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

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    Leaked report into killing of al-Qaida chief criticises both Pakistan and US, which it says 'acted like a criminal thug'

    Pakistan failed to detect Osama bin Laden during the six years he hid in Abbottabad because of the "collective incompetence and negligence" of the country's intelligence and security forces, the official report into the killing of the al-Qaida chief in 2011 has concluded.

    The much anticipated report, a copy of which was obtained by al-Jazeera, is withering in its criticism of Pakistan's dysfunctional institutions, which were unable to find the world's most wanted man during his long stay in a major Pakistani city.

    "It is a glaring testimony to the collective incompetence and negligence, at the very least, of the security and intelligence community in the Abbottabad area," said the report, which criticised Pakistan's military spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI), for having prematurely "closed the book" on Bin Laden in 2005.

    Nor does the 336-page document rule out the possibility of involvement by rogue Pakistani intelligence officers, who have been accused of deliberately shielding Bin Laden by some commentators.

    "Given the length of stay and the changes of residence of [Bin Laden] and his family in Pakistan … the possibility of some such direct or indirect and "plausibly deniable" support cannot be ruled out, at least, at some level outside formal structures of the intelligence establishment."

    It warns that the influence of radical Islamists inside the armed forces had been "underestimated by senior military officials whom the commission met".

    The document also gives a fascinating glimpse into the day-to-day life of Bin Laden: according to an account given to the Abbottabad Commission by his wives, he wore a wide-brimmed cowboy hat to avoid detection from spy satellites above, liked to have an apple and a bit of chocolate to perk himself up when he was feeling weak, and encouraged his grandchildren to compete over who could tend the best vegetable patch.

    The children of one of Bin Laden's trusted Pakistani couriers knew him as "Miskeen Kaka", or "poor uncle" – after one asked why the tall Arab never went out on shopping expeditions, the child was told he was too poor to buy anything.

    The document also reveals the tantalising moment when the car bin Laden was riding in was stopped by police in the picturesque region of Swat. The policeman was not quick-witted enough to spot the then clean shaven bin Laden and the group were allowed to pass.

    In addition to its scorching criticism of Pakistani institutions, the document reflects official fury at the behaviour of the US. It concludes the US "acted like a criminal thug" when it sent the special forces raiding party into Pakistani territory.

    It says that the incident was a "national tragedy" because of the "illegal manner in which [Bin Laden] was killed along with three Pakistani citizens".

    It says the operation on 2 May 2011 was an "American act of war against Pakistan" which illustrated the US's "contemptuous disregard of Pakistan's sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity in the arrogant certainty of its unmatched military might".

    Begun soon after the dramatic US raid, the judge-led inquiry by the Abbottabad commission heard testimony from some of the country's most important players, including the ISI chief, Ahmad Shuja Pasha, who shared much of the authors' despair about Pakistan, warning that it is a "failing state".

    With frank discussion of some of the country's most sensitive issues, there were real fears it would never be published.

    In remarks that will be seized on by critics of the CIA's use of drone strikes against suspected militants inside Pakistan, Pasha admitted to a "political understanding" on the issue between Islamabad and the US – something Pakistan has always officially denied.

    Pasha said there were no written agreements, and that Pakistan did subsequently attempt to stop drone attacks, but added that "it was easier to say no to them at the beginning".

    The former spy chief was scathing about the quality of Pakistan's civilian leadership, accusing his nominal boss, the defence minister, of failing to have read "the basic documents concerning defence policy". "There was simply no culture of reading among the political leadership," and "the thinking process was also non-existent".

    The report also contains much criticism of the US, in particular the CIA for its failure to share intelligence fully with the ISI.

    At one point, the CIA gave Pakistan phone numbers to monitor that would ultimately help identify Bin Laden's personal courier – the all-important lead that eventually brought the manhunt to the al-Qaida chief's Abbottabad home. The CIA never explained the significance of the phone numbers and the ISI failed to properly monitor them, the report said.

    But in a striking echo of US unwillingness to share intelligence with its Pakistani partners, Pasha also said the ISI was reluctant to work with Pakistan's own law enforcement organisations because "there were too many instances where information shared with the police had been compromised".

    His evidence highlights the ISI's distrust of and anger at the CIA, which Pasha claimed deliberately prevented Pakistan from claiming the glory for finding Bin Laden, which he said would have improved Pakistan's international reputation.

    The "main agenda of the CIA was to have the ISI declared a terrorist organisation", he is quoted as saying.

