Why US Senator Leahy Was Targeted With Anthrax
By Ross Getman
Senator Leahy recently emphasized to Attorney General Gonzales that he wanted to know why he was targeted with letters containing anthrax. He wanted justice for the postal workers who died handling the letter addressed to him. Attorney General Gonzales told the Senate Judiciary Committee:
" Senator, Director Mueller, I believe, has offered to get the chairman a briefing. And we're waiting to try to accommodate the chairman's schedule to make that happen. We understand the frustration and the concern that exists with respect to the length of time. This is a very complicated investigation. I know that the director is very committed to seeing it to some kind of conclusion in the relatively near future."
For a half decade now, the media has inexplicably overlooked the fact that Senator Leahy is author of the "Leahy Law," a provision that prohibits appropriations to military and security units if there is credible evidence of human rights violations -- evidence of torture. The amendment has been interpreted to permit continued appropriations to security units under "extraordinary circumstances" -- such as, say, the Global War on Terror. Senator Leahy separately was head of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, the panel in charge of aid to Egypt and Israel. The other Senator targeted was Senator Daschle, who as Senate majority leader had a key role in all appropriations. The media and public has superficially understood Leahy and Daschle as "liberals" without seeing things through the eyes of the head of Al Qaeda's anthrax weaponization program, Ayman Zawahiri. That has led to a situation where the public has been less strident than they might have been in insisting that the United States do the one thing that might avoid additional anthrax -- treat all detainees according to the Geneva Convention and cut off appropriations to the military and security units of any ally that continues to torture detainees.
"Leahy Law" and Darkened Runways
It was 1 a.m. in the morning on October 23, 2001. Parts of the airport runway were pitch black. Masked Pakistan Inter Services Intelligence ("ISI") agents in a rented white Toyota sedan sped up with a shackled and blindfolded man. In the empty corner of the Karachi airport, a soldier with his face covered filmed the transfer of Jamil Qasim Saeed Mohammed, age 27. Two weeks earlier a postal worker had died in the US from exposure to mailed anthrax. Authorities were rounding up the usual suspects -- using a Gulfstream V jet registered to people in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. who existed only on paper. Mohammed had first come to Karachi in 1993 from Yemen's capital city, Sana'a, and had recently been studying microbiology at the University of Karachi.
After the September 11 attacks, Pakistani intelligence agents started checking on Arab university students in the area. Mohammed's teachers told investigators that they had not seen him on campus since late August. Agents staked out his apartment in Karachi and nabbed him upon his return. Mohammed was wanted in connection with the bombing of the USS Cole. In 1996, Pakistani authorities officials had arrested Mohammed in connection with the November 1995 bombing of the Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad. That attack was financed by the Canadian islamist and charity worker, Khadr and his charity Mercy International, a charity funded by Osama Bin Laden's late brother-in-law Khalifa and founded by Saudi dissident Sheik Al-Hawali. Ayman Zawahiri, speaking for the military wing of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, known as the Vanguards of Conquest, claimed responsibility for the bombing. Mohammed was released without being charged. Mohammed re-enrolled at university in 1999. He was one of at least two microbiologist lab technicians who were rendered by the CIA. Saeed Mohammed was not particularly expert -- and spent most of his time in Karachi procuring equipment. Washington announced Saeed had been rendered, but senior Pakistani officials continued to deny that the transfer had taken place.
The scene would repeat itself at a different airport two months later with the rendition of Ahmed Agiza, former head of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad before Zawahiri. Swedish officials prepared an expulsion order at 4 p.m. on December 18, 2001. Agiza, a 39-year old physician, was picked up on the street by 6 p.m. and he was in the air by 10 p.m. In a small room at the airport, six-hooded figures took Agiza and another prisoner and changed them into dark red overalls. The men cut off his clothes, without having to remove his handcuffs and leg irons. They inserted a suppository containing a sedative while putting on diapers. Then they hung him, blindfolded and hooded, in a harness in the plane. Dr. Agiza had been convicted in his absence in 1999, together with 106 others, by a military court in Cairo for membership in the Vanguards of Conquest ("Talal al-Fateh"), the military wing of the EIJ. The crew of the plane did not use the term "extraordinary rendition" -- they just referred to the process as "snatches." The Egyptian government had promised not to torture the suspects, but Agiza claims that they applied electric shocks through electrodes fastened to sensitive parts of his body -- to his genitals, nipples, tongue, ear lobes, and underarms.
