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Latest news and features from theguardian.com, the world's leading liberal voice

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    Government to call 'John Doe' American who may have been involved in Bin Laden raid to prove Manning 'aided the enemy'

    The US government is planning to call an American, possibly one of the 22 Navy Seals involved in the Abbottabad raid that killed Osama bin Laden, to give evidence at the trial of Bradley Manning about how he discovered digital material later revealed to contain WikiLeaks disclosures, a military court heard on Tuesday.

    Prosecutors intend to bring to the witness stand an anonymous man they are calling "John Doe" who would testify how he entered a room in the al-Qaida leader's hideout in Pakistan, grabbed three items of digital media and removed it. Later, four separate files of information were off-loaded with WikiLeaks contents on them.

    The testimony would be used, the prosecution said, to show that Bin Laden had actively sought access to the material Manning had passed to WikiLeaks. That in turn would provide supporting evidence for the most serious charge against the soldier – that he had "aided the enemy".

    Ashden Fein, the lead prosecution lawyer, told a pre-trial hearing at Fort Meade in Maryland that the individual who grabbed the digital items, as well as five other witnesses who subsequently handled it in Afghanistan and the US, would be called to show how the WikiLeaks disclosures were used by al-Qaida. "This information was requested by Osama bin Laden; a member of al-Qaida went and got the information and gave it to Bin Laden," Fein said.

    In an intense afternoon of legal argument, it was also revealed on Tuesday that Manning has written a personal statement of about 35 pages in which he seeks to explain to the court why he transferred such a massive trove of confidential state documents to the anti-secrecy site. On Thursday the soldier is due to enter a dialogue with the judge presiding over the case, Colonel Denise Lind, in which he is expected to plead guilty to having been the source of the WikiLeaks dump.

    The statement was written by Manning in person and hand-typed by him. Discussion in court indicated that in it he makes a declaration of the motives that led him to want to pass information to WikiLeaks – making the account a possibly seminal document.

    Lind said that she would decide overnight whether to allow Manning to read out the document in court on Thursday. She insisted that the statement had to have the soldier's signature erased so that it would not be a sworn document – following prosecution protests that they would not be able to cross-examine him on the content of his speech.

    The prosecution's desire to call a Navy Seal prompted intense legal argument between Fein and Manning's main defence lawyer David Coombs. Fein said the testimony would be crucial to the government case that Manning "aided the enemy" – a charge that carries the maximum penalty of life in military custody with no chance of parole.

    The witness would be produced at an off-site location, Fein said, hinting at the extraordinary security measures that would have to be taken to secure the event. The court would be moved away from Fort Meade to an undisclosed location for the occasion.

    By showing that Bin Laden personally asked for, and received, four files' worth of the WikiLeaks material supplied by Manning, Fein said, the prosecution would prove one element of the first charge it has preferred against the soldier – that he "knowingly gave intelligence to the enemy through indirect means".

    Coombs countered that whether or not al-Qaida received the leaked material was irrelevant to the charge of "aiding the enemy". What mattered was what Manning thought he was doing at the time he contacted WikiLeaks, not what became of the material he transmitted.

    "The key here is: at the time of the offence of giving it to WikiLeaks, what was his knowledge at that point. Actual receipt [of the intelligence] is not relevant to that," Coombs said.

    One episode that Manning discusses in his personal statement is an investigation he conducted while working as an intelligence analyst outside Baghdad in 2009. He describes the incident in the web chats he had with the hacker Adrian Lamo that ultimately led to Manning's downfall after Lamo informed on him to military authorities.

    In the web logs, Manning says that he was asked to monitor 15 Iraqi detainees being held captive by the Iraqi federal police. He was ordered to find out who the "bad guys" were among the 15 but when he investigated he found that they were in fact peaceful and benign political critics of the government seeking to expose official corruption.

    He writes in the logs: "i immediately took that information and *ran* to the officer to explain what was going on… he didn't want to hear any of it… he told me to shut up and explain how we could assist the FPs in finding *MORE* detainee."

    That sense of moral outrage is understood to feature in his personal statement as one of his motivating factors in turning to WikiLeaks.


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    In Argo, Ben Affleck doesn't offer the US more truth about itself than it can bear. Kathryn Bigelow's film is much more complex and demanding

    No big prizes for working out why Argo won the Oscar for best picture this week. It is a superb movie – clever, witty, beautifully paced, brilliantly acted, exciting, suspenseful, characterful etc, etc … And, of course, it's based on the true story of how CIA agent Tony Mendez (played by director Ben Affleck) put together the "Canadian Caper", in which he faked the production of a sci-fi movie in order to rescue six US diplomats from Tehran during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis.

    So, crucially, it tells Americans something great about themselves – about their courage, their ingenuity, their audacity and the lengths they will go to in saving the lives of other Americans. Just what the doctor ordered, at a time when the US has cause to feel a little less bumptiously certain about its global supremacy.

    However, Argo, despite its many wonderful qualities, would be just another technically proficient pile of steaming horseshit if it wasn't for the opening sequence, which uses historical footage and cartoon storyboards to make it abundantly clear that the Iranians had every right to be furious with the US, and to blame America for its woes. It's all there – the US's arrogant, self-interested, ruthless, hypocritical, unforgivable meddling in the sovereign affairs of another state, prompted by the UK and Churchill during and after the second world war, and up until the present day. Affleck is an intelligent man and a shrewdly commercial film-maker. He doesn't offer the US more truth than it can bear. He refrains from overdoing the mea culpas to the point at which Americans would reject them. Affleck doesn't sugar a pill, he "pills a sugar".

    It's useful to compare and contrast Argo with Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty, about the hunting and killing of al-Qaida leader, Osama bin Laden. Zero is a much more demanding, complex and uncompromising film, far less easy to slot into the Hollywood thriller genre, and overlooked at this year's Oscars, apart from half-a-statuette for sound editing. Zero Dark Thirty has, of course, been highly controversial. There's a lot more pill than sugar in Bigelow's movie, that's for sure.

    The pill, of course, is the torture. Critics from the left argue that the film glorifies torture by suggesting it's a useful way of operating, even though it was not used to make any of the specific intelligence discoveries that led to the assassination of Bin Laden. Critics from the right simply don't like the fact that the sort of torture the CIA resorts to has been depicted in a Hollywood feature at all, even though they strongly defend its efficacy in "real life".

    You could, of course, be strictly pragmatic and condemn Zero Dark Thirty because it placed the needs of a film script above the integrity of the pertinent historical fact underpinning individual stories. But Argo plays extremely fast and loose with historical truth as well, grossly downplaying Canadian involvement, portraying Iranian officials as childish and easily duped, distorting the rescue mission to make it seem far more nail-bitingly precarious and in-the-nick-of-time than it actually was. What's the difference? Why is one historically inaccurate film about US involvement with the Middle East dismissed for the artistic licence it has taken, and the other garlanded when it has taken similar liberties?

    It's simply that one film's overall message leaves no room for ambiguity in its portrayal of its hero, while the other, on the contrary, introduces very dark moral ambiguities that it needn't have. Affleck sacrificed accuracy in favour of easy-to-swallow heroics. Bigelow sacrificed accuracy in favour of hard-to-swallow anti-heroics. Argo's infelicities are conventional, clearly undertaken in the service of creating a recognisably feel-good cinematic narrative. Zero Dark Thirty's infelicities are much more difficult to read, as can be seen from the touching union between left and right in despising it.

