what have we done?

Hijackers’ Friend Objects to 9/11 Report – i was sorting through some old paperwork and found this, from august 2004, but still relevant, despite the fact that nobody remembers it. it goes right along with the story of Maher Arar.

We’ve Seen the Enemy, and He is Us – another article from 2004 that still hasn’t gone away, and, in fact, has gotten worse… 8/

Hijackers’ Friend Objects to 9/11 Report
Aug 10, 2004
By Dan Eggen

Mohdar Abdullah knows what the Sept. 11 commission says about him. That he was “perfectly suited to assist the hijackers in pursuing their mission.” That he “expressed hatred for the U.S. government.”

Perhaps most damning, the panel’s best-selling report alleges that Abdullah may have bragged to inmates that he knew about the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in advance and that he told the FBI (news – web sites), “The U.S. brought this on themselves.”

Abdullah, now 25 and back in his homeland of Yemen after his deportation from the United States in May, called the report “propaganda” and said he is the victim of U.S. investigators looking for someone to blame. He said he had no inkling in the summer of 2001 that two friends, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, were about to take part in the deadliest terrorist assault on U.S. soil.

“If I could have done anything to prevent this heinous attack from happening, I would have done it,” Abdullah said in a telephone interview with The Washington Post arranged by his attorney last week. “I was going to school, I was working, I was building my own future over there. I considered it my own land, and that’s how I behaved towards it. . . . I was quite happy living in America until this happened.”

The comments stand in stark contrast to the 567-page commission report, which portrays Abdullah as perhaps the most suspicious acquaintance to befriend two of the hijackers during their time in Southern California. While the commission largely absolves other hijacker associates of wrongdoing, it casts Abdullah as a central figure in the hijackers’ San Diego stay and strongly suggests that he may have been an al Qaeda operative placed there to help the plot.

“Abdullah . . . is fluent in both Arabic and English, and was perfectly suited to assist the hijackers in pursuing their mission,” according to the report. It adds later that “Abdullah has emerged as a key associate of” Alhazmi and Almihdhar in San Diego.

Abdullah’s story highlights one of the enduring debates of the Sept. 11 attacks: how the terrorists managed to train for the assaults, conduct surveillance and accomplish their mission — all, apparently, without assistance in the plot from anyone in the United States. The FBI, after an exhaustive check of possible accomplices, including Abdullah, supports that scenario. Others, including the commission and a House-Senate inquiry panel, have challenged the FBI’s conclusion.

Abdullah said he offered his hijacker friends no assistance with the plot and does not know anyone who did.

Abdullah, whose English is sprinkled with American colloquialisms after six years of living in the United States, said he “was very surprised” the commission “even brought me up.”

“I was in custody for nearly three years and no one came up to me and said, ‘Hey, we think you were involved,’ ” he said. “This has got me very upset. It is very unfair, and it’s ruining my life.”

Abdullah’s San Diego attorney, Randall B. Hamud, said his client remains a virtual captive in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, where he is under constant surveillance by the government.

Abdullah was arrested as a material witness in late September 2001. He spent 32 months in U.S. jails and prisons as the FBI and the Justice Department (news – web sites) investigated his ties to Almihdhar, Alhazmi and a network of immigrant friends, all of whom congregated around the Rabat mosque in a suburb of San Diego.

Commission investigators complained that they were never able to interview Abdullah before he was deported. Abdullah refused to cooperate, and the Justice Department declined to grant him immunity from prosecution to compel his cooperation. The panel also is critical of the government’s decision to allow Abdullah’s deportation, arguing that unanswered questions about his case require further examination.

Abdullah’s first alleged contact with Alhazmi and Almihdhar came in February 2000. According to the commission, he may have driven them from Los Angeles to San Diego. Abdullah denies it. The two would-be hijackers sought out another person they had met recently in Los Angeles, Omar Bayoumi, at the Islamic Center of San Diego.

The hijackers later found their way to the Rabat mosque, a humble building nestled amid palm trees and ranch homes in La Mesa, 10 miles from the well-established and, by reputation, more moderate Islamic Center of San Diego. On a recent Friday, as families crowded the Islamic Center, the Rabat mosque appeared almost abandoned, its gates locked and mailbox overflowing. (A radical Yemeni imam at the Rabat mosque in 2000, Anwar Aulaqi, would later lead the Dar al Hijra mosque in Falls Church, which Alhazmi attended.)

