Why was I named in alleged Al-Qaeda letters last week as a recipient for documents about 9/11? Al-Qaeda was not founded by Osama bin Laden, as many wrongly believe, but in the mid-1980s in Peshawar, Pakistan, by a revolutionary scholar, Sheikh Abdullah Azzam.
In the letters allegedly captured by the US special forces from Bin Laden’s compound, Al-Qaeda’s public relations people cited me and 19 other Western journalists as potential recipients of new documents about the 9/11 attacks on the US.
No surprise there! I have followed Al-Qaeda for the past 26 years as a writer, broadcaster and military consultant. My columns are read widely across South Asia and the Gulf. I have a reputation for being fiercely independent-minded and determined to get at the truth, no matter how unpopular.
The big US news networks heavily censored Al-Qaeda’s statements on government orders, or misreported them, complete with fake videos of Bin Laden.
The report cites redoubtable British writer Robert Fisk, the New Yorker’s ace investigator Seymour Hersh, ABC News investigator Brian Ross, and me as journalists, who reported fairly and accurately on the region.
All of us veterans have tried to report facts honestly and cut through propaganda from all sides. We have all been strong critics of Al-Qaeda and terror attacks, but also critics of heavy-handed, often counterproductive US and Western policies in the Muslim world.
As these letters shows, Al-Qaeda was never the vast, worldwide terror organisation that President George W. Bush claimed. As I witnessed, it was always tiny, no more than 200 men. Al-Qaeda’s original goal was to fight the mostly Tajik and Uzbek Afghan Communists and their Soviet masters.
Al-Qaeda became an ally of the Taliban in this anti-Communist struggle. But the Taliban had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. As the renowned journalist, Arnaud de Borchgrave, reported from Afghanistan that the Taliban’s tribal chiefs tried to oust firebrand Bin Laden from their nation.
Today, what is left of Al-Qaeda numbers no more than 25 men in Afghanistan, according to US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta. Yet, President Barack Obama cites the alleged Al-Qaeda “threat” as the reason for keeping the US forces in Afghanistan and keeping Pakistan under semi-occupation. That was the real purpose for releasing these letters. It has become an integral part of US politics.
Al-Qaeda is being used as a bogeyman by America’s Republicans to defend bloated US military spending and defend torture as having led to finding Bin Laden. My sources tell me a huge bribe led the US to Bin Laden, not torture.
The Pentagon has been leaking so-called information claiming Bin Laden was planning a wave of terror attacks just before he died. In fact, he had become an isolated, powerless jihadi living in retirement when he was killed.
Why was he not brought back to the US for trial?
An open trial would have finally allowed the Americans to discover the truth about the crime of 9/11, Al-Qaeda, and anti-Americanism in the Muslim world. Tragically, this did not happen. Dead men tell no tales.
We still don’t know how much Bin Laden was involved in 9/11, or if it was hatched in Pakistan. My own understanding is that 9/11 was planned in Hamburg and Madrid, and executed by mostly Saudi citizens.
Al-Qaeda lives on after Bin Laden, but as a tiny bunch of Western-hating militants with no power and little ability to stage major attacks. Violent anti-American groups from West Africa to Indonesia have adopted the title ‘Al-Qaeda’. For example, Al-Qaeda in Iraq never existed before the US invasion.
It is like the slaves in the film, Spartacus, crying out: “We are all Spartacus.”
These stepsons of Al-Qaeda are not centrally linked and have nothing in common, except for opposing Western domination of the Muslim world and espousing religious law. As US intervention in Africa and Central Asia intensifies, so will they spread. It is a perpetual terrorist motion machine.
n The writer is an award-winning, internationally syndicated columnist. His articles appear in the New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Gulf Times, Khaleej Times and other news sites in Asia. He is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post, Lew Rockwell and Big Eye. He appears as
an expert on foreign affairs on CNN, BBC, France 2, France 24, Fox News, CTV and CBC.