Will France Repeat US Mistakes after 9/11?

Exclusive: As three suspects in the Charlie Hebdo massacre die in a shootout with French police, the cycle of violence that has engulfed the Mideast again reaches into the West, but the challenge is to learn from U.S. mistakes after 9/11 and address root causes, not react with another round of mindless violence, says ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

First, a hat tip to Elias Groll, assistant editor at Foreign Policy, whose report just a few hours after the killings on Wednesday at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, included this key piece of background on the younger of the two brother suspects:

“Carif Kouachi was previously known to the authorities, as he was convicted by a French court in 2008 of trying to travel to Iraq to fight in that country’s insurgent movement. Kouachi told the court that he wished to fight the American occupation after viewing images of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison.”

President George W. Bush in a flight suit after landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln to give his "Mission Accomplished" speech about the Iraq War.

President George W. Bush in a flight suit after landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln to give his “Mission Accomplished” speech about the Iraq War.

The next morning, Amy Goodman of Democracynow.org and Juan Cole (in his blog) also carried this highly instructive aspect of the story of the unconscionable terrorist attack, noting that the brothers were well known to French intelligence; that the younger brother, Cherif, had been sentenced to three years in prison for his role in a network involved in sending volunteer fighters to Iraq to fight alongside al-Qaeda; and that he said he had been motivated by seeing the images of atrocities by U.S. troops at Abu Ghraib.

An article in the Christian Science Monitor added:  “During Cherif Kouachi’s 2008 trial, he told the court, ‘I really believed in the idea’ of fighting the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.”  But one would look in vain for any allusion to Abu Ghraib or U.S. torture in coverage by the Wall Street Journal or Washington Post. If you read to the end of a New York Times article, you would find in paragraph 10 of 10 a brief (CYA?) reference to Abu Ghraib.

So I guess we’ll have to try to do their work for them. Would it be unpatriotic to suggest that a war of aggression and part of its “accumulated evil” torture as well as other kinds of state terrorism like drone killings are principal catalysts for this kind of non-state terrorism? Do any Parisians yet see blowback from France’s Siamese-twin relationship with the U.S. on war in the Middle East and the Mahgreb, together with their government’s failure to speak out against torture by Americans? Might this fit some sort of pattern?

Well, duh. Not that this realization should be anything new. In an interview on Dec. 3, 2008, Amy Goodman posed some highly relevant questions to a former U.S. Air Force Major who uses the pseudonym Matthew Alexander, who personally conducted more than 300 interrogations in Iraq and supervised more than a thousand.

AMY GOODMAN: “I want to go to some larger issues, this very important point that you make that you believe that more than 3,000 U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq, I mean, this is a huge number, because of torture, because of U.S. practices of torture. Explain what you mean.”

MATTHEW ALEXANDER: “Well, you know, when I was in Iraq, we routinely handled foreign fighters, who we would capture. Many of, several of them had been scheduled to be suicide bombers, and we had captured them before they carried out their missions.

“They came from all over the area. They came from Yemen. They came from northern Africa. They came from Saudi. All over the place. And the number one reason these foreign fighters gave for coming to Iraq was routinely because of Abu Ghraib, because of Guantanamo Bay, because of torture practices.

“In their eyes, they see us as not living up to the ideals that we have subscribed to. You know, we say that we represent freedom, liberty and justice. But when we torture people, we’re not living up to those ideals. And it’s a huge incentive for them to join al-Qaeda.

“You also have to kind of put this in the context of Arab culture and Muslim culture and how important shame, the role of shame in that culture. And when we torture people, we bring a tremendous amount of shame on them. And so, it is a huge motivator for these people to join al-Qaeda and come to Iraq.”

However, if you listen to the corporate media, there is almost no discussion about why so many people in the Muslim world object to U.S. policies so strongly that they resist violently and even resort to suicide attacks. The average consumer of this thin gruel of “information” might come away thinking that Muslims are hard-wired to despise Westerners or they might recall President George W. Bush’s favorite explanation, “they hate our freedoms.”

One has to go back five years to find a White House correspondent worth his or her salt who bluntly raised this central question. In early January 2010, after President Barack Obama gave a flaccid account of the intelligence screw-up that almost downed an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, the late Helen Thomas asked why the culprit, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, did what he did.

