Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Some Fishin' Accomplished: Life Sentences For Three Convicted "Liquid Bombers"

Tanvir Hussain
Tanvir Hussain, Assad Sarwar and Abdulla Ahmed Ali, the three so-called "liquid bombers" whom the British criminal justice system managed to convict on September 7, 2009, were sentenced to life a week later, with no chance of parole for 32, 36 and 40 years, respectively.

Only the least skeptical among us could fail to note the coincidence by which the convictions and sentences were both handed down within a few days of the eighth anniversary of the "terror attacks" that the "transatlantic airline bombing plot" was said to rival.

Immediately after the convictions were announced, the tone of the story shifted in an entirely predictable and globally uniform manner. Which is to say that the convictions and sentences have moved the story of the "liquid bombers" from the realm of bizarre terrorist fiction to the nearby realm of bizarre officially sanctioned government propaganda terrorist fiction.

A cynical observer could be forgiven for assuming that this long-awaited transition would be sufficient to bring this astonishingly odd story to a close. But such does not appear to be the case.

Assad Sarwar
British authorities are still holding some alleged plotters for a subsequent trial, at a date still to be determined. In addition, three of the alleged plotters, who have now been tried twice but still haven't been declared innocent or guilty, appear to be headed for a third trial.

It is entirely possible that those who have not yet been tried are being held pending eventual and inevitable convictions which will be obtained against the others, after as many quasi-judicial attempts as necessary.

The full story will never be told, properly or otherwise. Most of the relevant details are now and will always remain clouded by dispute and suspicion, if not in the officially sanctioned version then at least in the minds of those who possess critical faculties and the desire to use them in contemplation of subjects such as this. It is no doubt true that we're now talking about a very small number of people. And yet, for them -- for us! -- certain obvious and very disturbing truths remain clearly visible.

For instance, the recent convictions and sentences required two trials, four juries, and liberal application of the "majority option", by which the verdict of a jury need not be unanimous.

The first trial resulted in no convictions on charges of conspiring to bomb airliners, although it did result in several convictions and pleas of guilty on less serious charges. But the jury could not agree to acquit anyone except Mohammed Gulzar, the supposed terrorist facilitator, so the other suspected plotters were tried for a second time.

The first trial was attended by scant media coverage and I watched it happening in real time, via my "other, other" blog, Peroxide Plotters, which I set up for the purpose.

The sidebar of Peroxide Plotters was a set of Google Newsreels, keyed on the names of the alleged plotters who were being tried, and by visiting Peroxide Plotters regularly, I was able to stay abreast of the reported developments in this case. And I use the phrase "reported developments" deliberately, because many of the most important developments in this case have been entirely unreported.

Abdulla Ahmed Ali
After the first trial returned no convictions on the main charges, the British were obviously determined to obtain such convictions in the second trial, which occasioned almost no media coverage at all.

In particular, and very strangely for such an important case, the Peroxide Plotters sidebar reported no news involving any of the suspects between February 18, 2009, when the first jury in the second trial was dismissed, and September 7, six and a half months later, when the three convictions were announced.

At some point during the six and a half months of this effectively secret trial, the second jury was seated and promptly dismissed, and a third jury was selected. Explanations -- not given (or at least not published) until long after the fact -- for the dismissals of multiple juries included "legal reasons" and "potential conflict of interest". The latter phrase could have been a clouded reference to one or more jurors who thought that the plot as alleged was impossible, and that this mattered. (It was, but it didn't.)

There has been a tendency on the part of mainstream media coverage to treat the plot as alleged as if it were not only feasible but imminent, although there is no evidence to support either of these claims, and much to refute them.

None of the plotters were found to be in possession of airline tickets, for instance, and some of them didn't have passports. Some hadn't even applied for passports, and yet we have been told consistently over the past three years that their plot was imminent, just days away from potentially killing thousands of people.

Much worse, from the official point of view, the bombers didn't have any bombs, either. Jurors in the first trial (and presumably in the second trial as well) were shown a video (which was subsequently released to the media) purporting to show a "liquid bomb" of the kind that the plotters were allegedly trying to make.

