Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The death-or-glory boys

In reviewing Ron Suskind's book, The Way of the World, British journalist Simon Jenkins describes the outcome of a trial in England of eight possible terrorists, when the gung-ho Americans, led by Dick Cheney, intruded. In "This is what happens when a crime is redefined as war" (Guardian, 9/10/08), we learn about the sabotage of Operation Overt. Here are excerpts:

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It has been an open secret in police circles that Operation Overt, the most complex in counter-terror history, was sabotaged by the American vice president, Dick Cheney, desperate for a headline boost to the Republicans' 2006 mid-term elections. British intelligence was following trails and acquiring evidence against 20 suspects. They needed American surveillance help in Pakistan and shared their information, foolishly it now appears, with Washington. ...

Cheney then privately dispatched the CIA's operations director, Jose Rodriguez, to Islamabad to secure the arrest of one of the British suspects, Rashid Rauf, believed to be a possible link with al-Qaida. The British had been watching him and preparing his extradition. They did not want him rendered useless through CIA or Pakistani torture. Within days, news of Rauf's capture reached the British plotters. In a panic, the police had desperately to round up as many suspects as they could find overnight. According to Suskind, "top officials in British intelligence cursed, threw ashtrays and screamed bloody murder."

Months of work, which might have unpicked an entire al-Qaida network back to the Pakistani training camps, was ruined by "forced, foolish hastiness" -- and all for the mid-term elections. Bush was soon boasting of having "foiled a plot to blow up passenger planes headed for the United States."

Two years later, a British jury, having to decide on the basis of evidence whether it faced another 9/11 or just a bunch of crazies, gave the benefit of the doubt to the latter. It was clearly fed up with scare stories and the politics of fear and felt the police had not made a case. Today, many of the plotters are at large, and Rauf himself has mysteriously escaped custody.

This is what happens when criminal conspiracy is redefined as an act of war. It goes political. As a conspiracy to cause mayhem, the suspected airline plotters merited and were getting thorough detective work in what was clearly a superb operation. Because it was also a "war," the death-or-glory boys took over and wrecked it.

Read complete article here.

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