    In the end, however, the right understands better than the left that no one who is depicted as a torturer ever ends up entirely "glorified". That's why they prefer total secrecy and lack of acknowledgement around such matters. The torture sequences at the start of Bigelow's film are most usefully viewed as similar in intent to the potted history of US involvement in toppling the democratically elected leader of Iran, and replacing him with a decadent and authoritarian Shah. Both warn: "This is the story of an individual CIA agent's success – we're celebrating that. But it's part of a much more dubious wider context, of brutal and ignominious manipulation. That's not so easy to celebrate."

    Both films would have been more existentially "inaccurate" without their early contextualising scenes, in which Americans are portrayed committing acts against foreign states or foreign nationals that they would not tolerate being conducted against their own. Without those scenes, both films would have been simple glorifications of individual CIA agents battling against the bureaucracy of the CIA as a whole. Affleck just slapped on his rider in a less contestable, less visceral way, which was more acceptable to the audience.

    Yet it's fascinating, the way these two film-makers have both chosen to make films that denigrate the CIA as a whole, yet venerate lone operators within it. Overall, both films say that whatever shortcomings the American state may have, it still produces exceptional individual Americans. Actually, any culture can and does produce exceptional individuals. One of the great things about the US is that it unashamedly gets behind such people, nurturing "the gifted" in a way that Britain shrinks from doing.

    But America's insistence on believing that somehow the particular qualities of the US as a state – good and bad – are indivisibly and uniquely brilliant at producing exceptional people is mistaken. Above all, it stops the US from really grasping that its empire-of-influence attitude to the rest of the world is hugely damaging – both to non-Americans and to the standing of the US itself.

    Somehow, the US is always making an invisible movie about itself, an endlessly refreshed and recast mythology in which the nation itself is a doughty individual going against the grain and always certain that, whatever the risks, it will be proved right in the end, the story of its individuality and heroism only burnished by the surrounding recalcitrant nay-sayers. The US likes Argo because it sticks more closely to that line, while displaying a bit of doughty individuality itself.

    It's wary of Zero Dark Thirty because it deliberately blurs the line. It may be suggesting that even doughty individuality isn't necessarily a justification, an excuse or a worthwhile undertaking when the violation of the rights of other humans is being undertaken in its service, however crowned with success those individual efforts may be. It may be suggesting the opposite. That's not the important thing. You leave the cinema after seeing Zero Dark Thirty feeling troubled. You leave the cinema after seeing Argo feeling thrilled. Argo may be a more entertaining film. But Zero is disturbing, serious, doughtily individualistic art.


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    US government sources said Suleiman Abu Ghaith had appeared in al-Qaida videos praising the 9/11 attacks

    A son-in-law of Osama bin Laden who served as al-Qaida's spokesman has been detained in Jordan, US government sources said on Thursday.

    The sources said Suleiman Abu Ghaith, a militant who had appeared in videos representing al-Qaida after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington in 2001, had initially been picked up in Turkey.

    The Turkish government then deported him to Jordan, said the sources, where local authorities and the FBI took custody of him.

    Initial public confirmation of Abu Ghaith's capture came from Peter King, a senior Republican member of the House of Representatives intelligence committee, and former chairman of the House committee on homeland security.

    "I commend our CIA and FBI, our allies in Jordan, and President Obama for their capture of Sulaiman Abu Ghaith. I trust he received a vigorous interrogation, and will face swift and certain justice," King said in a statement.

    "Propaganda statements in which Abu Ghaith and his late father-in-law, Osama bin Laden, praised the terrorist attacks of 9/11 are alone enough to merit the most serious punishment."

    US sources indicated that, while a CIA role in the capture of Abu Ghaith could not be ruled out, the FBI took the lead role in the operation under the auspices of an inter-agency body known as the high-value detainee interrogation group.

    The group was created by the Obama administration after the president ordered the permanent shutdown of a CIA program in which militant suspects were detained and held in a network of secret prisons, during the administration of President George W Bush. The suspects were sometimes subjected to controversial and physically coercive "enhanced interrogation techniques," and also sometimes transferred without trial to third countries under a procedure known as "extraordinary rendition."

    Precisely what the FBI and interrogation group now intend to do with Abu Ghaith was not immediately known. Sources said one possibility is that he could be brought to the United States for trial in an American court.

    The Justice Department declined to comment.


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    Al-Qaida operative Suleiman Abu Ghaith to appear in New York court after being charged with conspiracy to kill US nationals

    Suleiman Abu Ghaith, one of the most high-profile al-Qaida militants sought by US intelligence services, was in US custody on Thursday following a secret operation involving Jordanian intelligence services, the CIA and the FBI.

    The US attorney general, Eric Holder, confirmed the detention and US authorities announced that he had been charged with a conspiracy to kill US nationals. He was due to appear in court in New York on Friday.

    The exact details of the operation were still vague, but it appears to have taken place in Jordan, a US ally in the region. Abu Ghaith, a 47-year-old Kuwaiti whose real name is not publicly known, is one of the last of the militants active in the late 1990s and early part of the last decade to be killed or captured by US intelligence services of their allies. Bin Laden died in a US special forces raid on a house in the northern Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad in May 2011.

    Al-Qaida has since been led by Ayman al-Zawahiri, a veteran Egyptian extremist.

    Initial public confirmation of the capture of Abu Ghaith, a son-in-law of al-Qaida's late leader Osama bin Laden and a former spokesman for the group, came from Peter King, a senior Republican member of the House intelligence committee and former chairman of the House committee on homeland security.

    "I commend our CIA and FBI, our allies in Jordan, and President Obama for their capture of al-Qaida spokesman Suleiman Abu Ghaith. I trust he received a vigorous interrogation, and will face swift and certain justice," King said in a statement.

    Holder confirmed the charges later. "No amount of distance or time will weaken our resolve to bring America's enemies to justice," he said in a statement accompanying the indictment against Abu Ghaith.

    Abu Ghaith gained an international profile when he appeared in videos made by al-Qaida and widely disseminated in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. His movements over following years have been unclear though it appears likely that he fled Afghanistan to Iran along with hundreds of other militants after the fall of the Taliban regime.

    Abu Ghaith entered Turkey last month from Iran, where he appears to have been held under house arrest. Scores of militants and even relatives of Bin Laden have been allowed to leave Iran by local security services over the last two years.

    Detained after being identified in the luxury hotel where he was staying in Ankara following information passed to local security services by US agencies, Abu Gaith was later released when a local court found that he had committed no offence in Turkey which could justify continued incarceration, local news reported.

    The US government is believed to have asked for access to interrogate Abu Ghaith, who has been stripped of his Kuwaiti citizenship, in Turkey shortly after his arrest. Extradition was also discussed. The fugitive militant is thought to have been hoping to return to Kuwait but appears to have been deported to Jordan from where he swiftly passed into US custody.

    A Jordanian security official confirmed to the Associated Press that Abu Ghaith was handed over last week to US law enforcement officials under both nations' extradition treaty. The official declined to disclose other details and spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

    According to Reuters, quoting unidentified US sources, the FBI took the lead role in the operation under the auspices of an inter-agency body known as the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group. The group was created by the Obama administration after the president ordered a CIA programme in which militant suspects were detained and held in a network of secret prisons, during the Bush administration, to be shut down.