But the "liquid bomb" in the video was not made by the "liquid bombers". The bomb in the video was made by police, who had to use a robot to put it together (because the risk of premature detonation was too great). Even with the robot, the police had to try many (one source says 58) times before they produced a bomb that actually exploded as described.

Even with some very bright guys working on the project, it took multiple attempts with some extremely sophisticated equipment to produce a single suitable explosion. And as alleged, the "liquid bombers" were plotting to produce seven such explosions simultaneously.

But the "liquid bombers" had no sophisticated equipment, and -- even more crucially, in my view -- they were not very bright guys. For instance, it has been reported that the "terrorist quartermaster", Assad Sarwar, buried incriminating ingredients in a suitcase in the woods, after doing an internet search for "how to dig a hole".

Are we supposed to believe that seven knuckleheads like Assad Sarwar could do -- simultaneously, in real-life conditions, with their lives on the line -- what the British security forces and their robots could only do one time in twenty, or fifty-eight? No, and Yes.

No, because the law doesn't care whether or not the plot was feasible. If the plotters were plotting to kill innocent people, then they are guilty of conspiracy to murder. And, from the evidence that has been made public, they do appear to have been plotting, even if the mechanism which they planned to use was doomed to be ineffectual.

It's exactly as if they were plotting to burn down the Tower of London by rubbing two sticks together -- even if they didn't have access to the Tower of London, even if they had no way to get in, and even if it would have taken hours of stick-rubbing to start a small fire, during which time they would doubtless have been spotted by Tower security and hauled away.

None of this would matter, in the eyes of the law. If that's what they were plotting to do, and if they had been careless enough to leave evidence of what they were plotting, then they could be (and should be) convicted and sent to prison for a long time.

But then what else should happen? Should elaborate security precautions be put in place to guard against such a plot? In this case, it's as if the authorities turned around and said, "OK, we got 'em, but anybody else could be plotting the same kind of mischief," and then they banned baseball, hockey, lacrosse, knitting, chopsticks and pencils -- not just in the Tower of London, but all over the world!

Does this seem ridiculous? The bombs Ali, Sarwar and Hussain were convicted of plotting to make were described as two-stage explosives. The primary charge was to have been provided by a home-made explosive hidden in the core of a hollowed-out AA battery. Had they made any explosives? No, apparently not. Had they figured out how to hollow out AA batteries? No, apparently not. Has anyone else figured out how to do that? No, apparently not. Does any of this matter? No, and Yes.

The primary charge would have detonated the secondary charge, which according to the official tale would have consisted of highly concentrated hydrogen peroxide, mixed with Tang to make it look like an orange sports drink, and injected into unopened Lucozade bottles which had been drained with a syringe. Had they concentrated any hydrogen peroxide? It's hard to tell, from the scant coverage. Had they injected any concentrated hydrogen peroxide into Lucozade bottles? No, apparently not.

If they had done so, the most significant flaw in their plot would have become apparent: concentrated hydrogen peroxide is unstable. It decomposes spontaneously, producing water and oxygen -- the latter a gas at room temperature. So the pressure in the bottle would start to build up, and the bottle, built to contain not even a carbonated beverage but a sports drink, would rupture in short order. (How short? Why do you think the police used a robot?)

As far as the anti-terrorism law is concerned, it doesn't matter in the slightest whether the alleged plot was viable or not. If the plotters were plotting then they're guilty. But there's another question here, and it involves the increase in airport security. Was it really necessary? Is it really necessary today?

Convictions in this case were seen as vital to support the claim that the plot was imminent and dangerous and that therefore the security measures put in place have been been righteous and virtuous and in your best interests, and so on, by a collusion of national governments anxious to have you believe that they are keeping you safe rather than increasing their power to hassle you.

In other words, of course there was no conflict of interest on the government side, since no British or American spokesmen had ever made any prejudicial claims about the imminence or viability or potential dangers of the alleged plot, and no inconvenient security procedures had been instituted -- at airports or elsewhere. All of these facts and even more -- including the context in which the accused were arrested -- guaranteed them absolutely fair and honest trials, as long as the jury could be kept free of potential conflicts of interest -- unless I'm kidding about all this.

