Follow the Mullahs

The Atlantic Monthly November 2004

With theologians at the center of terrorist strategy, “forensic theology” is rapidly becoming a valuable intelligence tool

by Stephen Grey


Inside the Green Zone in Baghdad last winter I watched a coalition adviser study a 4,200-word communiqué purported to be from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian suspected of links to al-Qaeda, whose network has claimed responsibility for the recent spate of beheadings and is the United States’ most wanted enemy in Iraq. The essence of the screed had already been broadcast by the media: the author promised to draw the Iraqi people “into the furnace of battle,” in order that “a real war will break out, God willing.” The analyst, however, had little interest in the political content of the communiqué. An Arabist and a scholar of Islam, he was scrutinizing the language and religious references in the text in an effort to determine whether it was in fact written by al-Zarqawi. Many commentators believed that it had been put together by others—perhaps an intelligence agency or the Iraqi National Congress—in order to give credence to U.S. accusations of foreign involvement in terrorist actions within Iraq.
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America's Gulag

Cover story – New Statesman
Stephen Grey
Monday 17th May 2004

Stephen Grey uncovers a secret global network of prisons and planes that allows the US to hand over its enemies for interrogation, and sometimes torture, by the agents of its more unsavoury allies

8 October 2002. Over the Atlantic, at 30,000 feet, on board a Gulfstream jet, Maher Arar looked out through the portholes of the private plane at the clouds beneath and the red glow of dawn. Stretching out on the wide, upholstered leather seat, he glanced across at the large video screen on which was displayed the path of the plane from its departure point near New York, onwards to Washington, DC and then to its final refuelling point at Portland, Maine, before heading across the ocean. A telecommunications engineer in Ottawa, Canada, Maher was used to air travel – but not to such luxury.

His companions – specialists attached to the CIA – were preparing to switch on another in-flight film, an action movie. Maher could think only of what fate lay ahead of him when he reached the country to where the United States was now sending him for interrogation and from where his family had once fled – Syria.

He recalls: “I knew that Syria was a country that tortured its prisoners. I was silent and submissive; just asking myself over and over again: ‘How did I end up in this situation? What is going to happen to me now?'” Continue reading America's Gulag