President Joe Biden’s assassination of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan was illegal under both U.S. and international law. After the CIA drone strike killed Zawahiri on August 2, Biden declared, “People around the world no longer need to fear the vicious and determined killer.” What we should fear instead is the dangerous precedent set by Biden’s unlawful extrajudicial execution. In addition to being illegal, the killing of Zawahiri also occurred in a moment when the United Nations had already determined that people in the U.S. had little to fear from him. As a United Nations report released in July concluded, “Al Qaeda is not viewed as posing an immediate international threat from its safe haven in Afghanistan because it lacks an external operational capability and does not currently wish to cause the Taliban international difficulty or embarrassment.”
Hours after the Feb. 3 U.S. military raid in northern Syria that left the leader of ISIS and multiple family members dead, President Biden delivered a triumphant White House address. The late-night Special Forces operation in Syria's Idlib province, Biden proclaimed, was a "testament to America’s reach and capability to take out terrorist threats no matter where they hide around the world." Unmentioned by the president, and virtually all media accounts of the assassination, was the critical role that top members of his administration played during the Obama years in creating the Al Qaeda-controlled hideout where ISIS head Abu Ibrahim al-Qurayshi, as well as his slain predecessor, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, found their final refuge.
The Guardian reported last week that a recently-declassified CIA Inspector General’s report from 2008 found that CIA officers at a covert detention site in Afghanistan used a prisoner, Ammar al-Baluch, as a “training prop,” taking turns smashing his head against a plywood wall and leaving him with permanent brain damage. Baluch is currently one of five defendants before a military tribunal at the US military prison at Guantanamo charged with participating in the planning for the September 11 attacks. The case has been stuck in the pre-trial phase for 10 years, in part because much of the information that the government wants to use against the defendants was collected using torture.
We Americans have had a painful and difficult national debate over the past 20 years relative to torture. Torture was official U.S. government policy from 2002 until at least 2005, and that iteration was not formally outlawed until passage of the McCain-Feinstein Amendment in 2015. (The torture program was a highly-classified secret from 2002 until I revealed it in a nationally-televised interview in December 2007.) In truth, torture has been illegal in the U.S. since at least the end of World War II. In 1946, the U.S. Government executed Japanese soldiers who had waterboarded American prisoners of war. In January 1968, the Washington Post ran a front-page photograph showing an American soldier waterboarding a North Vietnamese prisoner.
March 2021 - marked the 10th anniversary of the Western regime-change war on Syria. And after a decade of grueling conflict, Washington is still maneuvering to extend its longstanding relationship with the Salafi-jihadist militants fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. With the northeastern province of Idlib under the control of a self-proclaimed “Syrian Salvation Government” led by the rebranded version of Syria’s al-Qaeda franchise, and protected under the military aegis of NATO member state Turkey, powerful elements from Brussels to Washington have been working to legitimize its leader. This June, PBS Frontline aired a special, “The Jihadist,” featuring a sit-down interview with Abu Mohammad al-Jolani, de facto president of the “Syrian Salvation Government” and founder of the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda originally called Jabhat al-Nusra, today re-branded as Hay-at Tahrir al-Sham, or HTS.
The United States government has designated the main enemy of al-Qaeda in Yemen, the Houthi movement, as a terrorist organization, after spending years backing al-Qaeda in the country. Like the US-led wars on Syria, Libya, former Yugoslavia, and 1980s Afghanistan, Yemen represents an example of an armed conflict where Washington has supported al-Qaeda and similar Salafi-jihadist extremists in order to foment regime change and extend its hegemony. Since March 2015, the United States has helped oversee a catastrophic war on Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East, aiding Saudi Arabia as it launched tens of thousands of air strikes on its southern neighbor, bombing the impoverished nation into rubble — and unleashing the largest humanitarian crisis on Earth.
With just days left for the Trump administration, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared this week that Iran is the “new home base” for al-Qaeda and announced an additional round of sanctions on the country. Pompeo accused the nation of harboring and supporting the terrorist group’s forces, claiming it operated “under the hard shell of the Iranian regime’s protection”. The incoherence and hypocrisy of these claims, which were supported by no evidence, are laid bare upon basic examination of the history of al-Qaeda in relation to both the United States and Iran. Al-Qaeda’s very existence is intrinsically connected to U.S. foreign policy.
America’s “declassifications” of information about Iran are “fictitious,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has tweeted. It followed US State Secretary Mike Pompeo accusing Iran, without proof, of harboring Al-Qaeda’s base. “Mr. ‘we lie, cheat, steal’ is pathetically ending his disastrous career with more warmongering lies,” Zarif wrote in a fiery message in the wake of Pompeo’s statement, referring to the US State Secretary by his infamous 2019 quote. Zarif denounced the Iran “declassifications” and the claims Pompeo made about its links to Al-Qaeda, calling them “fictitious.” He also condemned the US’ decision to re-include Cuba in the list of state sponsors of terrorism.