    The suspects were sometimes subjected to controversial and physically coercive "enhanced interrogation techniques", and also sometimes transferred without trial to third countries under a procedure known as "extraordinary rendition". Abu Ghaith has not featured among those militants mentioned as active threats by intelligence services in the UK and elsewhere for many years.


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    Kuwaiti Suleiman Abu Ghaith pleads not guilty of conspiring to kill Americans and gave 22-page post-arrest statement

    Osama bin Laden's son-in-law, Suleiman Abu Ghaith, appeared before a US federal court in New York on Friday and pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiring to kill Americans.

    During a 15-minute arraignment hearing at the southern district court in lower Manhattan, close to where the September 11 attacks took place in 2001, Abu Ghaith spoke only to confirm that he understood his rights as a defendant.

    Assistant US attorney John P Cronan said Abu Ghaith had given an "extensive post-arrest statement" that ran to 22 pages after his arrest. He gave no details about the the content of the statement.

    Abu Ghaith's arrest was announced Thursday. But it emerged in court on Friday that the 47-year-old Kuwaiti was picked up by authorities just before midnight on 28 February. He was transferred to the United States the following day.

    No details were given about the circumstances of his arrest. But it is believed that he entered Turkey about a month ago from Iran, and was identified in a luxury hotel in Ankara. Local authorities passed on information to US agencies and it is believed that Washington asked for access to interrogate Abu Ghaith before being transferred to the US.

    His handover to the US reportedly took place in Jordan, from where he was flown to New York.

    The decision to deal with Abu Ghaith in the US federal justice system, rather than the military tribunals at Guantánamo Bay, is in line with a commitment made by the Obama administration. "Our policy is that we will prosecute whenever feasible in the national security interests of the United States," a spokesman for the Justice Department said in a statement. But observers said it may also reflect the difficulty of pursuing a conspiracy charge in the military system.

    In court, Abu Ghaith was led into the room with his hands cuffed behind his back. Dressed in a blue tunic and with balding head and short greying beard, he was flanked by two lawyers as he sat down in front of the judge.

    In a brief overview of the indictment against him, US district judge Lewis Kaplan said that the defendant faces accusations that "in or about May 2001 to 2002 you conspired with others to kill US nationals".

    Furthermore Abu Ghaith is accused of being summoned by Bin Laden on the evening of the September 11 attacks and asked to assist in the al-Qaida chief's campaign.

    The following morning, Abu Ghaith, along with Bin Laden and then al-Qaida deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, released a video in which he warned the US that "a great army is gathering against you" and calling on "the nation of Islam" to fight "the Jews, the Christians and the Americans".

    He later gave a speech in which he warned Muslims "not to board any aircraft and not to live in high rises". Friday's court session took place on the ninth floor of a building just a few blocks from the site of the World Trade Centre, where nearly 3,000 people died in the worst terrorist atrocity to have been carried out on US soil.

    Confirming the arrest on Thursday, the attorney general, Eric Holder, said that "no amount of distance or time will weaken our resolve to bring America's enemies to justice".

    No trial date was set for Abu Ghaith on Friday. Lawyers were given a 30-day period to continue to transcribe unclassified documents and review classified documents being released by the government.

    Abu Ghaith's lawyer, Philip Weinstein, said he pleaded not guilty to the charges. He will remain in custody.


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    Suleiman Abu Ghaith, the son-in-law of Osama bin Laden, pleads not guilty to charges of conspiring to kill Americans



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    Suleiman Abu Ghaith's defense attorneys want trial moved from lower Manhattan, claiming a New York jury would be prejudiced

    A landmark civilian trial of Osama bin Laden's son-in-law may be delayed until next year due to budget cuts arising from the sequestration, a US court heard Monday.

    Lawyers for alleged al-Qaida spokesman Suleiman Abu Ghaith said that due to a mandatory five-week furlough of all federal defence lawyers in New York, the prosecution may have to be pushed back from September to January 2013.

    US district judge Lewis Kaplan said it was "extremely troublesome" that a trial of such importance could be affected by government cuts.

    In a further development, defence attorneys suggested that they intend to ask for court hearings to be moved away from the federal court in lower Manhattan – situated just a few blocks from the site of the September 11 attacks – due to the potential of a jury being prejudiced.

    Abu Ghaith faces an indictment that includes the charge of conspiring to kill US nationals. The 47-year-old Kuwaiti is the alleged spokesman of al-Qaida, and the son-in-law of former terror network chief Osama bin Laden.

    Prosecutors say he was summoned on the evening of the September 11 attacks by bin Laden and asked to assist in al-Qaida's campaign against the West.

    The following morning, Abu Ghaith – along with bin Laden and then al-Qaida deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, released a video in which he warned the US that "a great army is gathering against you" and calling on "the nation of Islam" to fight "the Jews, the Christians and the Americans".

    He later gave a speech in which he warned Muslims "not to board any aircraft and not to live in high rises".

    At Monday's hearing, lawyers for the suspects told the court that they were considering filing a motion to change venue.

    Outside the courtroom, defence attorney Martin Cohen was asked if he thought it possible to find an impartial jury, given the courtroom's proximity to where nearly 3,000 people died on September 11, 2001.

    "That is a question that we are mulling over," Cohen said. He issued the same response when asked where he thought an unbiased jury could be found.

    If the case is moved from New York, it will come as a blow to the White House, that has long sought to try terrorists – including those connected to the September 11 attack – in a civilian courtroom in New York, rather than in military hearings at Guantánamo Bay.

    After Abu Ghaith's first appearance last month, senator Mitch McConnell accused President Barack Obama of putting politics above security concerns.

    "The decision of the president to import Suleiman Abu Ghaith into the United States for civilian prosecution makes little sense and reveals, yet again, a stubborn refusal to avoid holding additional terrorists at the secure facility at Guantanamo Bay despite the circumstances," McConnell said.

    It echoed an earlier clash over attempts by the administration to try alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York. Faced with an outcry and warnings that it posed a security risk to the US's most populous city, Obama relented and moved the case back to Guantanamo.

    Abu Ghaith was arrested on 28 February and was transferred to US soil the following day. He was reportedly picked up in Turkey after entering the country from Iran. Local authorities passed on information to US authorities and a handover of Abu Ghaith reportedly took place in Jordan.

    In court Monday, his lawyers indicated they would apply for a motion to strike from the record a post-arrest statement from the alleged al-Qaida spokesman.

    That motion – along with the one to have the case moved – will be put before the court in May.

    During a discussion on trial scheduling, Kaplan suggested that jury selection could take place either in September or January next year. But defence lawyers pointed out that due to the furloughing of federal employees, the earlier date could be impossible.

    "It would be very hard for us to be ready by September," Cohen told the court.

    Kaplan said he was stunned.

    "The irony – that is not exactly the right word – is it is extremely troublesome to contemplate the possibility of a case of this nature being delayed because of sequestration," he said.

    Cohen later explained to reporters that lawyers at the Federal Defenders of New York have been told they must take 27 days off by the end of September as a result of the sequestration.