These renditions were just two of the opening volleys in what would prove to be a 5 year effort to find the parties responsible for the letters containing anthrax sent to US Senators and media outlets. The anthrax was mailed shortly after the planes attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. In 1999, captured leaders of Zawahiri's Vanguards of Conquest had said that Ayman was going to use weaponized anthrax against US targets in retaliation for the rendering of EIJ leaders and supporters to places like Cairo and Amman. The letter to the Senator Leahy, author of the "Leahy Law" that permitted continued appropriations to security units under "extraordinary circumstances", read: "We have this anthrax. You die now. Are you afraid?"
The founder of Egyptian Islamic Jihad Kamal Habib and a writer for the quarterly magazine of the Islamic Assembly of North America ("(ANA") told scholar Fawaz Gerges:
"The prison years also radicalized al-shabab [young men] and set them on another violent journey. The torture left deep physical and psychological scars on jihadists and fueled their thirst for vengeance. Look at my hands -- still spotted with the scars from cigarette burns nineteen years later. For days on end we were brutalized -- our faces bloodied, our bodies broken with electrical shocks and other devices. The torturers aimed at breaking our souls and brainwashing us. They wanted to humiliate us and force us to betray the closest members of our cells.
I spent sleepless nights listening to the screams of young men echoing from torture chambers. A degrading, dehumanizing experience. I cannot convey to you the rage felt by al-shabab who were tortured after Sadat's assassination."
An August 29, 2001 opinion column on Islamway, the second most read site for english speaking muslims, illustrates that the role of "Leahy Law" was known by well-read islamists: "There is an intolerable contradiction between America's between America's professed policy of opposition to state-sponsored terrorism, exemplified by the Leahy Law, and the U.S. Congress' continuing sponsorship of Israeli violence against Palestinians." The article cited "References: CIFP 2001. "Limitations on Assistance to Security Forces: 'The Leahy Law'" 4/9/01 (Washington, DC: Center for International Foreign Policy) Center for International Foreign Policy Accessed 8/28/01.Hocksteader, Lee 2001. "
In a videotape that circulated in the summer of 2001, Zawahiri said "In Egypt they put a lot of people in jails -- some sentenced to be hanged. And in the Egyptian jails, there is a lot of killing and torture. All this happens under the supervision of America. America has a CIA station as well as an FBI office and a huge embassy in Egypt, and it closely follows what happens in that country. Therefore, America is responsible for everything that happens." .
But to more fully appreciate why Leahy -- a human rights advocate and liberal democrat -- might have been targeted as a symbol, it is important to know that Senator Leahy has been the head of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, the panel in charge of aid to Egypt and Israel. In addition to the Senate majority leader, anthrax was mailed to the position symbolic of the 50 billion in appropriations that has been given to Israel since 1947 (and the equally substantial $2 billion annually in aid that has been keeping Mubarak in power in Egypt and the militant islamists out of power). In an audiotape received by al-Jazeera and published in October 2002, Zawahiri again pointed to the weapons bought by US appropriations: "As for America, it must expect to be treated the same way that it has committed crimes, like the destruction of the Palestinians' homes by the Jews using US weapons and like the murder of Muhammad Al-Durra and other Palestinian children by the Jews with US weapons. Then the American people will curse Bush and his administration dead or alive due to the extremely high price they are repaid with."
That aid goes to the core of Al Qaeda's complaint against the United States. (The portion going to Egypt and Israel constitutes, by far, the largest portion of US foreign aid, and most of that is for military and security purposes.) Pakistan is a grudging ally in the "war against terrorism" largely due to the US Aid it now receives in exchange for that cooperation. The press in Pakistan newspapers regularly reported on protests arguing that FBI's reported 12 agents in Pakistan in 2002 were an affront to its sovereignty. There was a tall man, an Urdu-speaking man, and a woman -- all chain-smokers -- who along with their colleagues were doing very important work in an unsupportive, even hostile, environment. The US agents -- whether CIA or FBI or US Army --- caused quite a stir in Pakistan along with the Pakistani security and intelligence officials who accompanied them.