    Pasha reports the words of a US spy: "You are so cheap … we can buy you with a visa, with a visit to the US, even with a dinner … we can buy anyone."

    The report asks whether the ISI had been compromised by CIA spies. One lieutenant colonel who "disappeared" with his family the day after the Abbottabad raid had a profile that "matched that of a likely CIA recruit".

    The document repeatedly returns to what it describes as "government implosion syndrome" to explain the failure of any institution to investigate Bin Laden's unusual hideout.

    "How the entire neighbourhood, local officials, police and security and intelligence officials all missed the size, the strange shape, the barbed wire, the lack of cars and visitors … over a period of nearly six years beggars belief," it says.

    It notes that the house was even declared uninhabited in an official survey of the area, even though 26 people were living there at the time.

    It says Bin Laden must have required a support network "that could not possibly have been confined to the two Pashtun brothers who worked as his couriers, security guards and general factotums".

    The report says: "Over a period of time an effective intelligence agency should have been able to contact, infiltrate or co-opt them and to develop a whole caseload of information. Apparently, this was not the case."

    It also expresses shock that the US helicopters carrying members of Navy Seal team six were not spotted as they swooped in over Abbottabad on 2 May. A lack of operational radar meant the Pakistani air force only became aware of the attack from media reports after it was over.


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    Osama bin Laden hid from spy satellites under a cowboy hat, did not pay property taxes and had a run-in with a traffic policeman

    1 Osama bin Laden's 10-year stay in Pakistan was a cock-up on the part of Pakistani intelligence, not a conspiracy. The Abbottabad commission said "collective incompetence and negligence" by the intelligence agencies was the main reason the al-Qaida chief remained undetected for so long. However, it could not rule out some degree of "plausibly deniable" support at "some level outside formal structures of the intelligence establishment".

    2 A traffic policeman could have ended the hunt for the world's most wanted man soon after 2001. Long before Bin Laden and his family moved to Abbottabad he hid in Swat, a region north of Islamabad that was then still popular with tourists. While travelling with one of his two trusted Pakistani henchmen his car was pulled over for speeding. A few words from Bin Laden's bodyguard "quickly settled the matter". Bin Laden, who shaved his beard at the time, was simply driven away.

    3 Bin Laden was fully aware of the need to hide from US spy satellites. Much has been reported about the difficulty the CIA had in determining whether the tall man pacing around the compound was the al-Qaida chief. He was even in the habit of standing under a grape trellis. One of Bin Laden's wives, who survived the attack on the compound and was interviewed by the commission, revealed another technique: he wore a wide-brimmed cowboy hat when outside.

    4 Osama was a man of frugal tastes. Before coming to Abbottabad he had just six pairs of shalwar qameez, the long-tailed shirt suit that is Pakistan's national dress – three for summer and three for winter. He also had one jacket and two sweaters. The lack of possessions in the house prompted some Abbottabad locals to tell the inquiry that they did not believe Bin Laden had been at the house for long and that he probably moved between locations.

    5 Pakistan suffers from "governance implosion syndrome". The problem of the country's dysfunctional and incompetent institutions are vividly illustrated time and again by the report's authors. Of particular concern is the unwillingness of the ISI, Pakistan's well-resourced military spy agency, to share important intelligence with the police. The former spy chief Ahmad Shuja Pasha told the commission: "We are a failing state even if we are not yet a failed state."

    6 For the children, life was one of simple pleasures. None of the children were free to go outside the compound, but Bin Laden tried to entertain his grandchildren by encouraging them to compete against each other in tending their vegetable patches. He had less contact with the children of his two trusted Pakistani couriers. Supposedly they were kept in the dark about his true identity and told he never went to the bazaar because he did not have any money for shopping. Thereafter they nicknamed him Miskeen Kaka, or Poor Uncle. His cover was partly blown when one of the children saw him on a news report, prompting an immediate television ban.

    7 Abbottabad is home to lots of soldiers – and terrorists. It is often referred to as a "garrison town" because of the presence of Pakistan's military academy. However, the report makes clear that terrorists also favour it. One resident told the commission that the town was free of terrorist attacks precisely because so many militant families lived there. A house belonging to Abu Faraj al-Libi, a senior al-Qaida commander, was raided less than a mile from Bin Laden's compound, the report said. Umar Patek, one of the Bali bombers, was caught in Abbottabad in January 2011. The report says it is very likely that he was helped by the same al-Qaida network that assisted Bin Laden, and his interrogation should have turned up "actionable intelligence".