    Throughout Monday's hearing Abu Ghaith remained silent. Dressed in a blue prison smock, he was led into the courtroom in handcuffs. He listened to proceedings through a translator.


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    Abu Ghaith trial delayed until January 2014 because sequester would force some lawyers to be furloughed for five weeks

    The trial of Osama bin Laden's son-in-law will not begin until next January, because of delays caused by the US budget sequester.

    US district judge Lewis Kaplan announced the 7 January date on Tuesday for the trial in New York of Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, on charges that he conspired to kill Americans in his role as al-Qaida's chief propagandist.

    At an earlier hearing on Monday, Kaplan said he had hoped to start the trial as early as this autumn until a public defender complained that across-the-board federal budget cuts, known as sequestration, would force some lawyers to be furloughed for more than five weeks, making it impossible to prepare for trial quickly.

    The judge said he found it "extremely troublesome" and "stunning" that sequestration was interfering with the prosecution.

    Abu Ghaith, who has pleaded not guilty, was brought to the United States last month to face charges that he urged the death of Americans after the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001.

    His attorneys say they intend to file several pretrial motions challenging the prosecution, including requests that the trial be moved away from a courthouse several blocks from the World Trade Center complex and that a lengthy statement Abu Ghaith provided to US authorities be suppressed.

    Prosecutors say evidence against Abu Ghaith includes a widely circulated video of him in early October 2001 sitting with bin Laden and current al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and another in which he calls on every Muslim to join the fight against the United States, declaring that "jihad is a duty."

    The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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    Member of team that killed Bin Laden to testify in closed session but defence lawyers must not stray from narrow questioning

    The judge presiding over the court martial of Bradley Manning, the US soldier who has admitted leaking a trove of state secrets to WikiLeaks, has begun to outline some of the exceptional security arrangements that will be in place during his high-profile trial.

    The most unusual stipulations apply to a member of the team that raided al-Qaida's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan in 2011 and killed Osama bin Laden. The squad member will testify that he removed digital material from the compound that was later found to have contained WikiLeaks documents apparently requested personally by Bin Laden.

    Colonel Denise Lind, the judge hearing the Manning case at Fort Meade in Maryland, ruled that the individual known as "John Doe" will be allowed to testify in closed session at the trial, due to begin on 3 June. His evidence will be given at an undisclosed alternate location in the course of which he will be allowed to dress in civilian clothes and "light disguise".

    Manning's defence team will not be allowed to stray in their cross-examination of the individual from a narrowly defined and pre-agreed list of questions relating directly to the charges that he faces. Specifically, the defence lawyers will not be allowed to quiz him about his training or preparation for the Abbottabad raid, or anything about how the Bin Laden killing was carried out.

    However, the defence will be granted such access to the witness that they will be able to detect his "body language, eye movements and demeanour", Lind said. The defence has also been handed in discovery documents by the prosecution indicating the likely questions that John Doe will be asked by the government and his probable answers.

    The identity and role of the witness has been kept secret throughout the proceedings, other than that he took part in the Abbottabad raid. It is assumed that he was one of the 22-strong Seal Team Six the carried out the operation.

    The prosecution intends to call him as part of its mission to prove that Manning "aided the enemy" – the most serious accusation levelled against the soldier that carries a maximum sentence of life in military custody without any chance of parole.

    In addition to John Doe, there will be three other classified witnesses who will testify anonymously in secure locations behind closed doors. Beyond the four classified witnesses, the US government wants to call a further 24 people whose testimony will raise issues of confidentiality and is asking the court for permission for some or all of their testimony to be heard in secret session.

    The 24 include a range of military chiefs from the army and navy, Defence and State Department officials and intelligence experts.

    Lind has reserved her ruling on how classified material should be handled during the trial. On the one hand, she underlined that there needed to be a way to protect state secrets during the course of the trial.

    On the other hand, she made clear that there were important constitutional and judicial advantages to holding criminal trials in public. Trial courts were obliged to consider alternatives to closing the trial wherever possible, she said.

    Open trials "inspire public confidence that the accused has been fairly dealt with and not unfairly condemned, they encourage witnesses to come forward and discourage perjury." They also "establish basic fairness and the appearance of fairness that is so central to the public system of justice."

    Earlier on Wednesday, Lind ruled that the US government will have to prove that Manning had "reason to believe" that his disclosure of state secrets could be harmful to the US and beneficial to foreign nations.

    The ruling raises the burden of proof for prosecutors, who are trying to have Manning jailed for life. Manning has pleaded guilty to the leak, but only to lesser charges that carry an upper sentence of 20 years in military jail.

    He has pleaded not guilty to the most serious charge, that he knowingly "aided the enemy". The charge carries a theoretical death sentence, but the prosecution has indicated it will seek life in military custody instead.


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    After the failure of peace talks, fizzy drink makers fear for the supply of a crucial but rare ingredient – gum arabic

    In 1997, those upstanding lawmakers from the Congress of the United States of America were most unhappy with the government of Sudan, which they accused of sponsoring terrorism and persecuting religious minorities. The real problem was simple: Sudan had given refuge to Osama bin Laden, who even then was not a very popular man. As punishment, Congress passed a package of hard-hitting sanctions that severely limited Sudan's ability to trade and stunted its economy.

    Before the sanctions were passed, however, nervous lobbyists representing some of America's biggest corporations fought to include one exception. They were successful, as well-funded lobbyists so often are, and exempted was a hard, translucent resin known as gum arabic. Sudan could export as much of it as they liked.

    Gum arabic is interesting stuff. The globe-straddling supply chains that fuel our multinational world sometimes throw up some curious juxtapositions (think coltan, the mineral that goes straight from Congolese informal mines into your shiny new smartphone), and this is one of the most telling. Gum arabic is the hardened sap of specific species of Acacia tree, most of which grow in Sudan. When it's dried out and ground into a powder it can be used as an "edibile emulsifier", which in layman's terms translates as glue that we can eat.

    For that reason, it is often used in products such as chewing gum and certain pharmaceutical drugs. But by far its most important use is in fizzy drinks, where gum arabic plays an essential role in binding the sugar to the drink; without it, the sugar would just fall out of the solution and collect in a pile at the bottom.

    Although figures are hard to come by, Sudan exports somewhere between 40% and 70% of the world's gum arabic, most of which comes from or through the small, dusty town of El Obaid in North Kordofan province. There are other places that produce gum arabic, but they tend to be just as unstable (Chad, for example, and Eritrea) and the quality is not as high.

    It's hard to escape the irony: from North Kordofan, a dusty, dry corner of a dysfunctional, poverty stricken country, comes the ingredient without which one of the most iconic and lucrative products in the world could not be made (or at least, not as cheaply).

    This is all just a little bit of background to explain why the recent political developments in Sudan might be causing a few nervous moments for executives in companies such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi, who are thought to be the largest recipients of Sudan's gum arabic exports (neither company will reveal where they source their emulsifiers, probably because of the negative publicity that might come from being associated too closely with Sudan).

    Here's what happened this weekend: in a daring and unexpected raid, rebels from the Justice and Equality Movement stormed and captured the town of Umm Ruwaba in North Kordofan. Umm Rawaba is just 100km from El Obaid, and is itself a centre for cultivating gum arabic.