Until the commission report, Bayoumi had been the primary focus of speculation about potential Sept. 11 accomplices in San Diego and was identified as an alleged al Qaeda associate and Saudi spy by a congressional inquiry in 2003. The Sept. 11 commission, by contrast, found “no credible evidence that he believed in violent extremism” and concluded that Bayoumi was an “unlikely candidate” to be involved in an al Qaeda plot.

Abdullah, the report strongly suggests, is a more likely accomplice.

According to the commission report, which cites FBI interviews and other investigative material, Abdullah admitted that he knew Alhazmi and Almihdhar were extremists and that Almihdhar had been involved with the Islamic Army of Aden, a group linked to al Qaeda. The report also says Abdullah “clearly was sympathetic to those extremist views.”

When he was detained as a material witness after the 2001 attacks, the commission says, FBI agents found a notebook in his possession that had been written by someone else but described “planes falling from the sky, mass killing and hijacking.” The report also says Abdullah showed hatred toward the U.S. government and made the statement about the attacks being brought upon the United States.

In the interview, Abdullah strenuously disputed those characterizations. He said that he had no idea Alhazmi and Almihdhar “had associations with any group or had evil plans towards the United States,” and that he is “committed to my religion but not to the point of extremism at all.”

The commission is particularly alarmed by reports earlier this year from two inmates housed with Abdullah in the California prison system, who alleged that Abdullah told them in the fall of 2003 “that he had known” Alhazmi and Almihdhar “were planning a terrorist attack.” The two inmates’ stories are not consistent, however.

In one version, Abdullah bragged that he had been told that the two hijackers were part of an attack before they arrived in the United States. In the other, Abdullah allegedly said that he was told of the plot after Alhazmi and Almihdhar arrived in San Diego and that the hijackers “invited him to join them on the plane.” The second inmate also said that Abdullah claimed to have found out about the attacks three weeks in advance.

The panel noted evidence that Alhazmi, who had left San Diego, may have called Abdullah about that time; that Abdullah stopped making calls from his cell phone after Aug. 25, 2001; and that friends reported “he started acting strangely.” The report also recounts an unconfirmed witness account that Abdullah and others “behaved suspiciously” on Sept. 10, 2001, at a Texaco station where they worked, giving each other “high-fives” after one said, “It is finally going to happen.”

One senior commission official called the findings “troubling” and said Abdullah’s case “deserves a much deeper investigation.”

The Justice Department and the FBI take a different view, arguing that Abdullah’s case has been exhaustively investigated and that the claims of the two jailhouse informants, in particular, do not check out.

“The investigation to date has determined that there is no evidence to corroborate information that Mohdar Abdullah had prior knowledge of the 9/11 attacks,” the FBI said in a statement. “The FBI continues an active investigation of Mohdar Abdullah and any connection to the 9/11 attacks.”

One senior FBI official said there are numerous inconsistencies in the inmates’ claims and that investigators are not even certain both prisoners had close contact with Abdullah. The FBI’s Sept. 11 investigative team did not oppose allowing Abdullah to return to Yemen, the official said.

“There’s nobody who feels we’ve lost someone here,” the official said.

Abdullah made no claims about prior knowledge of the attacks, he and his attorney said. They contend that the two inmates are attempting to use Abdullah’s notoriety as a “Sept. 11 detainee” to their advantage.

“It’s scurrilous for the committee to include in its report the spurious fantasies of jailhouse snitches trying to cut themselves a better deal with prosecutors,” Abdullah lawyer Hamud said. If federal officials had any evidence linking Abdullah to the Sept. 11 plot, Hamud said, “you can be assured they would have prosecuted him.”

Abdullah said he gave Alhazmi and Almihdhar tips on how to obtain driver’s licenses and other advice because it is “an obligation” for Muslims to help one another and because neither spoke English or knew the country well. As far as his behavior in August 2001, Abdullah said he does not remember acting strangely, “but I was under a lot of stress because of monetary issues and stuff like that.” He denied taking part in any celebration at the gas station.

Abdullah had just transferred from Grossmont College in El Cajon, where he studied business administration, to San Diego State University, where he had planned to study information systems when he was arrested. Now he is living with his parents and attempting to find a job.

Abdullah said he was brought back to Sanaa under armed guard and held in a Yemeni jail for about a month after his deportation.

“I still can’t understand how this all happened to me,” Abdullah said. “I had a life that was well established, and somehow they ruined it.”

We’ve Seen the Enemy, and He is Us
July 14, 2004
by Robert L. Jamieson Jr

Ian Spiers is … a terrorist?

A threat to homeland security? A spy out to wreak havoc on the Ballard Bridge and Hiram Chittenden Locks?

If Ian is any of these things then this is his weapon of mass destruction: a 35-millimeter Olympus camera.