    8 Bin Laden did not pay property taxes and flouted local building regulations. The property was bought using a fake national ID card, the third floor was built illegally and the occupants did not pay taxes. The commission said all of these things should have attracted attention. Local officials blamed negligence, corruption and staff shortages. The report says: "Either OBL was extremely fortunate to not run into anyone [committed] to doing his job honestly, or there was a complete collapse of local governance."

    9 Pakistan's spies deeply distrust their US counterparts. The evidence given by Pakistan's former spy chief contains fascinating insights into how the ISI views the Americans. According to Pasha, the "main agenda of the CIA was to have the ISI declared a terrorist organisation". He did not think the CIA refused to share intelligence with the ISI because they did not trust their Pakistani counterparts, but because the US wanted to deny Pakistan the credit for nabbing the world's most wanted man.

    10 More details of apparent CIA activity in Abbottabad. These "ground assets" could have included personnel to guide the US special forces helicopters to the house. The report said "suspicious activities" included the cutting down of trees to clear the approach of the helicopters and the renting of a nearby house for people supposedly working for the United States Agency for International Development. Vehicles from the US embassy in Islamabad were spotted heading towards Abbottabad shortly before the raid.


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    The tone may sound honest, but the notion that Bin Laden entered Pakistan in 2002 without the ISI's knowledge is risible

    After the US helicopter assault on Osama bin Laden's quarters in Abbottabad and his assassination by navy Seals in 2011, a shaken Pakistani government set up a commission of inquiry, presided over by a retired judge, Javed Iqbal. Its findings, a part of which was leaked to al-Jazeera this week, reveal the country's intelligence agencies at loggerheads and in a general state of confusion.

    The evidence of General Pasha, the former chief of the Pakistani intelligence agency ISI, is particularly interesting, with its account of Bin Laden's travels in Pakistan following the war on Afghanistan, and explanation of how one of his aides used his Pakistani identity card to buy a plot of land not far from the Pakistan military academy. Many of these details are fascinating and the tone of the report may strike many as honest and self-critical. Yet it is worth clarifying that the overall thrust of the report is to exonerate the intelligence agencies by effectively accepting the official version that the ISI and the Federal Investigation Agency were unaware of Bin Laden's presence in the country.

    The notion that Bin Laden, family and bodyguards left Afghanistan and entered Pakistan in 2002 without the knowledge and help of the ISI is risible. The report is weak on background. For example, it fails to explain that the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan was made possible only by heavy Pakistani involvement on every level: the operation was viewed by Pakistan's general headquarters as a total success, the first in its entire history. The control of Kabul and the southern part of the country supposedly provided Islamabad with "strategic depth".

    The links between the ISI and the Taliban regime were intimate. There were differences on some issues but treated by the senior partner as little more than lovers' tiffs. After 9/11, the Pakistani military were instructed by Washington to facilitate the Nato occupation. General Musharraf, then president of Pakistan, asked for more time and was given two weeks. An American general warned that if Pakistan did not help it would be bombed to extinction. Musharraf caved in. This resulted in enormous tensions within the army, which was now being asked to reverse its only military triumph and help topple a government it had created. The high command held firm, but military dissidents organised three attempts on Musharraf's life and the jihadi groups funded by the ISI went rogue.

    This was the political atmosphere in which Bin Laden arrived in the country. Whatever the ISI's failings on the political level, there is little doubt that it is an extremely effective intelligence outfit. Its surveillance techniques are obviously not on the level of the NSA or GCHQ, but its network of well-trained agents do the business as some of their victims have testified. There is no way that Bin Laden could have slipped into the country unnoticed. He was provided with help at the highest levels in an operation that was regarded as top secret and his whereabouts were known only to three or four people, heads of the intelligence agencies.

    I was informed of all this some years ago by a source in the intelligence services who had no idea where Bin Laden was but confirmed that he was in a safe house somewhere in the country. According to this source Pakistan, would hand him over if necessary, but the problem was that George W Bush only wanted his dead body and the Pakistanis were not prepared to kill "the golden goose". Obviously, nobody within the establishment (retired or not) is going to admit as much to a commission of inquiry, and Justice Iqbal could only pronounce on the basis of the evidence he was able to hear. The resulting report, as self-critical as it may sound, is therefore still a partial cover-up, as it had to be.

    As far as the navy Seals are concerned, the question considered was whether the Pakistani military had any advance notification. The report suggests not and is extremely critical of the government for "dereliction of duty", concluding that "political, military intelligence and bureaucratic leadership cannot be absolved of their responsibility for the state of governance, policy planning and policy implementation that eventually rendered this national failure almost inevitable".