    This was significant for two reasons. First, it's a substantial geographical departure from the group's usual theatre of operations, which is Darfur (to the east of North Kordofan), indicating that the rebels have a surprisingly long reach. Second, JEM conducted the raid under the banner of the Sudan Revolutionary Front, a military coalition of various rebel groups from different areas of Sudan. This isn't the first operation to be conducted under the front's banner, but it is one of the most successful. In addition, North Kordofan acts as a geographical bridge between JEM's stronghold in Darfur and the main driving force of the front, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) operating in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states. It's easy to see the Umm Rawaba raid as an initial, tentative attempt to turn isolated pockets of resistance against Khartoum into a broader, more unified conflict.

    The attack also came just days after failed talks between the SPLM-N and the Sudanese government. "I believe that attack was timed by the rebels with the failure of the talks in Addis Ababa to send a message to the government that the rebels can expand their fighting into new areas," a Sudanese columnist, Abd al-Latif al-Bony, told the New York Times.

    It didn't take long, however, for Sudanese troops to get themselves organised and push back against the rebels, forcing them out of Umm Rawaba by Sunday, according to reports. But not before the Sudanese government had received the rebels' message loud and clear: the rebellion has spread to North Kordofan.

    It's a message that corporations such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi, worried about their global supply chains, will doubtless be heeding too.


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    Document shows agency requested removal of interrogation scene with dog, and shots of operatives partying with AK47

    A newly declassified CIA document suggests members of the US agency did help to shape the narrative of Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow's recent film about the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

    In January the US Senate intelligence committee launched an investigation into whether Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal were granted "inappropriate access" to classified CIA material following concern from high-profile members over the film's depiction of torture in the search for the al-Qaida chief. The probe was dropped in February after Zero Dark Thirty, which had initially been tipped as an Oscars frontrunner, left the world's most famous film ceremony with just a single award for sound editing.

    However according to Gawker it has now emerged that the CIA did successfully pressure Boal to remove certain scenes from the Zero Dark Thirty script, some of which might have cast the agency in a negative light. Details emerged in a memo released under a US Freedom of Information Act request. It summarises five conference calls held in late 2011 for staff in the agency's Office of Public Affairs "to help promote an appropriate portrayal of the agency and the Bin Laden operation".

    Several elements of the draft screenplay for Zero Dark Thirty were changed for the final film upon agency request, according to the memo. Jessica Chastain's Maya, the film's main protagonist, was originally seen participating in an early water-boarding torture scene, but in the final film she is only an observer. A scene in which a dog is used to interrogate a suspect was also excised from the shooting script. Finally a segue in which agents party on a rooftop in Islamabad, drinking and shooting off an AK47 in celebration, was also removed upon CIA insistence. This was agreed to despite the documented use of aggressive dogs in US interrogations of terror suspects at Guantánamo Bay in the early days of George W Bush's war on terror, and despite some of the photographs from the later Abu Ghraib scandal featuring dogs menacing naked prisoners.

    The memo appears to confirm suspicions of a cosy relationship between the CIA and Boal, with the agency confident it would be portrayed positively due to the level of help it had provided to the film-makers. "As an agency, we've been pretty forward-leaning with Boal," a CIA staff member wrote to colleagues in documents released last year. "He's agreed to share scripts and details about the movie with us so we're absolutely comfortable with what he will be showing."

    In an emailed response to Gawker's piece, Boal denied allowing the CIA to influence creative film-making decisions on Zero Dark Thirty. "We honoured certain requests to keep operational details and the identity of the participants confidential," he wrote. "But as with any publication or work of art, the final decisions as to the content were made by the film-makers."


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    Pakistani town of Abbottabad, where al-Qaida leader hid for years, plans to build an amusement park to improve image

    The Pakistani town that earned worldwide infamy as the place where Osama bin Laden hid for years is to build an amusement park in an attempt to restore its family-friendly image.

    Construction will begin in the next two weeks on a sprawling site on the outskirts of Abbottabad, the town where the al-Qaida chief lived with his family in a fortified house until May 2011, when he was killed by a raiding party of US Navy Seals.

    The Hazara Heritage Park and Amusement City will cost almost £20m and boast restaurants, a mini golf course, a butterfly zoo, various rides and a lake for water sports.

    Javed Abbasi, a provincial MP who has promoted the initiative, said he hoped a rollercoaster would also be included as part of the final stage of the five-year development.

    "This will be one of the biggest amusement parks in Pakistan and we are looking forward to welcoming visitors from all over the country and the world," he said.

    Authorities have long been keen to move on from the embarrassment caused by the discovery that the world's most-wanted man had been living undetected in the pleasant surroundings of Abbottabad, just 30 miles north of the capital.

    The building where he had remained concealed for so long was torn down last February.

    "The specific idea for this park is to show that this is a safe area," said Abbasi. "There is no militancy over here, no terrorism; the people are safe."

    Like many in Abbottabad, Abbasi believes the town has been unfairly tarnished by its association with a terrorist mastermind who lived undetected just a short distance from Pakistan's elite military training school.

    "It was unfortunate that Osama stayed here but I don't think it was the fault of the city, where he had no support," he said. "People are not fanatic, they do not support terrorists – you cannot blame a city if someone hides here."

    Abbasi said the other main objective was to provide more recreational activities in a region of great natural beauty that already attracts many sightseers, including visitors to the nearby hill station of Nathia Gali.

    But Syed Aqil Shah, minister for sports and tourism in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said there needed to be more activities for families and young people.

    "We want to keep young people away from terrorism and extremism," he said. "We think healthy activities are a way to engage them in positive things."

    The plans, announced just weeks before Pakistan's national parliament and provincial assemblies are due to be re-elected, appeared to go down well with locals.

    "The capture of Osama had tarnished the image of this beautiful and peaceful city," said Hamuyoon Khan Jadoon, a 55-year-old resident. "But the construction of such a park will create a positive image of Abbottabad."


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    Conservative Judicial Watch group suit denied as appeals court says US government right to classify pictures

    A federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday that the US government had properly classified as top secret more than 50 images of the al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden that were taken after his death, and that the government did not need to release them.

    The unanimous ruling by three judges on the US court of appeals for the District of Columbia circuit rejected a request for the images made by a conservative nonprofit watchdog group. Judicial Watch sued for photographs and video from the May 2011 raid in which US special forces killed Bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The organization's lawsuit relied on the Freedom of Information Act, a 1966 law that guarantees public access to some government documents.

    In an unsigned opinion, the appeals court accepted an assertion from President Barack Obama's administration that the images are so potent that releasing them could cause riots that would put Americans abroad at risk.

    "It is undisputed that the government is withholding the images not to shield wrongdoing or avoid embarrassment, but rather to prevent the killing of Americans and violence against American interests," the opinion said. The court ruled that the risk of violence justified the decision to classify the images top secret, and that the CIA may withhold the images under an exception to the Freedom of Information Act for documents that are classified.

    Judicial Watch did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokeswoman for the Justice Department, which represents the Obama administration in court, had no immediate comment.

    The images show a dead Bin Laden at his compound in Pakistan, the transportation of his body to a US ship and his burial at sea, the government has said. Some of the photographs were taken so the CIA could conduct facial recognition analysis to confirm the body's identity, according to court papers.