Like Carif Kouachi, he had trained in Yemen; like Carif Kouachi, he had slipped through the U.S. counter-terrorist security sieve despite intelligence that should have nailed him and despite the billions of dollars frivolously spent on eavesdropping on virtually everyone in the world. (The eavesdropping had created such a giant haystack of data that intelligence analysts couldn’t locate the crucial needle even when Abdulmutallab’s father called to warn U.S. officials about his son’s dangerous radicalization.)

Here’s the revealing exchange between Thomas and John Brennan, who was then White House counterterrorism adviser and is now CIA director:

Thomas: “And what is the motivation? We never hear what you find out on why.”

Brennan: “Al Qaeda is an organization that is dedicated to murder and wanton slaughter of innocents They attract individuals like Mr. Abdulmutallab and use them for these types of attacks. He was motivated by a sense of religious sort of drive. Unfortunately, al Qaeda has perverted Islam, and has corrupted the concept of Islam, so that he’s (sic) able to attract these individuals. But al Qaeda has the agenda of destruction and death.”

Thomas: “And you’re saying it’s because of religion?”

Brennan: “I’m saying it’s because of an al Qaeda organization that used the banner of religion in a very perverse and corrupt way.”

Thomas: “Why?”

Brennan: “I think this is a, long issue, but al Qaeda is just determined to carry out attacks here against the homeland.”

Thomas: “But you haven’t explained why.”

Neither did President Obama, nor anyone else in the U.S. political/media hierarchy. All the American public gets is the boilerplate about how al-Qaeda evildoers are perverting a religion and exploiting impressionable young men.

Palace Pundits Make It Worse

The intelligence tradecraft term of art for a “cooperating” journalist, businessperson or academic is “agent of influence.” Some housebroken journalists take such scrupulous notes that they end up sounding dangerously close to their confidential government sources. Some have gone even further and actually worked for the CIA.

For a recent example of the housebroken variety, count the number of cooperating journalists who repeated the CIA and Republican line that the Senate Intelligence Committee report on torture released last month was “flawed and partisan,” even though it was based on CIA cables and other original documents.

Or think further back to those vengeful days in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and the macho pose taken by President George W. Bush, who won oohs and aahs for posturing with a bullhorn and throwing an opening pitch at a Yankees game (and later for dressing up in a flight suit as he arrived to deliver his “Mission Accomplished” speech).

CIA operative Gary Schroen told National Public Radio that, just days after 9/11, Counterterrorist chief Cofer Black sent him to Afghanistan with orders to “Capture bin Laden, kill him, and bring his head back in a box on dry ice.” As for other al-Qaeda leaders, Black reportedly said, “I want their heads up on pikes.”

This bloodthirsty tone reverberated among Bush-friendly pundits who sought to out-macho each other. One consummate insider, Washington Post veteran Jim Hoagland went so far as to publish a letter to President Bush on Oct. 31, 2001, that was no Halloween prank. Rather, Hoagland strongly endorsed what he termed the “wish” for “Osama bin Laden’s head on a pike,” which he claimed was the objective of Bush’s “generals and diplomats.”

In his open letter to Bush, Hoagland also lifted the curtain on the actual neoconservative game plan by giving Bush the following ordering of priorities: “The need to deal with Iraq’s continuing accumulation of biological and chemical weapons and the technology to build a nuclear bomb can in no way be lessened by the demands of the Afghan campaign. You must conduct that campaign so that you can pivot quickly from it to end the threat Saddam Hussein’s regime poses.”

Thus, Hoagland had the “pivot” idea three weeks before Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called Gen. Tommy Franks to tell him the President wanted the military to shift focus to Iraq. Franks and his senior aides had been working on plans for attacks on Tora Bora where bin Laden was believed hiding but attention, planning and resources were abruptly diverted toward Iraq. And Osama bin Laden, of course, walked out of Tora Bora through the mountain passes to Pakistan.

The point here is that some media favorites are extremely well briefed partly because they are willing to promote what the powerful want to do and because they are careful not to bite the hands that feed them by criticizing the CIA or other national security agencies. Still fewer are inclined to point out basic structural faults, not to mention the crimes of recent years.

