Getting the whole story about anything requires more work than most hardworking people are willing or able to do at any given time. This struck me again just now reading Jeremy Scahill’s Dirty Wars, a tome from the library I’ve been reading, a few pages at a time, for a couple of months.
I read today how Anwar al-Awlaki, US citizen of Yemeni descent eventually killed by US government drone for vociferously hating America, was grabbed and detained by the Yemenis and held in solitary for nine months, without charges or sunlight (his small cell was in a dark basement), pen and paper, exercise or visitor, by request of the U.S. government. Relying on Scahill’s account, and just about every other source I’ve looked at, his eighteen month imprisonment occurred before he was seriously considered a danger to anyone, before he made a single video calling for violent jihad against Dick Cheney.
It appears that, in the manner that the former Cat Stevens was put on the no-fly list, angering some and delighting others, Awlaki was marked as a cautionary tale. In Awlaki’s case, as a dangerous radical worthy of lethal retribution, a symbol to be summarily executed without any sort of judicial process, and his sixteen year-old son, too, a couple of weeks later, without any explanation whatsoever for the murder of the American kid who’d gone to look for his father.
The ideologues around Dick Cheney have Awlaki, the go-to moderate cleric after 9/11, a telegenic and reasonable American Muslim, grabbed in Yemen for expressing anger that the US, from all appearances, was waging brutal, endless, worldwide war on Islam. They stick him in a hole in the ground for nine months, keep him locked up, still without charges, for another nine, and, “whoa! look at that! This fucking radical cleric hates our freedom!” Cue the reasonable sounding post-racial front-man and the Predator Drone and Tomahawk missile. Got one for his American teenage son, too, a few weeks later. Hey, we droned some folks, ya know, this, uh, happens.
Wikipedia is somewhat conclusory, presenting an apparently convincing case for why this radicalized Muslim got what he deserved, though less than completely informative:
If you rely on the account on Wikipedia, you will know, based on a 2009 piece in the Santa Fe New Mexican, in turn based on an American government document created after Awlaki’s release from prison that
On August 31, 2006, al-Awlaki was arrested with four others on charges of kidnapping a Shiite teenager for ransom, and participating in an al-Qaeda plot to kidnap a US military attaché.He was imprisoned in 2006 and 2007, reportedly under American pressure on the Yemeni authorities. He was interviewed around September 2007 by two FBI agents with regard to the 9/11 attacks and other subjects, and John Negroponte, the US Director of National Intelligence, told Yemeni officials he did not object to al-Awlaki’s detention
You can read the cited May 2010 NY Times article, FN 61, Imam’s Path From Condemning Terror to Preaching Jihad, reporting that not only did America “not object” to Awlaki’s detention, but that he was rendered, imprisoned and kept in prison for many months, even after his “interrogation” by the FBI, under American pressure here.
That article gives another, more vague, reason for his arrest by Yemeni authorities:
In mid-2006, after he intervened in a tribal dispute, Mr. Awlaki was imprisoned for 18 months by the Yemeni authorities.
The article also states:
But by the end of 2007, American officials, some of whom were disturbed at the imprisonment without charges of a United States citizen, signaled that they no longer insisted on Mr. Awlaki’s incarceration, and he was released.
Scattered throughout the wiki are quotes from American officials, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and others asserting that prior to his imprisonment in Yemen there was no serious indication that Awlaki had any involvement with violent jihad. However, as the Santa Fe New Mexican intrepidly reported, and Wikipedia made a matter of instantly accessible public record, he was imprisoned in Yemen for direct involvement in an al-Qeada plot.
Let’s have a look at another strangely insufficient selection from the wiki on Awlaki (emphasis and annotation mine).
Al-Awlaki was said to have developed an animosity towards the US and became a proponent of Takfiri and Jihadi thinking, while retaining Islamism. While imprisoned in Yemen after 2004 [after being rendered in the dark of night, without charges, to solitary confinement, at the request of the US government–ed.] , al-Awlaki became influenced by the works of Sayyid Qutb, an originator of the contemporary “anti-Western Jihadist movement”. He read 150–200 pages a day of Qutb’s works, and described himself as “so immersed with the author I would feel Sayyid was with me in my cell speaking to me directly”.
Even this small detail of how much of Qutb’s writing he read a day is off in the Wikipedia account, according to the footnoted source Awlaki stated:
“Because of the flowing style of Sayyid I would read between 100 and 150 pages a day,” Mr. Awlaki wrote.
I think of the physician Ayman Al Zawahiri, no doubt a despicable, hate-inspired, mass-murdering psychopath, and wonder about him before his years of torture in Mubarak’s prison in Egypt. Zawahiri, and his former close associate and fellow al-Qeada boss Osama bin Laden, also big fans of, and greatly inspired by, Sayyid Qutb. These remaining worst of the worst in Gitmo, the place President Obama closed six years ago? Well, even the innocent ones can’t be released now, you know, they get kind of unpredictable, these folks who get, you know, tortured and stuff. And probably all very sympathetic to the detailed arguments Qutb made and published in the decades before he was tortured and executed in 1966 by secular authorities in Egypt for alleged involvement in a plot to assassinate Nasser.
In the end the U.S. got what it wanted with Awlaki — a high profile, once moderate, articulate, native English speaking Muslim cleric who wound up making videos calling for jihad and giving lone wolf Muslims inspiration for attacking innocent Americans. I wonder if there could have been any connection between these calls for revenge against America for its persecution of Muslims and his imprisonment without charges in a dark hole in the ground for months on end.
I wonder, about this and so much else done in our names, if we will ever know the whole story, except through the lenses of what we are told, and believe to be true.