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    Military lawyers tell last hearing before trial they have dropped one of 22 counts but will still press most serious accusation

    Prosecutors in the case against the WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning have decided to drop one of 22 counts against him, but are pressing ahead with the most serious accusation, that he "aided the enemy".

    Military lawyers told Manning's final pre-trial hearing that they would no longer seek to prove the US soldier was guilty of leaking a single state department cable, known as "Reykjavik-13". The cable, which relates to the Icelandic financial crisis, was the first of a massive stash of diplomatic cables leaked by Manning to be published by WikiLeaks, on 18 February 2010.

    Manning has been in military custody since May 2010, when he was arrested at a US military base in Iraq, where he was working as an intelligence analyst. He has pleaded guilty to a lesser offence relating to the leak of Reykjavik-13 and liable to a maximum of two years. The US government had sought to press further statutory charges on him that would have added up to an additional eight years on his sentence, but has now dropped the count.

    It is not clear why government lawyers opted to remove the Reykjavik-13 count, though in the wider picture the move is of limited significance. If Manning is found guilty of "aiding the enemy" – in effect, assisting Osama bin Laden by making public information that could injure the US – he faces a possible life sentence with no chance of parole.

    Should Manning be found not guilty to having aided the enemy, he still faces a further 20 counts carrying an overall maximum sentence of more than 150 years. At a minimum, the soldier has already pleaded guilty to lesser charges, of prejudicing the good order and discipline of the military by leaking information, which carry a maximum sentence of 20 years.

    Among the counts that the government intends still to press is a sample group of more than 75 classified diplomatic cables drawn from the 250,000 or so that Manning has admitted transmitting to WikiLeaks. The government accuses Manning of leaking the embassy cables despite having reason to believe that they could be used to the injury of the US.

    Manning's trial, which begins on 3 June, will be the highest-profile prosecution of the source of a leak of state secrets under the Obama administration. Since coming to office in 2009, Barack Obama has presided over more prosecutions of state leakers than all previous administrations combined, with six legal actions brought under the 1917 Espionage Act. The trial has been marked down for 12 weeks and could involve hundreds of witnesses. Four of those witnesses, it has already been agreed, will be presenting evidence secretly under a "light disguise", with the court moving to an undisclosed location for the duration.

    The four include "John Doe", one of the US Navy Seals who raided Bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan and killed him on 2 May 2011.

    In Tuesday's proceedings, Manning accepted through what is known as a "stipulation of fact" that the government had evidence that Bin Laden had taken a close personal interest in the material published by WikiLeaks. Manning has agreed not to contest the fact that when the Navy Seals left the compound they took with them several items of digital media that included a letter from Bin Laden to a member of al-Qaida, requesting that the member gather Department of Defense material posted to WikiLeaks.

    The stipulation that Manning has accepted says that the digital items also contained a letter to Bin Laden from the same al-Qaida member to which the Afghanistan "war logs" – one of the most famous products of the WikiLeaks disclosures – were attached. Department of State information released by WikiLeaks was also among the Abbottabad discoveries.

    The judge presiding over the court martial, Colonel Denise Lind, issued a ruling in which she outlined how classified information could be used during the trial. She said that within limits the prosecution could use classified documents to show that the material Manning transmitted to WikiLeaks could potentially be damaging to US interests.

    In turn, the US government will have to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the soldier had "reason to believe" that the information he was leaking could be used to the injury of the US or the advantage of any foreign nation. The government would also have to show that the documents were "closely held" – in other words, that they were guarded as secret and not widely available to the American public.

    During the course of the trial, the court will close to allow secret testimony to be heard from 24 specified witnesses. Lind ruled that in these cases examination would take place without the public and media present.

    Lind made her ruling in the light of a dummy session that was held on 8 May in which a prosecution witness, Ambassador Donald Yamamoto, was quizzed in what was billed as a "dry run" for the trial. On the back of that, the judge found that alternative ways of dealing with classified information in front of the public – such as testifying electronically or using codenames – would not prevent the spillage of material that could be damaging to US national security.

    Where the testimony related to classified information, Lind ruled, the court would be closed. A transcript of the secret proceedings, redacted to remove sensitive information, would then be released to the public.

    "The over-riding interest in protecting national security over-rides the risk of miscarriage of justice," Lind concluded, adding that it also over-rode Manning's First Amendment rights.


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    Soldier faces charge of 'aiding the enemy' by downloading and leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents

    The trial of Bradley Manning, the US soldier who leaked a trove of state secrets to WikiLeaks, could set an ominous precedent that will chill freedom of speech and turn the internet into a danger zone, legal experts have warned.

    Of the 21 counts faced by the army private on Monday, at his trial at Fort Meade in Maryland, by far the most serious is that he knowingly gave intelligence information to al-Qaida by transmitting hundreds of thousands of classified documents to the open information website WikiLeaks. The leaked disclosures were first published by the Guardian and allied international newspapers.

    Manning is accused of "aiding the enemy", in violation of Article 104 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. By indirectly unleashing a torrent of secrets onto the internet, the prosecution alleges, he in effect made it available to Osama bin Laden and his cohorts, for them to inflict injury on the US.

    Laurence Tribe, a Harvard professor who is considered to be the foremost liberal authority on constitutional law in the US and who taught the subject to President Barack Obama, told the Guardian that the charge could set a worrying precedent. He said: "Charging any individual with the extremely grave offense of 'aiding the enemy' on the basis of nothing beyond the fact that the individual posted leaked information on the web and thereby 'knowingly gave intelligence information' to whoever could gain access to it there, does indeed seem to break dangerous new ground."

    Tribe, who advised the department of justice in Obama's first term, added that the trial could have "far-reaching consequences for chilling freedom of speech and rendering the internet a hazardous environment, well beyond any demonstrable national security interest."

    "Aiding the enemy" carries the death penalty. Though the US government has indicated it will not seek that ultimate punishment, Manning still faces a maximum sentence of life in military custody with no chance of parole.

    Daniel Ellsberg, who in 1971 was subjected to an aborted trial for leaking the Pentagon Papers on the Vietnam War to the New York Times, said that the Manning prosecution was far tougher than anything that he had endured.

    "This is part of Obama's overall policy of criminalising investigative reporting on national security," he said. "If the government has its way, it will become very hard in future to expose official corruption or disclose information in the public interest other than leaks made by the administration itself."

    Manning's trial, which is slated to last three months, opens against a backdrop of mounting unease about the increasingly aggressive stance the US government is taking against official leakers. The Obama administration has launched six prosecutions under the Espionage Act, twice as many as all previous presidencies combined, of which only Manning's has gone to trial.

    The Department of Justice is already under fire for its controversial secret seizures of phone records of Associated Press reporters and of a Fox News reporter, James Rosen, investigating North Korean nuclear tests.

    In the course of pre-trial hearings, military prosecutors have outlined the basic skeleton of their case against Manning. They will seek to show that Osama bin Laden personally instructed an aide to download elements of WikiLeaks, including the Afghan war logs, on to digital storage devices so that he could read them.

    The court will hear – either in person at a secret session of the trial, or in an affidavit – from an anonymous witness called only "John Doe", who is believed to be one of the 22 US Navy Seals who killed Bin Laden in a raid on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan in May 2011. The witness will testify that he retrieved from the compound three items of digital media that contained WikiLeaks material.

