The Barbecue Republic Revisited

Every week I read out of the way, oddly related stories that remind me what an abject barbecue republic America has become under young Mr. Bush's stewardship. Here are a few of the latest ones.

First up is an item that apparently only James Gordon Meek of the New York Daily News and MSNBC's Keith Olbermann cared enough about to report. On August 2 Meek wrote "In the immediate aftermath of the 2001 anthrax attacks, White House officials repeatedly pressed FBI Director Robert Mueller to prove it was a second-wave assault by Al Qaeda, but investigators ruled that out."

After New York Sun photo editor Robert Stevens died from anthrax exposure in October 2001, Mueller was "beaten up" during Bush's morning intelligence briefs for not manufacturing proof that bin Laden was behind the attack of the killer spores. Meek's source, a retired senior FBI official, said, "They really wanted to blame somebody in the Middle East."

By the time Bush was bullying Mueller to cook the evidence on the Anthrax scare, according to the ex-FBI man, the Bureau already knew that the anthrax concealed in mail to media figures and a U.S. Senator was a military strain of the bio-weapon. The ex-official said, "They couldn't go from box cutters one week to weapons-grade anthrax the next."

No, and they couldn't go from box cutters to city buster nuclear weapons very quickly either, but that didn't stop the administration from planting visions of mushroom clouds in our heads to justify their Iraq invasion.

The Daily News gave this story 220 words on a Saturday evening. Olbermann mentioned it the next Monday evening. The rest of the print and broadcast media didn't touch it.

He Drove bin Laden to Terror

Seven years after the anthrax affair the administration is still trying to nail al Qaeda for something. Anything. The tallest Arab ever wanted dead or alive by a sitting U.S. president is still at large, but by jingo, we got the drop on his chauffer.

The military trial of Salim Ahmed Hamdan convened in a secret session at Guantanamo Bay on July 31 to hear "highly classified" testimony from two witnesses. Critics of the military tribunals being held in Guantanamo contend that allowing classified testimony is part of a system rigged to produce a guilty verdict. Guantanamo tribunals like Hamdan's also allow hearsay evidence and evidence derived through "coercive interrogation methods," critics protest.

Some of the most damaging testimony against Hamdan was unclassified. Naval Criminal Investigative Service Agent Robert McFadden said that Hamdan told him in a 2003 interrogation that he had sworn allegiance to bin Laden, and quoted Hamdan as saying he has dedicated himself to bin Laden's "jihad" against the west.

During the course of my 21-year career as a naval officer, I had many, many, many dealings with and observations of agents of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Not a single one of those cowboys could find their keyster with a map and a seeing-eye dog to read it for them. As a squadron skipper I once complained to an NCIS district supervisor about the slug he had working on a case involving someone in my command. The supervisor shrugged and said he was having trouble finding good agents those days. I said I guessed he would be, what with all the top talent getting snapped up by Miami Vice and Hawaii 5-O.

They used to call themselves the Naval Investigative Service until in the early '90s. After the Tailhook scandal, they had to insert the word "criminal" into their name because they committed so many crimes in the course of the investigation. A colleague at the time told me they threatened him with an IRS audit every year for the rest of his life if he didn't tell them the dirt they wanted to hear about how a buddy of his acted in Vegas during the naval aviators' convention.

So you can imagine the gravity of the oaths I hurled toward the heavens when I read that the NCIS agent who had interrogated Hamdan was the prosecution's closing witness. I can't stop asking myself what string of events could possibly have led to the decision to have Hamdan interrogated by an NCIS agent in the first place. Were Doctor Evil and Dog the Bounty Hunter both out of town? More incredibly, why in the wide world of sports, arts and sciences did the prosecutor choose to make the NCIS buffoon his closing witness? He couldn't get his secret dudes to tell enough lies?

At the end of the day, all this hoo-haw, all this illegal tapping of telephones and Patriot Acts and running roughshod over the Constitution and treaty law so we can nab and nail terrorists resulted in the conviction of a forty-year old Bedouin who can drive a car and put gas in it on a charge of "providing material support for terrorism." The specifications for which Hamdan was convicted included driving bin Laden around, serving as his bodyguard and knowing his goals, which were the things NCIS Agent McFadden "coaxed" him into admitting to. Hamdan was found not guilty of the main charge of conspiring to commit terror, which was the only charge against him until McFadden's interrogation in 2003.

For being bin Laden's chauffer, Hamdan could receive life imprisonment. Hitler's chauffer didn’t get anything. He wasn’t even put on trial. Don’t feel too bad for Hamdan, though. Remember, the U.S. Supreme Court said he could appeal his conviction in the Federal Court system, and there they don't allow evidence gained through "coercive interrogation methods." Plus no self-respecting prosecutor is likely to use put an NCIS agent as a witness in a real trial.

The Bush administration never should have pushed the Hamdan case this far. If they'd really wanted to do a number on the guy, they should have released him in Pakistan, then waited for him to attend a wedding, and bombed the wedding with a fistful of cruise missiles launched from a nuclear submarine. If they couldn't get intelligence good enough to know which wedding Hamdan might show up to, they could just bomb every wedding. Odds are he'd show up at one eventually, and he didn't show up, some other "top" terrorist would. Or they could just bomb a wedding and say they got him. Who'd know the difference?

Top Gun?

"Al-Qaida Admits Death of Top Commander" read the August 4 headline of an Associated Press story at No, we didn't get bin Laden. The top al Qaeda commander in question was actually a top al Qaeda commander named Abu Khabab al-Masri.

Al Masri had been accused by the U.S. Justice Department—the same Justice Department that charged Hamdan with but did not manage to convict him of conspiracy to commit terror—of training the suicide bombers who killed 17 sailors on the USS Cole. According to AP, Masri "is believed to have been killed in an airstrike apparently launched by the U.S. in Pakistan last week." (Apparently launched by the U.S.? Great. Caesar's. Ghost. Who else would have launched an airstrike in Pakistan last week? Barundi?)

Masri is believed to have been killed because al Qaeda posted a statement on the internet saying he had been killed, along with three other "top figures" and their children. Pakistani authorities say they "believe" Masri is "one of six people killed in an airstrike on July 28 on a compound in South Waziristan." The Pakistani "authorities" are, apparently, "two Pakistani intelligence officials."

One has to wonder if these two Pakistani intelligence officials are among the Pakistani intelligence officials believed to be in league with al Qaeda and/or the Taliban and/or believed to be involved with the attack on the Indian embassy in Afghanistan. One also has to wonder if the Justice Department got the evidence it based its accusations against Masri on from Pakastini intelligence officials. It sure didn't get the evidence from U.S. intelligence officials. Our intelligence officials don't even know if we killed the guy or not. Our intelligence officials are about as competent as, well, NCIS agents.

And based on the recent report by the Rand Corporation that says the Bush administration's strategy against al Qaeda has apparently made the terrorist group stronger, one also has to wonder if the people in charge of America's anti-terror strategy have done anything in the last seven years other than sit in a circle and pull on their potty wands.

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword . Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now. Also catch Russ Wellen's interview with Jeff at The Huffington Post and Scholars and Rogues.

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