October 17, 2005

Bagram prisoner deaths: update

Just in case you ever wondered, an update on the torture-deaths in custody of the two wrongly detained Afghan prisoners, first discussed here last May:

To date 13 service members have been charged with assault, and two higher-level leaders with non-assault offences. No one has been charged (or likely ever will be) with manslaughter or murder. Of the 13, three have been acquitted, and six convicted, with four trials still pending. So far 12.5 months of jail time has been levied in punishment, an average of just over two months per convicted defendant.

Posted by BruceR at 07:31 PM

The "Zawahiri letter" and Bin Laden's fate

I tend to agree with the learned commentators who are saying the recent Zawahiri-Zarqawi letter touted by the press the day of the President's recent Iraq speech, is not everything it claims to be. The second-to-last paragraph alone, which asks the recipient to "send greetings" to Zarqawi if he's passing through Fallujah (!), indicates at the very least that the intended recipient was not Zarqawi himself. Juan Cole, Billmon, and Fred Kaplan have more.

What I found most interesting, though, was the single, short reference to Bin Laden, in the fourth paragraph. "We received your last published message sent to Sheikh Usama Bin Ladin, God save him." That's the only reference to the head of Zawahiri's and Zarqawi's movement, short and cryptic. Bin Laden is not cited again, or granted the effusion of accolades Zarqawi is at the beginning, by comparison. The choice of phrase ("God save him") seems almost intentionally vague, applying as it could to either a living or dead person.

It's impossible to see Zawahiri writing an immensely long letter containing only that one brief reference to their leader, in a major communique to a key ally, if Bin Laden were still alive. And Zawahiri if all people will know whether he is. One is left then with one of only two possibilities. Either Bin Laden is dead, or the letter writer is not Zawahiri. Someday in the distant future when we find out the date of the man's death, we will also know something of the truth of this letter.

One other curiosity I haven't seen mentioned elsewhere yet: the repeated claims of the damage due to the May capture of Abu Al-Faraj al-Libi (the letter was supposedly dated July). You will recall that at the time a lot of people pointed out that they thought that arrest had been hyped.

I don't believe, by the way, that this is U.S. information ops. It is very likely this is yet another clever forgery, seized upon by the White House as the documentation for a new presidential statement (As Cole and others point out, it's a great letter from a Shia Iraqi perspective, but from a U.S. presidential perspective, it is also the first really clear "statement" from a terrorist leader that they really do want to form a pan-Islamic caliphate, etc., etc. Bin Laden was always much more poetic and indirect in his language. For it to be released the same day as Bush first used the threat of Islamic aspirations of global supremacy in a speech is certainly not coincidental.)

It's not like we haven't been down this road before... the whole thing is very reminiscent of Niger uranium.

PS: Of course, Dan Darling and Wretchard both fell for it.

Posted by BruceR at 06:34 PM