Another Day in the Empire
The following is a chapter from my forthcoming book, Another Day in the Empire: the Reign of George W. Bush and the Total War Neocons, set to be released on August 15 by Busted Dharma Books. The post originally appeared on May 29, 2004. Much of the information is relevant to the Islamic State, an al-Qaeda spin-off engineered by the Pentagon in Iraq.
It is a bit of historical data rarely quoted by Fox News or CNN as they clank out soundbite-sized backgrounders on terrorism: Many of America’s Islamic enemies were custom-made to order by the CIA and Pakistan’s ISI (Inter-Service Intelligence Directorate) in Afghanistan.
Abu Hamza al-Masri is no exception.
“In an 11-count indictment unsealed in New York on Thursday, Attorney General John Ashcroft said Mr. Masri faced charges of hostage-taking and conspiracy in connection with an attack in Yemen in 1998 on 16 tourists, including two Americans. Four hostages—three Britons and one Australian—were killed and several others were wounded when the Yemeni Army tried to rescue them,” reports the New York Times.
No doubt about it. Abu Hamza al-Masri is not a nice person. But he was precisely the kind of not nice person the United States recruited to terrorize and kill Soviet conscripts. Masri lost both hands and an eye fighting for the CIA against the Soviets in Afghanistan.
The Carter State Department knew exactly what sort of reactionary fanatics they were unleashing back in 1979—not only on the Soviets, but the people of Afghanistan.
But they didn’t care about the people of Afghanistan and admitted as much.
“[T]he United States’ larger interest … would be served by the demise of the [pro-Soviet] Taraki-Amin regime, despite whatever setbacks this might mean for future social and economic reforms in Afghanistan,” a classified State Department report stated in 1979, months before the Soviets rolled across the border to support the Taraki-Amin regime.
“The question here was whether it was morally acceptable that, in order to keep the Soviets off balance, which was the reason for the operation, it was permissible to use other lives for our geopolitical interests,” Zbigniew Brezinski, Carter’s national security adviser, later offered as an explanation.
In other words, screw the people of Afghanistan. Let them suffer under opium-growing warlords and fanatical Taliban extremists. It was all in the best interest of the United States and especially oil and natural gas multinationals eager to build pipelines and get product to market.
Crazed Islamic fundies like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar—“a particularly fanatical fundamentalist and woman-hater,” as journalist Tim Weiner describes him—were recruited to fight the Soviets. Pakistan’s brutal Zia-ul-Haq teamed with the CIA and Pakistan’s ISI to organize, train, and unleash the mujahideen. “Estimates of how much money the U.S. government channeled to the Afghan rebels over the next decade vary, but most sources put the figure between $3 billion and $6 billion, or more,” writes Phil Gasper (Afghanistan, the CIA, bin Laden, and the Taliban). It was, the CIA proudly boasted, the most successful intelligence mission in history. Under the affable guidance of Reagan, Gasper writes that
At any one time during the Afghan fighting season, as many as 11 ISI teams trained and supplied by the CIA accompanied mujahideen across the border to supervise attacks … The teams attacked airports, railroads, fuel depots, electricity pylons, bridges and roads … CIA operations officers helped Pakistani trainers establish schools for the mujahideen in secure communications, guerrilla warfare, urban sabotage and heavy weapons … Although the CIA claimed that the purpose was to attack military targets, mujahideen trained in these techniques, and using chemical and electronic-delay bomb timers supplied by the U.S., carried out numerous car bombings and assassination attacks in Kabul itself.
As Ahmed Rashid of the Daily Telegraph of London explains, between “1982 and 1992, some 35,000 Muslim radicals from 43 Islamic countries in the Middle East, North and East Africa, Central Asia and the Far East would pass their baptism under fire with the Afghan Mujaheddin. Tens of thousands more foreign Muslim radicals came to study in the hundreds of new madrassas that Zia’s military government began to fund in Pakistan and along the Afghan border. Eventually more than 100,000 Muslim radicals were to have direct contact with Pakistan and Afghanistan and be influenced by the jihad.” (Osama Bin Laden: How the U.S. Helped Midwife a Terrorist.)