Aside from the obvious differences between the two trials -- a new judge and three new juries -- the second trial was far more likely than the first to produce convictions because it featured evidence that was unavailable for the first trial -- snippets of an email exchange between the plotters and their al Q'aeda contact in Pakistan, allegedly Rashid Rauf.

The email released for the trial contains bizarre questions and answers, some of which are supposedly about buying and selling after-shave. These curious fragments were deemed by British authorities to be coded references to hydrogen peroxide, a key ingredient in the explosives the plotters were convicted for plotting to make. For instance, evidence introduced in the second trial showed that the plotters were sending email about buying after-shave but they were buying hydrogen peroxide.

Other email fragments discussed plans to attend a rap concert. British authorities charged that these exchanges were actually about plans for trial runs, during which -- presumably -- the plotters would take transatlantic flights to evaluate the security precautions then in place.

These email messages had been intercepted by the NSA and shown to British security services shortly before the plotters were arrested in August of 2006. But by the time the first trial began in the spring of 2008, Rashid Rauf had "escaped" from the Pakistani police, and vanished into the Pakistani wilderness. So the NSA was monitoring his email account, hoping he would reveal his whereabouts by accessing it. Or so the story goes.

And according to that story, the NSA, not wanting to disclose that Rauf's email was being watched, refused to release the email exchange to be used in the first trial -- which resulted in no convictions on the main charges. But when the second trial began in February of 2009, Rashid Rauf was dead, having been killed by a drone-fired missile in November of 2008. So the NSA released the email for use in the second trial.

However, like all the other crafty terrorists of his generation, Rashid Rauf didn't stay dead for very long after he was killed. He's now being described as al Qaeda's Commander of European operations, according to stories being leaked to the British press in the last few months, and he specializes in setting up terrorist cells in European countries, especially England and Belgium.

It's been quite a transformation -- or quite a series of transformations -- for Rashid Rauf, who three years ago was being described only as a "key figure" in the alleged liquid bomb plot. Since then he's been arrested and allegedly tortured, he's had all terror-related charges against him dropped (twice!), he's escaped from the most inept police escort ever mounted, then got killed in a missile strike, and now he's not only the "mastermind" of the liquid bombers but he's the al Q'aeda connection for several other shady groups of alleged terrorists, including the 12 people who were arrested in Belgium in December of 2007 and promptly released, without any charges having been laid against any of them. The Belgian plotters were subsequently re-arrested, but no hard evidence has yet been produced against any of them.

Rashid Rauf is also being called "the mastermind" of the so-called "Manchester Easter bombing plot", in which 12 Pakistani students were arrested in the North of England in April. Government spokesmen, including the Prime Minister, said the police operation, dubbed "Operation Pathway", had foiled a large terror plot, but no weapons were ever found and no charges were laid against any of these so-called "terrorists", either.

Curiously, the Manchester "plotters" were also arrested on the strength of a weird exchange of emails with an al Qaeda contact in Pakistan, also allegedly Rashid Rauf. In their case, the weird emails mentioned a number of girlfriends and plans for a wedding. Authorities maintain that the emails were actually about various kinds of explosives and plans to use them.

Ominous noises leaked to (and breathlessly reported by) the British press have hinted that 12 is a significant number -- a telltale sign, as it were. Rashid Rauf specializes in terror cells consisting of 12 members, or so we're told. We're even supposed to believe that his cells work in such a coordinated manner that the Belgian plot was held back in favor of the Manchester plot -- a suggestion which is entirely ludicrous in multiple ways.

First and foremost, terror cells are supposed to be ignorant of and independent of one another. They're supposed to be autonomous units, incapable of compromising one another. Why would one cell wait for another one? If al Qaeda is incapable of supporting more than a dozen terrorists at a time, does that really constitute a global threat worthy of a multi-trillion dollar response?

But even more ludicrously, did they decide not to do anything in Belgium so they could concentrate on not doing anything in Manchester?

The liquid bomb plot is ironic verging on incredible from so many different angles it's tough to think of them all, let alone mention them. In my view, each of these angles is significant in one way or another. And I will come back and tell you more about the story when the Brits finally convict the rest of the knuckleheads, no matter how many trials it takes!