So it is up to those of us who know something of intelligence and how structural faults, above-the-law mentality and flexible consciences can spell disaster — how reckless reactions to terrorist provocations can make matters worse by accelerating a truly vicious cycle and doing nothing to address the underlying causes that prompted the violence in the first place.

Because of the refusal to seriously address the question of why that Helen Thomas posed to John Brennan or to do more than compete like bodybuilders adopting the most muscular poses disaster after disaster is what the West is in for, if it does not come to its senses.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was a CIA analyst for 27 years, and now serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

23 comments for “Will France Repeat US Mistakes after 9/11?

  1. Julian
    January 14, 2015 at 17:33

    Well, France is on the warpath now. Hollande spoke to the troops on the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle and plans to send it to the Persian Guf to fight ISIS or IS or whatever the band of religious primates call themselves. So France is going to take the route the USA took over ten years ago: Bombing people so to punish those held responsible.

    Pretty sure that it’s going to backfire as well, but no one ever seems to remember the definition of insantiy from Albert Einstein: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” All it will do is cause more civilian colateral and piss off more zealots, who will in turn attempt to strike back.

    Meanwhile civil rights in Europe are under attack by those who claim to be defending them. Sound familiar? The war criminal George W. Bush claimed that the terrorists hated us for our freedom, yet he and his cronies did more damage to civil rights in the USA than al-Qaida could’ve ever done.

  2. Bill Bodden
    January 13, 2015 at 22:09

    It appears that some in France are interested in repeating our mistakes: “« Le Patriot Act à la française, on n’en est pas loin »”

  3. posa
    January 12, 2015 at 02:02

    Ray McGovern has done some excellent work… but the claims that 9/11 was “blow back” to bad US policy is completely contradicted by the actual facts of the matter. the Congressional 9/11 Inquiry documents the existence of a financial/ support nexus for the hijackers. This included Saudi money and handlers, along with CIA FBI and US military assets used in coordination with the Saudis to shepherd the al Qaeda hijackers during their 18 months stay in the US prior to the attacks.

    Ultimately the “hijackers” may have been patsy stooges, but they payed a role in hiding and creating myths about 9/11. Too bad McGovern retails another version of the deception.

  4. Zachary Smith
    January 11, 2015 at 18:40

    Two more winners from the French murders.

    NSA reform facing hard sell following Paris terror attacks

    The NSA spying must continue to keep us safe. Trading freedom for the illusion of safety; that’s a no-brainer for the bedwetter types.


    Lapid urges French Jews to immigrate to Israel

    For what it’s worth, the same sales pitch has followed the turmoil in the Ukraine. Whacking Russia and getting more citizens for Holy Israel all at the same time – what a deal!


  5. Gina
    January 11, 2015 at 16:22

    Will France Repeat US Mistakes after 9/11?

    Seems so. In addition to this they use it to bring the conservative party into the Elysée.

    Who Should be Blamed for Muslim Terrorism?

  6. Bill Bodden
    January 11, 2015 at 14:35

    I hope Ray McGovern’s essay gets more attention and has more success than “Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace: How We Got to Be So Hated” by Gore Vidal

    • Gina
      January 12, 2015 at 14:13

      Yup. It’s unbelievable how easily people refrain from the truth.

  7. johannes
    January 11, 2015 at 14:28

    You gotta keep asking ‘Why’. You could say that US, British and French actions in Iraq and Afghanistan were in retaliation for 9/11. But what prompted 9/11? Bin Laden himself said, “It is the United States, which is perpetrating every maltreatment on women, children, and common people of other faiths, particularly the followers of Islam. All that is going on in Palestine for the last 11 months is sufficient to call the wrath of God upon the United States and Israel.” People don’t engage in suicide attacks just so they’ll go to heaven for being a martyr. There must be a cause, and it must be, to them , an all-important cause. Bush said it is because “they hate our freedoms.” Is Iraq more free than before we invaded it? Is Syria more free? Egypt? Events make it look like the US wants to make vassals of these countries. Perhaps that is why.

  8. Berry Friesen
    January 10, 2015 at 18:50

    Slow down, Ray. Your considerable analytical skills are getting far ahead of the facts on the ground! We don’t know that the two Charlie Hebdo shooters and the two Kouachi brothers are the same people, do we? A photo ID isn’t proof, it’s only evidence and easily planted evidence at that. And from what I’ve heard, the speech, manner and demeanor of the killers do not match the speech, manner and demeanor of the Kouachis very well.