After the Soviets packed up and left the country in defeat, the United States essentially turned its back on the mujahideen and war ravaged Afghanistan. But this dismal fact does not particularly concern intellectuals such as Samuel Huntington. Instead, as Huntington views the situation through his “Clash of Civilizations” blinders, the problem is the CIA’s war left a whole lot of disenfranchised Muslims strewn about. It’s not this disenfranchisement per se that bothers Huntington and his fellow Islamophobe scholars, but rather the fact these formerly useful castaway Muslims are now on the prowl, ready and able to raise hell due to their hatred and jealousy of our American Idol way of life.
“The war left behind an uneasy coalition of Islamist organizations intent on promoting Islam against all non-Muslim forces,” writes Huntington. “It also left a legacy of expert and experienced fighters, training camps and logistical facilities, elaborate trans-Islam networks of personal and organization relationships, a substantial amount of military equipment including 300 to 500 unaccounted-for Stinger missiles, and, most important, a heady sense of power and self-confidence over what had been achieved and a driving desire to move on to other victories.”
As AG Ashcroft and the Bushites see it, Abu Hamza al-Masri embodies this “driving desire to move on to other victories” in the name of al-Qaeda and worldwide jihad versus McDonald’s, as Thomas Friedman of the New York Times characterizes it. The partially blind and handicapped cleric stands accused of providing material support for al-Qaeda to further a holy war in Afghanistan and conspiracy to aid the Taliban in its guerrilla war against the Good and Righteous as they kick down doors and slaughter wedding party guests.
In other words, Masri faces life in prison—or possibly the death penalty—for doing what the CIA and Pakistan’s ISI trained and encouraged him to do all those years ago. The United States changed the rules of the game. Hamza refused to get with the program. Now he will serve as a poster child for all that is wicked and violent with hidebound Muslims.
“Hamza is the real deal,” Raymond W. Kelly, New York City’s police commissioner, told the New York Times. “He is suspected of providing material support to trainees in Osama bin Laden’s terrorist camps, as well as dispatching associates from England to help establish a jihad training site on US soil. Think of him as a freelance consultant to terrorist groups worldwide.”
And while we are thinking about that “jihad training site on US soil,” maybe we should also think about the fact that many Afghan mujaheddin were sent to Camp Peary, the CIA’s spy training camp in Virginia, as John Cooley, a former journalist with the ABC television network and author of Unholy Wars: Afghanistan, America and International Terrorism, has documented.
Kelly neglected to mention those very Afghan terrorist camps were financed by the United States and provided all the training and equipment necessary to kill infidels. But then police commissioners and neocons can’t be expected to connect the dots. Or tell the American people about the real deal—in large part militant Islam was engineered and encouraged by the United States, “despite whatever setbacks this might mean.”
Nor did Kelly mention—or is he likely to know—that shoppers in Rawalpindi and Peshawar can still buy textbooks published as part of a series underwritten by a USAID $50 million grant to the University of Nebraska in the 1980s. These books encourage radical Islam as a way to counter Marxism and urge Afghan children to “pluck out the eyes of the Soviet enemy and cut off his legs.” The maniacal Taliban—friends of the United States until they were considered obstructionist on Unocal’s gas pipeline deal—used these USAID-produced books in their madrassas.
For Bush, Ashcroft, the Zionist neocons, and the rapture-dizzy Christian Zionists, Abu Hamza al-Masri is the perfect Islamic fanatic. In the weeks ahead, as he is extradited from Britain to face the death penalty in America, the cleric will be held up as a primary example of the inherent viciousness and homicidal character of al-Qaeda and radical Muslims in general who want nothing more than to force us at the point of an AK47 to face Mecca five times a day.
Few will mention—least of all Fox and the slavish Bush Ministry of Disinformation where the intellectually incurious lap up easily digestible propaganda flavored as news—that Abu Hamza al-Masri was doing precisely what the CIA trained him to do.