    Perhaps. On the other hand, as General Pasha informed the inquiry, a US spy (whether CIA or DIA was not made clear) had told him contemptuously that "we can buy anyone in your country". Anyone? In which case why should one exclude the possibility that a bought person in the military helped with logistics? The details provided in this report offer a number of clues that need further exploration.


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    Final witness delivers blistering testimony warning if Manning is guilty of 'aiding the enemy' all media outlets could face charges

    The defence has rested its case in the trial of the WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning, rounding off its portrayal of the US soldier as a young man who accepted that he was wrong to have leaked a vast trove of state secrets but who had no "general evil intent" to "aid the enemy".

    Having called just 10 witnesses over the space of three days, the defence phase of the trial was brought to a close far quicker than expected. The defence had indicated in earlier hearings that it intended to call more than 40 witnesses, although many may yet still be presented in court during the post-verdict sentencing stage of the court martial.

    By contrast, the prosecution took 14 days to make its case, drawing on 80 witnesses.

    On Wednesday, the defence team lead by the civilian lawyer David Coombs, focused its attentions on the most serious charge facing the Army private – that he "aided the enemy" by transmitting information to WikiLeaks knowing that it would be accessible to enemy groups notably al-Qaida. Manning faces a possible sentence of life in military custody with no chance of parole under this single charge.

    The final defence witness called, the Harvard law professor Yochai Benkler, delivered blistering testimony in which he portrayed WikiLeaks as a legitimate web-based journalistic organisation. He also warned the judge presiding in the case, Colonel Denise Lind, that if the "aiding the enemy" charge was interpreted broadly to suggest that handing information to a website that could be read by anyone with access to the internet was the equivalent of handing to the enemy, then that serious criminal accusation could be levelled against all media outlets that published on the web.

    Benkler, who is co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard, was accepted by the court as an expert on the future of journalism in the digital age, despite prosecution attempts to have him disqualified. Under defence questioning, according to a transcript of the court proceedings provided by the Freedom of the Press Foundation, Benkler roundly dismissed any connection between WikiLeaks and terrorist organisations and damned as "a relatively mediocre effort" a counter-intelligence report titled "Wikileaks.org – An Online Reference to Foreign Intelligence Services, Insurgents, or Terrorist Groups?".

    The US government has leant heavily on that report in making its case against the army private, telling the court that there had been forensic evidence that Manning had accessed the document on several occasions. But Benkler said that the report did the opposite of what the government intended – it showed WikiLeaks in the light of a journalistic organisation: "In many places it describes WikiLeaks staff as writers or editors," he said.

    Benkler told the court that in his reading of the Pentagon report, "there is little doubt that [WikiLeaks] is a journalistic, hard-hitting journalistic investigative organisation".

    Amid the legal argument over Benkler's expert credentials, one of the great ironies of the Manning trial emerged in court. In seeking to drive home the "aiding the enemy" charge, the government has presented evidence gathered during the 2011 raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in which Osama bin Laden was killed, that the al-Qaida leader personally requested Wikileaks material to read.

    But Coombs revealed in court that according to stipulated testimony that has not yet been made public, Bin Laden only asked to see the WikiLeaks files after his curiosity was piqued by the US government's own description of WikiLeaks as an organisation helpful to America's enemies. It was the government's own rhetoric, Coombs said, that drew the al-Qaida chief's attention to the website; the defence attorney said this was an important example of how a legitimate journalistic organisation could be turned into a terrorist outfit "upon response of the government".

    The "rhetoric is what drives the enemy to actually go look at WikiLeaks, not the actual publication of the information," Coombs said.

    With the close of the defence case, the trial now moves rapidly towards its climax. On Monday, legal argument will open over four defence motions to have seven of the 22 counts against Manning dismissed on grounds of lack of evidence or inappropriate use of charges. The prosecution has also asked permission to rebut the defence case that the soldier had no actual knowledge that by leaking to WikiLeaks he was causing damage to the US – a key element in several of the most serious charges including "aiding the enemy" and counts brought under the 1917 Espionage Act.

    In his opening statement, Coombs described Manning as a naive but well-intentioned young man who had no desire to harm his country. In the course of legal argument over Benkler's testimony, the defence lawyer added that "the actual release was wrongful, and he's accepted responsibility for that. But it was not wanton."


