to become the first female head of the International Monetary Fund was pushed forward at the G8 meet-up in Deauville. She once famously complained there is “too much testosterone” in high-powered circles, a comment that now looks prescient. French President Nicolas Sarkozy talked her up to Barack Obama; Hillary Clinton hailed her candidacy. Russian President Dmitri Medvedev called her the near-consensus choice, though China and India want a non-European from a developing country.
By Luiza Ch. Savage - Wednesday, May 25, 2011 at 9:10 AM - 21 Comments
The terrorist’s death sparks a debate over interrogation tactics
The killing of Osama bin Laden had the potential to be a transformative moment for President Barack Obama. No longer easily portrayable as a vacillating, indecisive leader, he was the commander-in-chief who took a risk and brought down America’s most wanted man—something his predecessor, George W. Bush, had talked tough about but failed to accomplish. Heading into his 2012 re-election campaign, the event seemed likely to take the caricature of a foreign-policy weakling off the table.
But some Republicans quickly sought to portray the successful raid as a vindication of the very policies that Obama had campaigned against and then reversed upon taking office—in particular, the Central Intelligence Agency’s defunct secret prison program where detainees were subjected to an array of what the Bush administration referred euphemistically to as “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Critics said those harsh tactics, like the controlled drowning technique called waterboarding, had stained America’s moral standing by giving official sanction to torture. Seizing a chance to redeem their reputations, the former Bush officials, who insist that the tactics did not violate anti-torture laws, argued that the much-maligned program had provided crucial information that eventually led to bin Laden.
“The intelligence that led to bin Laden,” wrote Michael Mukasey, who served as Bush’s attorney general from 2007 to 2009, “began with a disclosure from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who broke like a dam under the pressure of harsh interrogation techniques that included waterboarding. He loosed a torrent of information—including eventually the nickname of a trusted courier of bin Laden.”
By Adnan R. Khan - Tuesday, May 24, 2011 at 9:00 AM - 23 Comments
How bin Laden’s murder strengthened anti-U.S. sentiment in Pakistan
In the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death, Pakistanis are gearing up for a fight. But contrary to what many people might think, it’s not in defence of the world’s late King of Terror. In fact, Pakistanis have been remarkably silent about his death. Protests reported in the world’s media have been small—a few hundred diehard extremists ushered onto the streets by Islamic fundamentalist parties, the odd prayer session with a few dozen souls to help guide bin Laden into heaven.
Bin Laden was a hopeless cause to most. “He never really gave Muslims anything to believe in,” says Ali Ibrahim, a shopkeeper in Islamabad. “Except violence. But violence and jihad, where has that gotten us?” Dozens of other Pakistanis who spoke to Maclean’s echo Ibrahim’s sentiments. But what even they admit is that the driving force behind bin Laden’s murderous campaign was valid. “Millions of Muslims believe the U.S. is the greatest threat to Islam,” says Omer Malik, a lawyer in Islamabad. “Osama went about it all wrong, but he did prove to Pakistanis that America is the problem.”
The death of bin Laden has only strengthened that view. In the months leading up to his killing, Pakistanis—many fuelled by Islamic extremism—were already building up a solid foundation of anti-Americanism, premised on a decade of violence (which they blame on the U.S., for bringing it to their doorstep), CIA covert operations inside Pakistan, and a barrage of missile strikes from unmanned drones in the country’s Tribal Areas targeting al-Qaeda-linked militants. Now, the daring, dead-of-night operation carried out by U.S. commandos against bin Laden on May 2, apparently without Pakistani knowledge or consent, has hit at the heart of what many Pakistanis fear: the U.S. is willing—and able—to operate in their country with impunity.
By Michael Friscolanti - Friday, May 20, 2011 at 7:30 AM - 25 Comments
The author of ‘SEAL Team Six’ on the top-secret world of commandos
A sniper by trade, Howard Wasdin was a special forces commando attached to the U.S. military’s most covert unit—the same squad that would later assassinate Osama bin Laden. His new book, SEAL Team Six, offers a rare glimpse into the top-secret world of America’s best-trained warriors.
Q: How did you find out that Osama bin Laden had finally been located and killed?
A: My neighbour actually came over. I had gotten up early that Monday, was getting ready to take the dogs out, and my neighbour knocks on the door. He said, “Happy Dead bin Laden Day.” I said, “What the hell are you talking about?” He said, “SEAL Team Six shot him in the head.” While I was relieved—as most of us were at first—I wasn’t completely at ease until I found out that nobody had been wounded or killed. In that type of operation, that is just amazing.
By Nicholas Kohler with Erica Alini - Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 10:05 AM - 25 Comments
Rumours about bin Laden are only the latest in a toxic new wave of conspiracy theories
On Good Friday in 1865, Abraham Lincoln and his wife, Mary, appeared at Ford’s Theatre in Washington to watch Our American Cousin, a contemporary farce. During the play, John Wilkes Booth, a popular Shakespearian actor and Confederate sympathizer, made his way to the president’s box with a .44-calibre derringer and fired a single shot into the back of his head. Booth then leapt down onto the stage and is said to have cried: “Sic semper tyrannis”—“Thus always to tyrants!” Somehow, amid the subsequent commotion, Booth escaped, leading authorities on a 12-day chase that ended with his being locked in a burning barn in Virginia.
The men carrying Lincoln from the theatre hadn’t yet laid him down in the boarding house across the street, where he died the next day, before the conspiracy theories surrounding his shooting, Booth’s part in it, and the shadowy forces that might really lie behind the plot began proliferating. These narratives began with the conspiracy led by Booth to kill Lincoln in the days following the Confederate side’s surrender to the Union and the end of the Civil War, but quickly became more baroque.
By 1937, when amateur historian Otto Eisenschiml published his tract on the assassination—Why Was Lincoln Murdered?—Booth had become just a patsy to Edwin Stanton, Lincoln’s steely secretary of war. In the one figure of the scheming Stanton, Eisenschiml sewed together all the accidents and curiosities of Lincoln’s shooting into one, cohesive plan. The book marshalled arguments that cast Stanton as an individual of such capacity and ambition that he could first manufacture a situation in which Lincoln was left unguarded, engineered Booth’s improbable getaway, then orchestrated a means of spiriting his fellow conspirators away, their heads hooded, to isolated prisons where they could never report on Stanton’s role in the plot. The book was a bestseller.