    Given all the time the French police spent with the Kouachis over the years, certainly the police have audio recordings of their voices. I wonder how the 3-4 people at Charlie Hebdo who heard the killers speak, and the guy whose car was subsequently hijacked, would compare what they heard with those audio tapes.

    Of course, the French police have only begun disclosing their evidence against the Kouachis. And one way or another, they now have the weapons used to do the killing at Charlie Hebdo. So Ray, maybe you are the smart one here, keeping your powder dry and talking about “blowback.”

  9. Bill Bodden
    January 10, 2015 at 15:00

    Ray McGovern is in good company with three other stalwarts who didn’t join the lemmings in the I-am-Charlie brigade:

    “Paris attack brothers’ campaign of terror can be traced back to Algeria in 1954: Algeria is the post-colonial wound that still bleeds in France” by Robert Fisk – http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/charlie-hebdo-paris-attack-brothers-campaign-of-terror-can-be-traced-back-to-algeria-in-1954-9969184.html

    “On satire – a response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks The acclaimed graphic artist and journalist Joe Sacco on the limits of satire – and what it means if Muslims don’t find it funny” by Joe Sacco – http://www.theguardian.com/world/ng-interactive/2015/jan/09/joe-sacco-on-satire-a-response-to-the-attacks

    “Why I am not Charlie” by Scott Lang – http://mondoweiss.net/2015/01/why-i-am-not-charlie

    • Zachary Smith
      January 11, 2015 at 19:12

      That would do head Islamophobe Richard Dawkins proud:

      That’s from your final link. My opinion of Richard Dawkins is in freefall. I knew he was a sexist swine, but now I find he’s also a racist asshole. And after just googling the man, this;

      Richard Dawkins defends “mild pedophilia,” says it does not cause “lasting harm”

      It’s always a shock when you discover a long-time hero is really just another famous jerk.

  10. Paul Wichmann
    January 10, 2015 at 07:55

    “Will France repeat US mistakes after 9/11?”
    The lead seems a bit misleading as opposed to the meat of the article, but I’m going to run with the former. France going crazy can not be a good thing. But from CNN to my local news the “Massacre” has utterly dominated. So I am terrorized for the fact that US looks certain to expand on our mistakes after 9/11.

  11. michael
    January 10, 2015 at 05:17

    They already have repeated it in Libya and Iraq and Syria!!

  12. bill
    January 10, 2015 at 05:00

    With respect to someone who is clearly a man of real integrity ,Ray hasnt imho understood the true nature of Machiavellian terror and presents the nice version of blowback based around all its assumptions of fact

  13. F. G. Sanford
    January 10, 2015 at 03:21

    I can’t help but remark that the ‘Charlie Hebdo’ cartoons of recent fame bear a striking resemblance to those published in prewar Vienna by the likes of ‘Ostara’. Cartoons of that genre depicted Jews, so they were obviously racist and ‘anti-Semitic’. Charlie Hebdo cartoons, however, depict Muslims, so the general consensus seems to be that they represent ‘free speech’, a dubious conclusion at best. Perhaps a review of these ‘art forms’ in their historical perspective is warranted. As harbingers of war, they often seem to coincide with the political vilification and dehumanization necessary to achieve a threshold level of public hysteria, though state agencies routinely deny complicity. Thankfully, the perpetrators were thoughtful enough to leave their identification papers in an unconcealed location, greatly aiding authorities in their efforts to apprehend the suspects. The fact that these vile brigands were known to intelligence agencies and the gendarmerie also aided greatly in their rapid dispatch. Poor Mr. Hollande must be terribly frustrated that this event should follow so rapidly on the heels of his ill considered suggestion to soften sanctions against Russia. His political rival Mr. Sarkozy, the stepson of CIA ‘founding father’ Frank Wisner (Folks, I ain’t makin’ this up.) must be beside himself with ‘Joie de la Guerre’. And, how thoughtful of those vicious terrorists to fight to the death, thereby sparing the taxpayers an expensive trial and embarrassing cross-examinations. DGSE is one of the pioneers of attaching a hand-crank electric generator to the genitals, so the suspects would certainly have confessed, but nevertheless, there is something to be said for a speedy resolution. But make no mistake, I refuse to succumb to idle speculation, lest someone accuse me of “reality theory”. Obviously, the convoluted facts and internecine contradictions associated with this saga fully corroborate the official story, so lets be thankful for its conclusive denouement. Viva la France! It’s up to you to imagine a rousing chorus of La Marseillaise at this point. If this were Youtube, I’d be happy to hum it, but hey – it’s the thought that counts.