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    Comprehensive report from Abbottabad Commission describes US raid on Pakistani compound as a 'criminal act of murder'



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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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    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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    Leaked report into killing of al-Qaida chief criticises both Pakistan and US, which it says 'acted like a criminal thug'

    Pakistan failed to detect Osama bin Laden during the six years he hid in Abbottabad because of the "collective incompetence and negligence" of the country's intelligence and security forces, the official report into the killing of the al-Qaida chief in 2011 has concluded.

    The much anticipated report, a copy of which was obtained by al-Jazeera, is withering in its criticism of Pakistan's dysfunctional institutions, which were unable to find the world's most wanted man during his long stay in a major Pakistani city.

    "It is a glaring testimony to the collective incompetence and negligence, at the very least, of the security and intelligence community in the Abbottabad area," said the report, which criticised Pakistan's military spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI), for having prematurely "closed the book" on Bin Laden in 2005.

    Nor does the 336-page document rule out the possibility of involvement by rogue Pakistani intelligence officers, who have been accused of deliberately shielding Bin Laden by some commentators.

    "Given the length of stay and the changes of residence of [Bin Laden] and his family in Pakistan … the possibility of some such direct or indirect and "plausibly deniable" support cannot be ruled out, at least, at some level outside formal structures of the intelligence establishment."

    It warns that the influence of radical Islamists inside the armed forces had been "underestimated by senior military officials whom the commission met".

    The document also gives a fascinating glimpse into the day-to-day life of Bin Laden: according to an account given to the Abbottabad Commission by his wives, he wore a wide-brimmed cowboy hat to avoid detection from spy satellites above, liked to have an apple and a bit of chocolate to perk himself up when he was feeling weak, and encouraged his grandchildren to compete over who could tend the best vegetable patch.

    The children of one of Bin Laden's trusted Pakistani couriers knew him as "Miskeen Kaka", or "poor uncle" – after one asked why the tall Arab never went out on shopping expeditions, the child was told he was too poor to buy anything.

    The document also reveals the tantalising moment when the car bin Laden was riding in was stopped by police in the picturesque region of Swat. The policeman was not quick-witted enough to spot the then clean shaven bin Laden and the group were allowed to pass.

    In addition to its scorching criticism of Pakistani institutions, the document reflects official fury at the behaviour of the US. It concludes the US "acted like a criminal thug" when it sent the special forces raiding party into Pakistani territory.

    It says that the incident was a "national tragedy" because of the "illegal manner in which [Bin Laden] was killed along with three Pakistani citizens".

    It says the operation on 2 May 2011 was an "American act of war against Pakistan" which illustrated the US's "contemptuous disregard of Pakistan's sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity in the arrogant certainty of its unmatched military might".

    Begun soon after the dramatic US raid, the judge-led inquiry by the Abbottabad commission heard testimony from some of the country's most important players, including the ISI chief, Ahmad Shuja Pasha, who shared much of the authors' despair about Pakistan, warning that it is a "failing state".

    With frank discussion of some of the country's most sensitive issues, there were real fears it would never be published.

    In remarks that will be seized on by critics of the CIA's use of drone strikes against suspected militants inside Pakistan, Pasha admitted to a "political understanding" on the issue between Islamabad and the US – something Pakistan has always officially denied.

    Pasha said there were no written agreements, and that Pakistan did subsequently attempt to stop drone attacks, but added that "it was easier to say no to them at the beginning".

    The former spy chief was scathing about the quality of Pakistan's civilian leadership, accusing his nominal boss, the defence minister, of failing to have read "the basic documents concerning defence policy". "There was simply no culture of reading among the political leadership," and "the thinking process was also non-existent".

    The report also contains much criticism of the US, in particular the CIA for its failure to share intelligence fully with the ISI.

    At one point, the CIA gave Pakistan phone numbers to monitor that would ultimately help identify Bin Laden's personal courier – the all-important lead that eventually brought the manhunt to the al-Qaida chief's Abbottabad home. The CIA never explained the significance of the phone numbers and the ISI failed to properly monitor them, the report said.

    But in a striking echo of US unwillingness to share intelligence with its Pakistani partners, Pasha also said the ISI was reluctant to work with Pakistan's own law enforcement organisations because "there were too many instances where information shared with the police had been compromised".

    His evidence highlights the ISI's distrust of and anger at the CIA, which Pasha claimed deliberately prevented Pakistan from claiming the glory for finding Bin Laden, which he said would have improved Pakistan's international reputation.

    The "main agenda of the CIA was to have the ISI declared a terrorist organisation", he is quoted as saying.

