Friday, April 27, 2007

Top Al-Qaeda Operative Captured -- But When? And Was He?

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MSNBC's headline blares: "Al Qaeda Official Seen as Major Catch for U.S." Here are the opening paragraphs:

A senior al-Qaida commander who was handed over to U.S. custody this week is believed to be a close confidant of Osama bin Laden who has provided U.S. intelligence officials with hundreds of important leads into al-Qaida’s operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, U.S. officials said Friday.

The man, identified as Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, an Iraqi Kurd, has been implicated in several al-Qaida attempts to assassinate prominent world leaders and is believed to have launched attacks on U.S. and coalition forces from Pakistan.

Bryan Whitman, a spokesman for the Defense Department, said al-Hadi was “one of the organization’s key paramilitary commanders in Afghanistan” when he was detained. Intelligence officials told NBC News’ Jim Miklaszewski on condition of anonymity that he was captured late last year while on his way to Iraq, where he was to assume a leading role in al-Qaida’s operations in the country.

A major catch? Maybe. A recent catch? Definitely not:

The media is buzzing with the news that an Al Qaida bigwig has been "captured" - only he hasn't - at least, not recently. The only thing the announcement of his capture really does is point out that Bush lied again.

If Abdul al-Hadi al-Iraqi is truly what he is accused of being - and there's never going to be a fair trial as the world understands those words to determine his guilt - then he is better locked up. But touting his "capture" today as the corporate media and right-wing bloggers want to is just downright misleading. What is certain is that he was captured some months ago and is only now being moved to Guantanamo Bay - but the military won't say outright when he was captured. Estimates range between 2002 and the latter part of last year.

Which makes the timing of the Bush administration's announcement curious, to say the least (linked from Newshoggers):

It is always amusing to watch the Bush administration being licked by flames of recrimination. This certainly has been true lately, despite various media organs trying to cover for them. The Tillman and Lynch testimonies were only the latest in an ongoing rush of bad news for Bush. So, you just had to know some vital announcement was in the offing. Right?

Well, here it is. The Pentagon hastily trots out another captured, "high value" al Qaeda operative. But it is not a grand announcement of capture. al Hadi is merely be[ing] transferred from one military prison to another. ...

AP reporter Pauline Jelinek:

After being secretly held by the CIA for months, an Iraqi who was one of al-Qaida's most senior and experienced operatives has been shipped to the Guantanamo Bay military prison for terror suspects, officials said Friday.

Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi is believed responsible for plotting cross-border attacks from Pakistan on U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and he led an effort to assassinate Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, and U.N. officials, the Pentagon said.

The transfer of al-Iraqi, said to have been an associate of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, makes him the 15th so called "high-value" detainee known to be handed over to military officials at the military facility in Cuba from CIA control.

The arrangement continues to be controversial. People in the secret prisons are subject to harsh interrogation methods that human rights groups say amount to torture. The Bush administration says the methods are legal and the interrogation necessary to protect the U.S. from attack.

Cernig links to an Amnesty International press release, which puts two (the CIA has been holding al-Iraqi for months) and two (that means he was probably in CIA custody before September, 2006) together and does not get four (Pres. Bush acknowledged the existence of the secret CIA prison system in September, 2006, but said no detainees were being held in that prison system anymore):

The U.S. Department of Defense today announced that a "high value" detainee, 'Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, has been transferred to the United States Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay. The Pentagon has not revealed when or where he was detained, only that "prior to his arrival at Guantanamo Bay, he was held in CIA custody".

"This announcement raises a number of immediate questions: When was al-Iraqi taken into custody? How long has he been in CIA detention? Where has he been he held and what were his confinement conditions? The lack of information around this transfer only adds to the deep concerns surrounding the United States' conduct in the so-called 'war on terror'," said Amnesty International.

Other questions raised by today's announcement include:

-- If al-Iraqi was arrested prior to September 2006, where was he on September 6, 2006 when President Bush confirmed the existence of the secret CIA detention program, but stated that no one was at that time held in it?

-- Has he been subjected to the "alternative interrogation techniques" previously authorized for use by the CIA, but not elaborated upon by President Bush?

-- How many other people are in CIA custody?

"As well as answering all such questions, the Bush administration should put an end to all secret detentions immediately and bring its detention policies and practices into full compliance with international law," said Amnesty International.

Via Laura Rozen, one of Josh Marshall's readers suggests an alternative possibility: If the news about al-Iraqi's "capture" is such important news, why release it to the press on a Friday?

So. It's Friday, and the Pentagon leaks word that a top al-Qaeda operative has been captured. Or, actually, that he was captured last year, but that he's just been transferred from the custody of the CIA to DoD. Wait, that's not quite right. He was transferred earlier in the week. But still. It's important news. Right?

Only here's the thing. When you have a story like this, you don't release it on a Friday. There's nothing time-critical about it. There's no reason to squander the positive headlines on the slowest media day of the week.

Maybe you've already heard something. Or maybe we'll get the word in the next few hours. But I can't think of a surer sign that the administration will be releasing some information later today that it would rather we all ignored. Who knows? It could be a post-Gonzales testimony DoJ document dump. It might be word of another probe into Rove. Maybe the RNC will be turning over some e-mails. But you can take it to the bank - something's coming down the pike.

Cross-posted at Shakesville.

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