    The prosecution will present evidence to the court that the items retrieved from Bin Laden's compound included a letter written by the al-Qaida leader to an aide, asking for them to download US defence information from WikiLeaks. The same al-Qaida operative then replied to Bin Laden attaching the Afghan war logs and department of state information released by WikiLeaks.

    Colonel Denise Lind, the judge presiding over the court martial in the absence of a jury, has ruled that for Manning to be found guilty of "aiding the enemy" the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he knowingly gave helpful information to al-Qaida, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and a third terrorist group whose identity remains classified. The route by which Manning communicated with al-Qaida can be indirect, through Wikileaks, the judge has directed, though the soldier must have had a "general evil intent in that he had to know he was dealing with an enemy of the United States".

    A defence motion calling on all reference to al-Qaida to be ruled inadmissible on grounds that it was irrelevant and prejudicial was denied by Lind in an earlier hearing.

    Manning has already pleaded guilty to lesser offences, that he transmitted classified information to WikiLeaks carrying a possible maximum sentence of 20 years. Between November 2009 and May 2010 he downloaded massive files, stored in secure US intelligence databases, from his computer at an army operating base in Iraq, where he was working as an intelligence analyst. He then transmitted the files to an encrypted whistleblower channel set up by WikiLeaks.

    Jesselyn Radack of the Government Accountability Project, who represented two of the six leakers who have been prosecuted – National Security Agency whistleblower Thomas Drake and former CIA operative John Kiriakou – said the broad legal implications of Manning's trial were frightening. "If Osama bin Laden or any other suspected terrorist happens to have read a New York Times article on the internet, the government can now go after the paper for 'aiding the enemy'. That's a big problem."

    In the course of legal argument in pre-trial hearings, one of the prosecution lawyers was asked whether Manning would have been prosecuted in the same way had he leaked to the New York Times as opposed to WikiLeaks. The prosecutor replied: "Yes."

    Radack said that the case has sent a chill through investigative reporting. Several potential whistleblowers have approached her in recent weeks, she said, expressing great trepidation about leaking to any news outlets because "they fear they will become the next Bradley Manning".


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    The US has shown itself so paranoid in the face of possible 'al-Qaida-linked terror' that it has played right into jihadist hands

    Washington has handed Osama bin Laden his last and greatest triumph. The Prism files revealed in the Guardian indicate how far his bid to undermine western values has succeeded in the 12 years since 9/11. He has achieved state intrusion into the private lives and communications of every American citizen. He has shown the self-proclaimed home of individual freedom as so paranoid in the face of his "terror" as to infiltrate the entire internet, sucking up mobile phone calls, emails, texts and, we may assume, GPS movements.

    The vast databases of Microsoft, Google, YouTube and Facebook are open to government. They may cry "your privacy is our priority", but they lie. Obedience to regulatory authority is their priority. And what does authority say? It says what authority always says: "We collect significant information on bad guys, but only bad guys." As police states have said down the ages, the innocent have nothing to fear. For innocent, eventually read obedient.

    This is the same trawling power that the British security services want parliament to approve in its snooper's charter. It is defended on the same basis, that it is only exchanges, not content, that they seek. They do not really mean to snoop. And they do it only where "national security" is involved. Pull the other one. That is what the Stasi said. You can almost sense the smirk as they say it. And they have even persuaded half of parliament that they are right.

    Inducing such paranoia about terror – always called "al-Qaida-linked terror" – is precisely what Islam's jihadist regard as the crucial first step in undermining the west's pseudo-liberalism. It requires democracy to lose faith in oversight, to let securocrats off the leash, to capitulate to "better safe than free". It requires the regular click up the ratchet of control sought by each successive British home secretary. They are Bin Laden's useful idiots.

    The western democracies, and especially America and Britain, are the most invulnerable states on earth. They are rich and secure. They may suffer occasional explosions and killings, but they face not the remotest risk of "existential defeat". Yet 9/11 brought into being an edifice of creeping surveillance and repression which democracy is clearly unable to curb. It has never been so at risk as now, from its own loss of faith in liberty. Osama bin Laden would be clapping his hands with glee.


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    Counter-terrorism has inflated itself into an industry of cold-war proportions. Whistleblowers are the last bulwark of freedom

    Do whistleblowers make you cheer, or feel queasy? Edward Snowden, author of the latest cyber-leak, is a cogent critic of the hysteria into which the "war on terror" has led US (and by association British) governments. But on whose authority does he reveal state secrets? Is he not a traitor, a turncoat, a tool of terror?

    Snowden is no agent of a foreign power. He is no conscientious objector, no deserting soldier. He is a contractor who came across what he regards as hypocrisy on the part of those who claim to defend freedom but are in fact curbing it. Like such predecessors as Bradley Manning, Clive Ponting and Daniel Ellsberg, he was telling his own countrymen how far their rulers have departed from the liberties they claimed to defend.

    The mass gathering and storage by Washington (and we assume London) of every citizen's electronic communication – "we hack everyone, everywhere" is the motto – has handed Osama bin Laden his last great coup. The Prism programme shows how far militant Islam's crazy bid to undermine western values can succeed, when democracy hands securocrats unlimited money and unconstrained power.

    The US and Britain today are as invulnerable to military conquest as ever in history. They are secure. They may be threatened by the bombs of terrorists and criminals but that is no "existential" threat. Yet because paranoia is the classic ally of power, counter-terrorism has inflated its enemies and thereby itself into an industry of cold-war proportions.

    Governments always claim such intrusions are "within the law". But as we saw after 9/11, it defines the law. "We collect significant information on bad guys, but only bad guys," said the White House. The British foreign secretary, William Hague, claims "the law-abiding citizen has nothing to fear." It is the cliche of the police state throughout history. Snowden tells us to greet it with a hollow laugh.

    Such whistleblowers are vital antidotes to the surveillance that the jihadist know is their best confidence-sapping weapon. Making westerners lose trust in their own government is the first step in undermining liberal vigilance and tolerance. Those who cry "better safe than free" will end up being neither. Those who want to bring Snowden to justice are the true "useful idiots" of the next Osama bin Laden.


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    Murders raise to nearly 20 the number of health workers killed on campaign to help rid Pakistan of endemic disease

    Gunmen have killed two anti-polio health workers in north-west Pakistan, police said on Sunday, in the latest violence directed at efforts to eradicate the endemic disease from the country.

    Two attackers shot the Pakistani health workers, who were on a vaccination drive in Kandar village, said Swabi district police chief, Mohammad Saeed. The gunmen arrived on foot and later disappeared, he added.

    No one claimed responsibility for the attack. But some militant groups oppose the vaccinations and accuse the workers of spying for the US. They point out the case of the CIA using a Pakistani doctor to collect blood samples from the family of Osama bin Laden in order to track him down and kill him in Pakistan in 2011.

    Militants also try to block inoculation campaigns by portraying them as a conspiracy to sterilise and reduce the world's Muslim population. Over the past year, nearly 20 health workers from the anti-polio campaign have been murdered.

    Pakistan is one of three countries, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria, that is still affected by polio, with 58 cases reported in 2012, down from 198 in 2011. The World Health Organisation said in March that some 240,000 children have missed polio vaccinations because of security concerns in Pakistan's tribal regions bordering Afghanistan.