    Pasha reports the words of a US spy: "You are so cheap … we can buy you with a visa, with a visit to the US, even with a dinner … we can buy anyone."

    The report asks whether the ISI had been compromised by CIA spies. One lieutenant colonel who "disappeared" with his family the day after the Abbottabad raid had a profile that "matched that of a likely CIA recruit".

    The document repeatedly returns to what it describes as "government implosion syndrome" to explain the failure of any institution to investigate Bin Laden's unusual hideout.

    "How the entire neighbourhood, local officials, police and security and intelligence officials all missed the size, the strange shape, the barbed wire, the lack of cars and visitors … over a period of nearly six years beggars belief," it says.

    It notes that the house was even declared uninhabited in an official survey of the area, even though 26 people were living there at the time.

    It says Bin Laden must have required a support network "that could not possibly have been confined to the two Pashtun brothers who worked as his couriers, security guards and general factotums".

    The report says: "Over a period of time an effective intelligence agency should have been able to contact, infiltrate or co-opt them and to develop a whole caseload of information. Apparently, this was not the case."

    It also expresses shock that the US helicopters carrying members of Navy Seal team six were not spotted as they swooped in over Abbottabad on 2 May. A lack of operational radar meant the Pakistani air force only became aware of the attack from media reports after it was over.


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    Osama bin Laden hid from spy satellites under a cowboy hat, did not pay property taxes and had a run-in with a traffic policeman

    1 Osama bin Laden's 10-year stay in Pakistan was a cock-up on the part of Pakistani intelligence, not a conspiracy. The Abbottabad commission said "collective incompetence and negligence" by the intelligence agencies was the main reason the al-Qaida chief remained undetected for so long. However, it could not rule out some degree of "plausibly deniable" support at "some level outside formal structures of the intelligence establishment".

    2 A traffic policeman could have ended the hunt for the world's most wanted man soon after 2001. Long before Bin Laden and his family moved to Abbottabad he hid in Swat, a region north of Islamabad that was then still popular with tourists. While travelling with one of his two trusted Pakistani henchmen his car was pulled over for speeding. A few words from Bin Laden's bodyguard "quickly settled the matter". Bin Laden, who shaved his beard at the time, was simply driven away.

    3 Bin Laden was fully aware of the need to hide from US spy satellites. Much has been reported about the difficulty the CIA had in determining whether the tall man pacing around the compound was the al-Qaida chief. He was even in the habit of standing under a grape trellis. One of Bin Laden's wives, who survived the attack on the compound and was interviewed by the commission, revealed another technique: he wore a wide-brimmed cowboy hat when outside.

    4 Osama was a man of frugal tastes. Before coming to Abbottabad he had just six pairs of shalwar qameez, the long-tailed shirt suit that is Pakistan's national dress – three for summer and three for winter. He also had one jacket and two sweaters. The lack of possessions in the house prompted some Abbottabad locals to tell the inquiry that they did not believe Bin Laden had been at the house for long and that he probably moved between locations.

    5 Pakistan suffers from "governance implosion syndrome". The problem of the country's dysfunctional and incompetent institutions are vividly illustrated time and again by the report's authors. Of particular concern is the unwillingness of the ISI, Pakistan's well-resourced military spy agency, to share important intelligence with the police. The former spy chief Ahmad Shuja Pasha told the commission: "We are a failing state even if we are not yet a failed state."

    6 For the children, life was one of simple pleasures. None of the children were free to go outside the compound, but Bin Laden tried to entertain his grandchildren by encouraging them to compete against each other in tending their vegetable patches. He had less contact with the children of his two trusted Pakistani couriers. Supposedly they were kept in the dark about his true identity and told he never went to the bazaar because he did not have any money for shopping. Thereafter they nicknamed him Miskeen Kaka, or Poor Uncle. His cover was partly blown when one of the children saw him on a news report, prompting an immediate television ban.

    7 Abbottabad is home to lots of soldiers – and terrorists. It is often referred to as a "garrison town" because of the presence of Pakistan's military academy. However, the report makes clear that terrorists also favour it. One resident told the commission that the town was free of terrorist attacks precisely because so many militant families lived there. A house belonging to Abu Faraj al-Libi, a senior al-Qaida commander, was raided less than a mile from Bin Laden's compound, the report said. Umar Patek, one of the Bali bombers, was caught in Abbottabad in January 2011. The report says it is very likely that he was helped by the same al-Qaida network that assisted Bin Laden, and his interrogation should have turned up "actionable intelligence".

