Baitullah Mehsud Dies From His Wounds–Hakimullah Mehsud and Waliur Rehman

File photo of Pakistan Taliban commander Hakimullah Mehsud with Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud during a news conference in South Waziristan Reuters – Pakistan Taliban commander Hakimullah Mehsud (L) is seen with his arm around Taliban chief Baitullah …

By ISHTIAQ MAHSUD, Associated Press Writer Ishtiaq Mahsud, Associated Press Writer 2 mins ago

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan – The Pakistani Taliban acknowledged Tuesday that the militants’ top leader, Baitullah Mehsud, was dead, ending weeks of claims and counterclaims over his fate following a U.S. missile strike on his father-in-law’s home this month.

Two of Mehsud’s top aides, Hakimullah Mehsud and Waliur Rehman, called The Associated Press on Tuesday evening to say that he had died Sunday of wounds from the Aug. 5 strike near the Afghan border.

“He was wounded. He got the wounds in a drone strike and he was martyred two days ago,” Hakimullah Mehsud said. Rehman later repeated the same statement.

Both also confirmed an earlier Taliban announcement that Hakimullah Mehsud now leads the Pakistani Taliban, while Rehman would lead the movement’s wing in South Waziristan.

The Taliban had insisted for weeks that Baitullah Mehsud was still alive following the missile strike, while U.S. and Pakistani officials said he was almost certainly dead and a leadership struggle had ensued.

Hakimullah and Rehman, who had served as top aides to Baitullah, said they were calling together — handing the telephone back and forth to each other — to dispel reports of disunity in the Taliban leadership. They spoke to an Associated Press Reporter who had interviewed both and recognized their voices.

“Our presence together shows that we do not have any differences,” Rehman said.

Both men had been named as candidates — and possibly rivals — to replace Baitullah Mehsud as chief of the al-Qaida-linked movement, which is blamed for dozens of terrorist attacks inside Pakistan and also for planning attacks on U.S. troops across the border in Afghanistan.

However, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or Pakistani Taliban Movement, announced Friday that Hakimullah would lead the group because Baitullah was ill. Members of the Mehsud clan use the same last name.

The 28-year-old Hakimullah Mehsud is known for his ruthless efficiency in staging attacks.

Hakimullah commanded three tribal regions and had a reputation as Baitullah’s most ferocious deputy. He first appeared in public to journalists in November 2008, when he offered to take reporters on a ride in a U.S. Humvee taken from a supply truck heading to Afghanistan.

Hakimullah claimed responsibility for the June 9 bombing of the Pearl Continental hotel in Peshawar, and the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore earlier this year.

He also threatened suicide bombings in Pakistani cities in retaliation for a recent army offensive in the Swat Valley, which has been winding down in recent weeks.

Iraq Withdraws Ambassador to Syria over Truck Bombings

Iraq Withdraws Ambassador to Syria over Truck Bombings

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25/08/2009 Iraq sparked a new diplomatic crisis with Syria on Tuesday by ordering home its ambassador to Damascus and demanding the handover of two men alleged to have ordered a deadly truck bombing in Baghdad.

The move came just hours before Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the bombings, which killed 95 people and left nearly 600 wounded.

“The cabinet demands the Syrian government hand over Mohammed Younis al-Ahmed and Sattam Farhan,” said a statement quoting government spokesman Ali Al-Dabbagh, announcing the ambassador’s recall. “The cabinet decided to ask that they be handed over for their direct role in carrying out the terrorist operation,” it added.

On Sunday, Iraq aired a video showing a former police chief confessing to the bombing last Wednesday at the finance ministry, one of two attacks in the capital. The man said he had received orders from his Baathist boss Farhan, who along with Ahmed, was based in Syria according to his video confession.

The statement announcing the recall of the Iraqi ambassador, who was only appointed six months ago, went further and pointed the finger at Syria for harboring insurgents. “We also demand that Syria hand over every person wanted for committing murders and crimes against Iraqis and to kick out all terrorist organizations that use Syria as a base to launch and plan such operations against Iraqi people,” it said.

But a statement on an Islamic website claimed the bombings were carried out by the Islamic State of Iraq, an Al-Qaeda insurgent group. “By the grace of God, the sons of the Islamic State of Iraq launched a new attack on the wounded heart of Baghdad to destroy the bastions of faithlessness and the citadels of the atheism of the apostate Safavid government,” it said.

The bombings at the finance and foreign ministries culminated in the worst day of violence seen in Iraq for 18 months.

In the immediate aftermath, Syria condemned the atrocities, with the foreign ministry expressing “deep sorrow at the loss of a large number of victims” and reaffirming “our support for everything which upholds Iraq’s security, integrity and stability.”

During a visit to Baghdad on April 22, Syrian Prime Minister Mohammed Naji Otri rebuffed Iraqi journalists who alleged that Baathist boss Ahmed was in Syria and questioned the premier if he was prepared to take action against him. “I don’t know that name and I’ve never heard about him,” Otri said.

Prosecutor Named for CIA Probe, John H. Durham

[SEE: Prosecutor Named to Probe CIA Prisoner Abuses]

John H. Durham biography

John DurhamJohn Durham (Bob Child / Associated Press / April 25, 2006)

John H. Durham

Age: 59

Position: First assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Connecticut.

Current portfolio: Tapped by Bush administration Atty. Gen. Michael B. Mukasey in January 2008 to investigate the CIA in the 2005 destruction of interrogation videotapes. He serves as acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia for the purposes of that matter. Durham “is a widely respected and experienced career prosecutor who has supervised a wide range of complex investigations in the past,” Mukasey said.

