(updated below - Update II - Update III)
As investigators on three continents conducted forensic analyses of two bombs shipped from Yemen and intercepted Friday in Britain and Dubai, American officials said evidence was mounting that the top leadership of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, including the radical American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, was behind the attempted attacks. . . .
Reviewing the evidence, American intelligence officials say they believe that the plot may have been blessed by the highest levels of Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen, including Mr. Awlaki. . . . This year, the C.I.A. designated Mr. Awlaki -- an American citizen -- as a high priority for the agency’s campaign of targeted killing.
The administration: Hey: you know that American citizen whom the President has controversially ordered assassinated with no due process? Here's the proof that we were right to do that: he tried to send these bombs from Yemen to the U.S.!! How could anyone possibly object to our killing a murderous monster like this? That accusation -- as intended -- produced worldwide headlines identifying Awlaki as the likely Terrorist behind this plot.
American and Yemeni officials still have little hard evidence about who was involved in the thwarted attack. . . . As for who was behind the plot, evidence remains elusive, though officials believe the bombs bear the hallmarks of Al Qaeda in Yemen's top bomb maker. On Friday, the Department of Homeland Security issued a cable saying that the packages might have been linked to two schools in Yemen. . . . But American and Yemeni investigators are trying to determine whether the schools -- listed as the Yemen-American Institute for Language-Computer Management and the American Center for Training and Development -- even exist. There is a school in Sana called the Yemen American Language Institute, but it is sponsored by the United States State Department.
Wait: I read in the NYT on Sunday that "evidence was mounting that the top leadership of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, including the radical American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, was behind the attempted attacks." Today, however, in that very same paper, I learn that "American and Yemeni officials still have little hard evidence about who was involved in the thwarted attack" and "evidence is elusive." How can evidence of the culprits simultaneously be "mounting" and "elusive"?
The reality, as today's version of the NYT makes clear, is that the U.S. has no idea who is responsible for sending these bombs. So in the dark are they that Homeland Security actually blamed two Yemeni schools that don't even seem to exist, with the only one remotely similar to it being one sponsored by the State Department. But no matter: within a very short time of the attempted attack's becoming public, U.S. government officials fanned out to anonymously pin the blame on Anwar Awlaki as the Mastermind, and newspapers then dutifully printed what they were told, even though nobody had any idea whether that was actually true. But when you're trying to justify the presidential seizure of the power to assassinate your own citizens without a shred of due process, what matters is ratcheting up fear and hatred levels against your targets, not evidence or rationality. Just scream TERRORIST! enough times and maybe everyone will forget how tyrannical is your conduct.
To its credit, even the NYT article originally announcing the administration's accusations that "evidence is mounting" of Awlaki's culpability stated: "they did not present proof of Mr. Awlaki’s involvement." How surprising. That same deficiency is true of the general accusation that Awlaki is involved in Terrorist plots as opposed to merely exercising his clear First Amendment right to advocate the justifiability of anti-American violence in retaliation for the violence Americans bring to the Muslim world. But that complete lack of evidence doesn't deter huge numbers of people from running around proclaiming Awlaki to be a Terrorist and cheering for the presidentially-decreed death penalty based solely on unchecked government pronouncements, so it's unlikely that the lack of evidence in this case will deter his being widely blamed as the Mastermind for this attack either. If there's one thing many Americans have repeatedly proven, it's that they don't need -- or even want -- to see any evidence before spouting government claims, including -- or, rather, especially -- the most serious and consequential ones.
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To see how thoroughly anti-American advocacy is conflated with Terrorism, see this interview in which CNN's Eliot Spitzer interviewed radical Iman Anjem Choudary and, at the end, spat: "You deserve to be arrested, prosecuted, jailed for the rest of your life. That is what you, sir, deserve. You are a violent and heinous terrorist."
Choudary's crime? As CNN put it: he "has justified the killing over and over of innocent women, men, children, wherever it happens in the world in pursuit of his cause"; told Spitzer of the Yemeni bombing plot: "When you send bombs over there, what do you expect them to send back to you? What did you expect to find in a package? You know, chocolates? Of course you're going to find bombs. They're going to give you a taste of your own medicine"; and admitted telling Americans that violence against the U.S. is justified in retaliation for American violence against Muslims.
If that's all it takes to be "a violent and heinous terrorist" who belongs in prison for life, would Spitzer similarly condemn David Broder, the countless others who justified the massacres in Iraq, or other killings of innocents in the name of causes which Spitzer himself supports and which he himself therefore justified? To ask the question is to answer it, and to reveal how elastic, self-serving and manipulative these terms are.
The U.S. is seriously considering sending elite "hunter-killer" teams to Yemen following the foiled mail bombing plot by militants in Yemen. The covert teams would operate under the CIA's authority allowing them to kill or capture targets unilaterally, The Wall Street Journal reports. Support for an expanded U.S. military effort in Yemen has been growing within the military and the Obama administration, according to The Journal.
I'm sure that escalated military activity in Yemen along with roving bands of CIA hit squads will go a long way toward solving the problem of anti-American hatred in that country and the Muslim world generally. If only we kill more of them and bring more violence to their country, they'll stop wanting to mail bombs to ours. See also: this post from earlier today on the reliance of even the NYT's Public Editor on anonymous military sources to uncritically spout the military line.
MELISSA BLOCK: Now, Dina, the fact that these packages were coming from Yemen targeting apparently Jewish synagogues in Chicago, that triggers all sorts of connections, doesn't it?
DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Indeed. I mean, they think that al-Qaida in Yemen is somehow behind this. And the sources I spoke to said that they believe that they saw the fingerprints of the American-born imam that we've talked a lot about, Anwar al-Awlaki, and perhaps he's behind this.
Why not just turn over these media outlets to government officials directly and cut out the middlemen? I suppose the answer is that doing so would destroy the illusion of independence, which is vital to the effective dissemination of propaganda. John Parker --former military reporter and fellow of the University of Maryland Knight Center for Specialized Journalism-Military Reporting -- last week mocked NPR's Tom Gjelten for mindless subservience to the Pentagon's line on the WikiLeaks documents. As he notes, that is not unique to Gjelten but rather illustrative of how our establishment media functions generally.
UPDATE III: Perusing news accounts, it seems the most mystifying aspect of this whole episode -- as always -- is trying so very hard to understand why anyone in Yemen would possibly want to mail a bomb to the United States, of all places? Why oh why would anyone there want to do that? It's so puzzling.