What recently happened to the longtime Ballard resident is one of those wrenching and uncomfortable stories of post-Sept. 11 America, and it is far from being black and white.

Try difficult shades of gray.

The whole thing would seem like a bad joke if the experience didn’t leave Ian crushed and confused.

Ian is an amateur photographer.

In May he was taking photos for his Shoreline Community College class at the Ballard locks, where waves of tourists flock to take pictures and where no signs prohibit shutterbugging.

Ian says he suddenly found himself surrounded by more than a half-dozen guys wearing black. He says they glowered, brusquely asked what he was doing and demanded his identification.

He tried to explain he was a photo student who had done nothing wrong and shouldn’t have to show his ID. One of the men, Ian says, erupted: “See this badge! This is a federal badge! I’m with homeland security!”

Intimidating tactics are one thing. A presumption that Ian — who says he tried to be cooperative while not forfeiting his rights — was guilty of something sinister is another.

What made the camera episode especially troubling for Ian, who was not arrested, is this: Other people around him happily toted cameras and clicked away, but he was the one singled out.

What gives?

Here’s a reasonable conclusion: Ian’s skin color is to blame.

Someone saw him and saw no good. He was profiled.

If you look at Ian’s smooth, light-brown complexion you could jump to the conclusion that he is vaguely Middle Eastern looking or Latin, maybe even Muslim.

Put a camera in his hands and place him near federal property such as the locks and Ian transforms into, well, what else? A potential terrorist.

“So upsetting,” sums up Shoreline instructor Chris Simons, who taught Ian in Art 100 — Beginning Photography.

Ian, 36, is half Scottish, half African-American. He is a Christian Scientist who has lived in Ballard for 10 years. He chose to photograph near the locks and bridge because he knows those places well.

Ian’s camera trouble started even before the May incident.

In April he went near the locks to take snapshots and returned home. Before he knew it, he says two uniformed Seattle police officers were at his door.

“Were you just at the Ballard locks? Taking pictures?” he says one of the officers asked.

Ian said yes, said he was a student. Ian said he showed the officers his notebook with shutter speeds and aperture settings.

Had he done something wrong?

The officers said no. Ian said they asked for his identification.

“If I’ve done nothing wrong why do I have to show identification,” Ian asked them, feeling fear.

A Seattle police report of the April incident described a man of medium skin tone acting “suspicious” at the locks and “photographing the bridge and writing notes.”

The officers who visited Ian took down his information and left.

On May 26, Ian returned to the locks to finish his class assignment.

He set up his tripod to take snapshots of passing boats. Within moments, he says a security guard — with a gun at his side and a German shepherd — was in front of him. The guard asked for ID. “I told him my constitutional rights were being infringed upon,” Ian recalled during an emotional interview.

Ian said the guard walked away.

Next, Ian saw a Seattle police cruiser pull into the area, followed soon thereafter by several men donning black. They approached him.

“Let’s see some ID! Now,” Ian says a uniform Seattle officer asked him. A federal special agent flashed his badge, huffed about being with homeland security and lectured about Sept. 11, Ian said.

Before leaving, Ian said the agent made a request: “You ought to let me take your picture.”

The photo student felt devastated. “The real threat to America,” he said when we spoke, “is what I’m experiencing now.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which owns and operates the locks, said they weren’t involved in what happened. “Anyone who comes to the locks can take pictures,” a spokeswoman said. “We want people to come.”

“Obviously someone saw something suspicious,” says Seattle police spokeswoman Deanna Nolette. “The department has been asking people, should they see something suspicious, to call and report it.”

Leigh Winchell, a senior official for the Department of Homeland Security, paints a painful truth: “We have to respond to calls — that’s the day and age we live in. What would the public reaction be if we didn’t follow through?”

Yet, authorities should have an obligation to use their training and common sense to assess a situation. They should be able to quickly determine a student taking class photos from a terrorist. They should be able to do their job without resorting to intimidating swagger that leaves a grown man in tears.

Authorities can ask folks for their IDs but people are not necessarily required to show them in a lot of situations. “This is one of them,” says ACLU spokesman Doug Honig. “The justification they were citing doesn’t apply to Ian.”

The ACLU, which is following up on the case, obtained paperwork that explains why the folks with badges badgered Ian for identification. Basically, authorities used a law that cracks down on spies, Honig said.

But I don’t think Ian’s a spy. Ian loves America. Ian’s crime was being a brown man with a camera in hand during a time of runaway fear. The law took action for the sake of the sockeye.

Should we really feel any safer?