Background: A 30-plus-year veteran of the Justice Department, he has won praise for being one of the nation’s most relentless prosecutors. Durham was appointed in 1999 by then-U.S. Atty. Gen. Janet Reno to investigate whether FBI agents and police officers in Boston for three decades were working with organized crime, an inquiry that led to numerous convictions of public officials and charges of misconduct and influence peddling.

He also evaluated, prepared and prosecuted major racketeering cases directed at the Gambino, Genovese and Patriarca crime families in Connecticut.

Personal: Publicity-shy, perhaps due to his specialty in prosecuting organized crime. He is a registered Republican; according to press reports, which cited Connecticut voter records; and has four sons.

Source: Times research

Copyright © 2009, The Los Angeles Times

Inside the CIA’s haphazard interrogation program

AP – In this image from the CIA, the cover of a special review released Monday, Aug. 24, 2009, of a newly …

By PAMELA HESS and MATT APUZZO, Associated Press Writer Pamela Hess And Matt Apuzzo, Associated Press Writer – 

WASHINGTON – With just two weeks of training, or about half the time it takes to become a truck driver, the CIA certified its spies as interrogation experts after 9/11 and handed them the keys to the most coercive tactics in the agency’s arsenal.

It was a haphazard process, cobbled together in the months following the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington by an agency that had never been in the interrogation business. The result was a patchwork program in which rules kept shifting and the goals often were unclear.

At times, the interrogators went too far, even beyond the wide latitude they were given under the Bush administration‘s flexible guidelines, according to newly unclassified documents released Monday. Interrogators took the simulated drowning technique of waterboarding beyond what was authorized. Mock executions were held. Family members were threatened. There were hints of rape.

If it was a terrifying process for the detainees, it was a bureaucratic nightmare for the interrogators. Until 2003, the agency provided its interrogators with rules on a case-by-case basis, sometimes giving permission by e-mail or even orally from CIA headquarters.

The interrogators were required to sign documents saying they understood the rules and would comply with them. Yet they were given ample room to improvise and make decisions about how much humanity to show to terror detainees.

While former Vice President Dick Cheney said the interrogation program was run by “highly trained professionals who understand their obligations under the law,” the newly released documents suggest otherwise, at least in the early months.

The interrogators slapped prisoners, held a handgun to one’s head, used power drills to make threats and left men shackled and naked in frigid rooms until they cooperated.

“How cold is cold?” one officer said in the 2004 CIA inspector general’s report released Monday. “How cold is life threatening?”

The CIA’s Counterterrorism Center began training interrogators in November 2002, two months after suspected terrorist Abu Zubaydah already had been repeatedly subjected to waterboarding.

But because the CIA had so little information about al-Qaida, CIA analysts could only speculate about what the detainees “should know,” hobbling the interrogators’ ability to ask meaningful questions and identify misleading or useful answers.

Some in the CIA correctly feared that the existence of the program would leak out someday. Others worried they’d be identified by name in news stories.

“One officer expressed concern that, one day, agency officers will wind up on some ‘wanted list’ to appear before the World Court for war crimes,” the inspector general wrote.

Another added, “Ten years from now we’re going to be sorry we’re doing this … (but) it has to be done.”

Even the Justice Department, which authorized the interrogation program, conceded in a 2004 memo that “at least in some instances and particularly early in the program,” the program appeared to have gone off track.

Attorney General Eric Holder appointed a prosecutor Monday to look into whether such incidents amounted to violation of federal law. He said nobody who operated within the framework of the Justice Department’s legal opinions will be charged.

But the program that the Bush administration’s Justice Department approved in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks began to short-circuit almost immediately.

In August 2002, government lawyers said interrogators were not supposed to use harsh tactics until all other methods had failed. But three months later, when officials captured the terrorism suspect Abd al-Nashiri, believed to be behind the bombing of the USS Cole, interrogators immediately launched into enhanced tactics.

And the method of waterboarding used by the CIA did not always resemble the clinical, closely supervised process that the Justice Department approved. One official, explaining why interrogators were pouring excessive amounts of water over a detainee’s cloth-covered mouth and nose, said, “It is for real.”

Another interrogator repeatedly choked off the carotid artery of a prisoner, causing the detainee to pass out, then shaking him awake again. The interrogator had only recently been trained in interrogation tactics and had previous experience only in debriefing, the practice of questioning people already willing to cooperate.

As late as September 2003, the CIA was still sending mixed signals to its interrogators.

“No formal mechanisms were in place to ensure that personnel going to the field were briefed on the existing legal and policy guidance,” the report said.

It was a debriefer, not a trained interrogator, who threatened alleged al-Nashiri with a power drill and an unloaded gun. Such threats violate U.S. anti-torture laws.

It’s not clear from CIA reports whether waterboarding or other aggressive tactics made America safer, as Cheney has long claimed. CIA officials credited the detention and interrogation program with thwarting several terrorist attacks. But investigators said it’s less certain that waterboarding or other coercive tactics directly contributed to that success.

In one case, CIA officials staged a mock execution to terrify a detainee into cooperating. Authorities believed the detainee was withholding information, and they felt they needed to get creative. So they pretended to kill another detainee in a nearby room.

It was an elaborate setup, complete with a guard playing a dead detainee.

But the scheme apparently didn’t work. A senior officer later said the effort was so obviously a ruse, it yielded no benefit to interrogators.