Blanket Disregard Of "Leahy Law" Prohibition Of Torture After 9/11
Within a couple weeks after September 11, a report in the Washington Post and then throughout the muslim world explained that the President sought a waiver that would allow military assistance to once-shunned nations. The militant islamists who had already been reeling from the extradition of 70 "brothers", would now be facing much more of the same. President Bush asked Congress for authority to waive all existing restrictions on U.S. military assistance and exports for the next five years to any country where the aid would help the fight against international terrorism. The waiver would include those nations who were currently unable to receive U.S. military aid because of their sponsorship of terrorism (such as Syria and Iran) or because of their nuclear weapons programs (such as Pakistan). In mid-March 2003, Washington waived sanctions imposed in 1999 paving the way for release in economic aid to Pakistan. Billions more would be sent to Egypt, Israel and other countries involved in the "war against terrorism."
In late September 2001, the Washington Post quoted Leahy: "We all want to be helpful, and I will listen to what they have in mind." The article noted that he was chairman of both the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Appropriations foreign operations subcommittee, which were considering the legislation. "But we also want to be convinced that what is being proposed is sound, measured and necessary and not merely impulsive."
The options being considered in response to the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington included potential cooperation with virtually every Middle Eastern and South and Central Asian nation near Afghanistan. "Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists" would be the only test for foreign aid. The "Leahy Law" plays a key role in the secret "rendering" of Egyptian Islamic Jihad (Al Qaeda) operatives to countries like Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Algeria where they are allegedly tortured. Richard Clarke, counterterrorism czar during the Clinton Administration, has quoted Vice-President Gore saying: "Of course it's a violation of international law, that's why it's a covert action. The guy is a terrorist. Go grab his ass." Although humanitarian in its intent, the Leahy Law permits continued appropriations to military and security units who conduct torture in the event of "extraordinary circumstances."
In an interview broadcast on al-Jazeera television on October 7, 2001 (October 6 in the US) -- about when the second letter saying "Death to America'" and "Death to Israel" was mailed -- Ayman Zawahiri echoed a familiar refrain sounded by Bin Laden: "O people of the U.S., can you ask yourselves a question: Why all this enmity for the United States and Israel? *** Your government supports the corrupt governments in our countries."
A month after 9/11, late at night , a charter flight from Cairo touched down at the Baku airport. An Egyptian, arrested by the Azerbaijani authorities on suspicions of having played a part in the September 11 attack was brought on board. His name was kept secret. That same night the plane set off in the opposite direction. Much of the Amerithrax story has happened at night with no witnesses, with the rendering of Saeed Mohammed merely one example. Zawahiri claims that there is a US intelligence bureau inside the headquarters of the Egyptian State Security Investigation Department that receives daily reports on the number of detainees and those detainees that are released. At the time Ayman Zawahiri was getting his biological weapons program in full swing, his own brother Mohammed was picked up in the United Arab Emirates. He was secretly rendered to Egyptian security forces and sentenced to death rendered in the Albanian returnees case.
Throughout 2001, the Egyptian islamists were wracked by extraditions and renditions. CIA Director Tenet once publicly testified that there had been 70 renditions prior to 9/11. At the same time a Canadian judge was finding on October 5, 2001 that EIJ shura member Mahmoud Mahjoub was a member of the Vanguards of Conquest and would be denied bail, Bosnian authorities announced on October 6, 2001 they had handed over three Egyptians to Cairo who had been arrested in July. In Uruguay, a court authorized the extradition to Egypt of a man wanted in Egypt for his alleged role in the 1997 Luxor attack. Ahmed Agiza, the leader of the Vanguards of Conquest (which can be viewed as an offshoot of Jihad), was handed over by Sweden in December 2001. Al Qaeda's military commander, Atef, and Dr. Ayman Zawahiri, both took these renditions personally. They were ultimately in charge of who would be targeted with anthrax.
When Doing the Right Thing Might Avoid More Anthrax
The commentators who suggest that Al Qaeda would have had no motivation to send weaponized anthrax to Senators Daschle and Leahy as symbolic targets -- because they are liberal -- are mistaken. The main goal of Dr. Zawahiri is to topple President Mubarak. He views the US Aid as the chief obstacle and is indifferent to this country's labels of conservative and liberal. Having a humane foreign policy -- and being firm with our allies on the issue of torture -- might just help avoid the next 9/11. Or as Senator Leahy has said: "Moral leadership in defense of democracy and human rights is vital to what we stand for in the world. Acts of terrorism are violations of human rights. Now is the time to show what sets us apart from those who attack us."
Mr. Getman maintains the website http://www.anthraxandalqaeda.com