    It said the health workers have not been able to immunise children in the Taliban strongholds of North and South Waziristan since July 2012.The shootings came a day after the Pakistani al-Qaida-linked militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi killed 24 people in the southwestern city of Quetta.

    In the first of Saturday's attacks in Quetta, a blast ripped through a bus carrying female students, killing 14. When the victims were taken to the nearby hospital, a suicide bomber struck there. Other attackers captured parts of the complex, triggering a siege by security forces in which four paramilitaries also died.


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    US government presents evidence for 'aiding the enemy' charge which must prove Manning knowingly harmed US security

    The US government is seeking to bolster its case against Bradley Manning, the source of the largest leak of state secrets in American history, by presenting the soldier's trial with evidence that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida used the anti-secrecy site WikiLeaks and the wider internet as a research and propaganda tool.

    As the prosecution approaches the end of its case, government lawyers presented the trial judge, Colonel Denise Lind, with testimony and statements of fact that attempted to underline al-Qaida's familiarity with the web and WikiLeaks specifically. The effort speaks to the most serious "aiding the enemy" charge against Manning in which the prosecution must prove that by passing classified material to WikiLeaks the soldier knowingly gave potentially damaging intelligence to US enemies.

    Prosecutors read into the trial record a statement already discussed in court, that reveals that the al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden personally asked for WikiLeaks material to be provided to him. Bin Laden wrote a letter to an assistant requesting that he gather the material, and in response was sent battlefield reports from Afghanistan, known as the Afghan warlogs, as well as some of the embassy cables published by WikiLeaks.

    Bin Laden's letter and response was found on digital items recovered by the team of US Navy Seals who burst into his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and killed him in May 2011.

    The Bin Laden material was put into the record with no elaboration by prosecutors, though it is clear that the al-Qaida leader's personal interest in WikiLeaks will be used as a star item in its attempt to prove that Manning "aided the enemy", an offence that carries a possible sentence of life in military custody with no chance of parole. To flesh out the point, the prosecution also read to court the testimony of a US military adviser on Islamist militancy who portrayed al-Qaida as an internet- and media-savvy organisation.

    Youssef Aboul-Enein said that al-Qaida and its offshoots, including al-Qaida, in the Arabian Peninsula routinely used the media to inspire individuals and enhance fundraising for its missions. "From its inception media perception was important to al-Qaida," he said, adding that acknowledgement of successful attacks on US forces would boost the network's morale and establish its credentials as an effective terrorist organisation.

    Similarly, the internet was widely used by both al-Qaida's leaders and members. "Communication through cyberspace was the preferred means of communication" as al-Qaida had no centralised organisational structure and leaders were constantly on the move to evade capture.

    The network used the internet for research since at least the early 2000s, drawing on websites sympathetic to its goals, Aboul-Enein said. It would draw information from all publicly accessible websites including those containing information on US government activities, with an emphasis on diplomatic information that could be used to undermine the US and its allies.

    As a third piece of evidence relating to al-Qaida's use of the web, WikiLeaks especially, prosecutors referred to a video produced by the American al-Qaida spokesman Adam Gadahn. The video, released in June 2011, contained footage of an Apache helicopter attack on civilians in Baghdad put out by WikiLeaks under the title Collateral Murder.

    Speaking in English, Gadahn exhorted al-Qaida supporters to "take advantage of resources available on the internet".

    The testimony relating to the Gadahn video was uncontested by the defence, even though the video was released several months after Manning was arrested in Iraq where he was working as an intelligence analyst. He has admitted to transferring a vast stash of US state documents, including the Afghan and Iraq warlogs, the Apache video, detainee files from Guantánamo and hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables, though he pleads not-guilty to aiding the enemy.

    As a final piece of evidence, the prosecution cited Inspire magazine, published by al-Qaida on the Arabian Peninsula. The magazine gave a list of activities readers could do to help the mujahideen, including information useful for jihad. "Anything from WikiLeaks is useful for archiving," the article said.

    Inspire was published in January 2011 – again, several months after Manning was arrested. Its relevance to the prosecution case that the soldier knowingly aided the enemy was not clear, given that it was released after the event, though the disparity in timing went uncontested by the defence.


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    No Pakistani government agency or institution comes out unscathed – which may in itself be a sign of progress

    There are five major elements that western intelligence analysts will immediately notice as they work their way through the 300-plus pages of the Abbottabad report – and several still-unanswered questions.

    The first comprises some new details about the early days of Osama bin Laden's life as a fugitive following the December 2001 fall of the Taliban regime that had sheltered him in Afghanistan since 1996. The al-Qaida leader is reported to have entered Pakistan in mid-2002, spending time, possibly, in the frontier city of Peshawar and in the restive tribal agencies on the border. Then he moved deeper into Pakistan, to the Swat Valley. He moved a month later to the town of Haripur, and finally in 2005, with wives, children and grandchildren in tow, to Abbottabad.

    But did any Pakistani officials – military or civilian – know he was there? This is the second crucial element, and one of the key questions the report's authors, led by a retired supreme court judge, sought to answer. Their conclusion is that complacency, inefficiency and negligence at all levels allowed Bin Laden's presence to pass undetected. This is predictable, critics will say, from a commission appointed by the Pakistani government. But it is very close to the consensus of western intelligence officials since the raid.

    The report's authors – and western spooks – do not rule out some kind of plausibly deniable assistance from rogue elements. This theory – cockup, not conspiracy – is a marginally more heartening conclusion than the idea that the Pakistani military or someone else consciously harboured the al-Qaida leader.

    However, element three will cause alarm. Officials in London, Washington and elsewhere will be concerned to read the views of Shuja Pasha, the head of Pakistan's main military spy agency, the ISI, until last year, that the police and civilian intelligence services are neither trustworthy nor competent partners in fighting terrorism.

    There is further discouragement in Pasha's admission that the ISI is aware of the location of "foreign miscreants" in major cities but that the targets are safe in what have become no-go areas for law enforcement authorities. This makes the sheer weakness of much of the government machinery in Pakistan very evident.

    Then there are Pakistan's relations with the CIA and the west – element four. There are few surprises here, except perhaps the depth of Pakistani animosity. "American arrogance knows no limit," Pasha told the authors. Their own views appear much the same, if expressed in marginally more measured tones. Overall the report gives every indication that, when it comes to the "rollercoaster of US-Pakistan relations", the current heart-stopping descent will not bottom out for some time.

    Finally, element five, there is the existence of the report at all. It appears, against most expectations, to be a serious, sober piece of work. It is no whitewash but a savage piece of self-analysis. Even the ISI is explicitly criticised for overstepping its remit, for its mindset and for failing to properly monitor four phone numbers of suspected militants when given numbers by the CIA in 2010. These, it turned out, belonged to the crucial courier who later led the CIA to Bin Laden.

    No Pakistani government agency or institution comes out unscathed. The civilian and military leadership showed "breathtaking incompetence and irresponsibility", the report says. In one section, repeated military interventions are criticised for creating a vicious circle that undermines the capacity of civilian institutions.

    Given the sensitivity of the issue and the political pressures on the authors, this is remarkable. It suggests that those optimists who, in the aftermath of a successful election and transition of power, believe that in some areas at least there is progress in Pakistan might just be right.


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