    8 Bin Laden did not pay property taxes and flouted local building regulations. The property was bought using a fake national ID card, the third floor was built illegally and the occupants did not pay taxes. The commission said all of these things should have attracted attention. Local officials blamed negligence, corruption and staff shortages. The report says: "Either OBL was extremely fortunate to not run into anyone [committed] to doing his job honestly, or there was a complete collapse of local governance."

    9 Pakistan's spies deeply distrust their US counterparts. The evidence given by Pakistan's former spy chief contains fascinating insights into how the ISI views the Americans. According to Pasha, the "main agenda of the CIA was to have the ISI declared a terrorist organisation". He did not think the CIA refused to share intelligence with the ISI because they did not trust their Pakistani counterparts, but because the US wanted to deny Pakistan the credit for nabbing the world's most wanted man.

    10 More details of apparent CIA activity in Abbottabad. These "ground assets" could have included personnel to guide the US special forces helicopters to the house. The report said "suspicious activities" included the cutting down of trees to clear the approach of the helicopters and the renting of a nearby house for people supposedly working for the United States Agency for International Development. Vehicles from the US embassy in Islamabad were spotted heading towards Abbottabad shortly before the raid.


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    The tone may sound honest, but the notion that Bin Laden entered Pakistan in 2002 without the ISI's knowledge is risible

    After the US helicopter assault on Osama bin Laden's quarters in Abbottabad and his assassination by navy Seals in 2011, a shaken Pakistani government set up a commission of inquiry, presided over by a retired judge, Javed Iqbal. Its findings, a part of which was leaked to al-Jazeera this week, reveal the country's intelligence agencies at loggerheads and in a general state of confusion.

    The evidence of General Pasha, the former chief of the Pakistani intelligence agency ISI, is particularly interesting, with its account of Bin Laden's travels in Pakistan following the war on Afghanistan, and explanation of how one of his aides used his Pakistani identity card to buy a plot of land not far from the Pakistan military academy. Many of these details are fascinating and the tone of the report may strike many as honest and self-critical. Yet it is worth clarifying that the overall thrust of the report is to exonerate the intelligence agencies by effectively accepting the official version that the ISI and the Federal Investigation Agency were unaware of Bin Laden's presence in the country.

    The notion that Bin Laden, family and bodyguards left Afghanistan and entered Pakistan in 2002 without the knowledge and help of the ISI is risible. The report is weak on background. For example, it fails to explain that the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan was made possible only by heavy Pakistani involvement on every level: the operation was viewed by Pakistan's general headquarters as a total success, the first in its entire history. The control of Kabul and the southern part of the country supposedly provided Islamabad with "strategic depth".

    The links between the ISI and the Taliban regime were intimate. There were differences on some issues but treated by the senior partner as little more than lovers' tiffs. After 9/11, the Pakistani military were instructed by Washington to facilitate the Nato occupation. General Musharraf, then president of Pakistan, asked for more time and was given two weeks. An American general warned that if Pakistan did not help it would be bombed to extinction. Musharraf caved in. This resulted in enormous tensions within the army, which was now being asked to reverse its only military triumph and help topple a government it had created. The high command held firm, but military dissidents organised three attempts on Musharraf's life and the jihadi groups funded by the ISI went rogue.

    This was the political atmosphere in which Bin Laden arrived in the country. Whatever the ISI's failings on the political level, there is little doubt that it is an extremely effective intelligence outfit. Its surveillance techniques are obviously not on the level of the NSA or GCHQ, but its network of well-trained agents do the business as some of their victims have testified. There is no way that Bin Laden could have slipped into the country unnoticed. He was provided with help at the highest levels in an operation that was regarded as top secret and his whereabouts were known only to three or four people, heads of the intelligence agencies.

    I was informed of all this some years ago by a source in the intelligence services who had no idea where Bin Laden was but confirmed that he was in a safe house somewhere in the country. According to this source Pakistan, would hand him over if necessary, but the problem was that George W Bush only wanted his dead body and the Pakistanis were not prepared to kill "the golden goose". Obviously, nobody within the establishment (retired or not) is going to admit as much to a commission of inquiry, and Justice Iqbal could only pronounce on the basis of the evidence he was able to hear. The resulting report, as self-critical as it may sound, is therefore still a partial cover-up, as it had to be.

    As far as the navy Seals are concerned, the question considered was whether the Pakistani military had any advance notification. The report suggests not and is extremely critical of the government for "dereliction of duty", concluding that "political, military intelligence and bureaucratic leadership cannot be absolved of their responsibility for the state of governance, policy planning and policy implementation that eventually rendered this national failure almost inevitable".