  14. ger lagerweij
    January 10, 2015 at 01:33

    ‘Charlie Hebdo’ is ‘Theo van Gogh’ revisited. Freedom of speech however does not encompass the right to systematically insult others. Law may rule behavior but it cannot hold reality.

  15. Zachary Smith
    January 9, 2015 at 22:35

    Will France Repeat US Mistakes after 9/11?

    Define “mistakes”. If France is “too free”, then a crackdown was overdue. From news accounts it started on Christmas Eve of 2014 by revving up a 2013 surveillance law.


    The murders of the cartoonists will grease the skids for the acceptance of this and any new French ‘patriot act’ laws.

    In fact, events in France are turning into a WIN for quite a few groups. The Muslim Terrorist groups, by arranging the upcoming kicking around of the Muslim citizens of France, will get lots of new recruits. The French Power Elites will get the foundations (and maybe the full structure) of the Police State. By further demonizing Muslims everywhere, Israel can bray about how the Muslim Palestinians deserve being robbed and murdered.

    The Five Eyes may become the Six Eyes, and the loose talk about France taking sanctions off Russia may quietly go away.

    Again, lots of very important people aren’t going to say a case of citizens losing and police states winning is any kind of a “mistake”.

    • Peter Loeb
      January 10, 2015 at 06:29

      To Zachary Smith:

      “Who is that man?” Thanks for your comments on target.

      ——Peter Loeb, Boston, MA USA

  16. Regina Schulte
    January 9, 2015 at 21:58

    Ray McGovern is a man of integrity to whom truth-seeking persons should be very grateful.

    How difficult is it to use good logic and recognize that his conclusions are valid and truthful? As the U.S. continues its “dark side” work, its drone bombings, its sanctions against every nation with whom it has a grievance, its playing “king of the mountain,” etc., throughout the Middle Eastern nations, we are making more and more enemies particularly among the Arab nations. How long will it be before those nations join together to start an all-out war on the U.S. and our allies?

  17. JWalters
    January 9, 2015 at 21:05

    McGovern hits another home run for the truth. Richard Haass was on Morning Joe today saying we need to understand the roots of the problem, but neither he nor anyone else was willing to go to the OBVIOUS. The discussion was locked into the intentionally limited, “politically correct” Israeli worldview.

    After all, who could object to Jewish supremacists violently driving Muslims from their homes and lands in order to re-enact tribal myths and ethnically purify an imaginary ancient Israel?

    And who could speak up against the ruthless war profiteers who finance these Jewish supremacist fanatics, and who buy, bribe, and blackmail leading U.S. politicians and media people to bury the facts and fan the flames of profitable wars?

    A brave few. Ray McGovern is one. Someday a mainstream reporter and editor will go there and win a big prize. Then there will be a stampede.

    • metrodirtman
      January 10, 2015 at 16:48

      no stampede. The brave journalist will be pressured to return the prize or the prizegiving organization will no longer receive tax-free monies from various Israel Lobby agents, who also are dominating the medical and academic institutions of the U.S. with the same money-spigot (and dirtier) methods.

  18. Philip Dennany
    January 9, 2015 at 21:00

    The ‘freedoms’ the psycho bush was talking of was the freedom to do terror and destruction on our own people to justify the degrade of our Constitution/Bill of Rights and the ‘for profit wars’ of terror on Islam. The French apparently liked the US art work and decided to create their own(?) or is the work just another work of covert CIA where the terrorist had no idea that they were being set up in another routine covert sting gone as planed? With our secretive government never sharing truth any answer is unfortunately only a guess.

  19. MarkU
    January 9, 2015 at 20:24

    Of course the French government will repeat the US ‘mistakes’, that is the whole point of the exercise. Another raft of repressive legislation will follow, yet another victory for the western security/surveillance state!

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