    Perhaps. On the other hand, as General Pasha informed the inquiry, a US spy (whether CIA or DIA was not made clear) had told him contemptuously that "we can buy anyone in your country". Anyone? In which case why should one exclude the possibility that a bought person in the military helped with logistics? The details provided in this report offer a number of clues that need further exploration.


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    Final witness delivers blistering testimony warning if Manning is guilty of 'aiding the enemy' all media outlets could face charges

    The defence has rested its case in the trial of the WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning, rounding off its portrayal of the US soldier as a young man who accepted that he was wrong to have leaked a vast trove of state secrets but who had no "general evil intent" to "aid the enemy".

    Having called just 10 witnesses over the space of three days, the defence phase of the trial was brought to a close far quicker than expected. The defence had indicated in earlier hearings that it intended to call more than 40 witnesses, although many may yet still be presented in court during the post-verdict sentencing stage of the court martial.

    By contrast, the prosecution took 14 days to make its case, drawing on 80 witnesses.

    On Wednesday, the defence team lead by the civilian lawyer David Coombs, focused its attentions on the most serious charge facing the Army private – that he "aided the enemy" by transmitting information to WikiLeaks knowing that it would be accessible to enemy groups notably al-Qaida. Manning faces a possible sentence of life in military custody with no chance of parole under this single charge.

    The final defence witness called, the Harvard law professor Yochai Benkler, delivered blistering testimony in which he portrayed WikiLeaks as a legitimate web-based journalistic organisation. He also warned the judge presiding in the case, Colonel Denise Lind, that if the "aiding the enemy" charge was interpreted broadly to suggest that handing information to a website that could be read by anyone with access to the internet was the equivalent of handing to the enemy, then that serious criminal accusation could be levelled against all media outlets that published on the web.

    Benkler, who is co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard, was accepted by the court as an expert on the future of journalism in the digital age, despite prosecution attempts to have him disqualified. Under defence questioning, according to a transcript of the court proceedings provided by the Freedom of the Press Foundation, Benkler roundly dismissed any connection between WikiLeaks and terrorist organisations and damned as "a relatively mediocre effort" a counter-intelligence report titled "Wikileaks.org – An Online Reference to Foreign Intelligence Services, Insurgents, or Terrorist Groups?".

    The US government has leant heavily on that report in making its case against the army private, telling the court that there had been forensic evidence that Manning had accessed the document on several occasions. But Benkler said that the report did the opposite of what the government intended – it showed WikiLeaks in the light of a journalistic organisation: "In many places it describes WikiLeaks staff as writers or editors," he said.

    Benkler told the court that in his reading of the Pentagon report, "there is little doubt that [WikiLeaks] is a journalistic, hard-hitting journalistic investigative organisation".

    Amid the legal argument over Benkler's expert credentials, one of the great ironies of the Manning trial emerged in court. In seeking to drive home the "aiding the enemy" charge, the government has presented evidence gathered during the 2011 raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in which Osama bin Laden was killed, that the al-Qaida leader personally requested Wikileaks material to read.

    But Coombs revealed in court that according to stipulated testimony that has not yet been made public, Bin Laden only asked to see the WikiLeaks files after his curiosity was piqued by the US government's own description of WikiLeaks as an organisation helpful to America's enemies. It was the government's own rhetoric, Coombs said, that drew the al-Qaida chief's attention to the website; the defence attorney said this was an important example of how a legitimate journalistic organisation could be turned into a terrorist outfit "upon response of the government".

    The "rhetoric is what drives the enemy to actually go look at WikiLeaks, not the actual publication of the information," Coombs said.

    With the close of the defence case, the trial now moves rapidly towards its climax. On Monday, legal argument will open over four defence motions to have seven of the 22 counts against Manning dismissed on grounds of lack of evidence or inappropriate use of charges. The prosecution has also asked permission to rebut the defence case that the soldier had no actual knowledge that by leaking to WikiLeaks he was causing damage to the US – a key element in several of the most serious charges including "aiding the enemy" and counts brought under the 1917 Espionage Act.

    In his opening statement, Coombs described Manning as a naive but well-intentioned young man who had no desire to harm his country. In the course of legal argument over Benkler's testimony, the defence lawyer added that "the actual release was wrongful, and he's accepted responsibility for that. But it was not wanton."


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    Comprehensive report from Abbottabad Commission describes US raid on Pakistani compound as a 'criminal act of murder'



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