Clear headed thinking. Very refreshing.
I will never forget the unmitigated horror of watching as the United States openly switched sides in the 2011 “Arab Spring,” abandoning allies in the war on terror (jihad) to support those same jihadist forces instead. There was precious little company in the press gallery on this one as US media, shouting slogans of “revolution” and “democracy,” blindly failed to perceive or actually covered up the obvious truth: The US, with NATO, was now supporting the Other Side — the same Other Side that had struck us in 9/11, killed and maimed our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and threatened Western liberty everywhere. It was in this crazy atmosphere, John Rosenthal’s independent reporting from Europe provided essential information and context.
John’s long-awaited book, The Jihadist Plot: The Untold Story of Al-Qaeda and the Libyan Rebellion, is now out from Encounter. It contains much new information on this shameful, perplexing, dangerous episode — whose jarring reverberations, by the way, have yet to play out.
Here is our Q & A.
DW: Whose side is the United States on in Syria?
John Rosenthal: Objectively, we are on the same side as Jabhat al-Nusra in the Syrian conflict. The administration’s listing of Jabhat al-Nusra as a terror organization changes nothing in this regard and amounts in fact to a kind of sleight of hand. It allows the administration to claim that it is supporting the Syrian rebellion, but somehow not its “extremist” component. But this distinction is completely bogus. The response to the listing from other rebel brigades — many of which hastened to express their solidarity with Jabhat al-Nusra — makes this clear. Jabhat al-Nusra is part of the mainstream of the Syrian rebellion. If it is extremist, then so is the rebellion as such.
DW: You explain in your book that in mid-2011, the US changed sides in the so-called war on terror, which was originally mounted as a war against Al Qaeda; and, moreover, that the US media missed this story. Could you state the case in brief?
JR: The US changed sides in the “war on terror” during the 2011 Libya conflict and it did so in two senses. In the first place, it did so by virtue of forming an alliance with some of the very same Islamic extremist forces that it had been combating for the previous decade. As I show in the book, the military backbone of the rebellion against Muammar al-Qaddafi was formed by cadres of the so-called Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG). The LIFG was listed as an al-Qaeda-linked terror organization by both the US government and the UN Security Council. It was, in effect, the Libyan chapter of al-Qaeda and had a long shared history with the al-Qaeda “mothership” of Osama bin Laden. Several of the leaders of the rebellion had in fact been previously detained by US authorities, either during the invasion of Afghanistan or in subsequent covert counter-terror operations. In the Libyan war, the US and its NATO allies were providing air support to troops led by these very same people.
The second sense in which the US changed sides in the “war on terror” concerns terror itself as a tactic. I know you are not a fan of the expression “war on terror” and I agree, of course, that it is very problematic. But, as I say in the book, the expression at least had the
advantage of making clear that the US abhorred terror as a tactic, regardless of the ideological background of the groups employing this tactic. But from the very first weeks of the Libyan rebellion — well before it was possible to know just who the rebels were — there was already abundant evidence that the rebels were employing terrorist tactics. This
evidence included videos documenting torture, the summary execution of detainees, and at least one beheading — a beheading that was particularly horrific by virtue of the fact that it occurred in public in front of a cheering crowd.
It would have previously been impossible to imagine the US making common cause with groups that decapitate their perceived enemies. In the meanwhile, in Syria, it has become the new normal, and apparently no one is shocked anymore to hear about Syrian rebel forces that behead Syrian soldiers or real or perceived supporters of Bashar al-Assad. During the Libyan war, however, the media — including both old and new media — for the most part simply ignored the evidence of rebel atrocities. What I heard at the time was that it was not possible to “verify” the videos. But the fact is that they made no effort to verify them. Moreover, media like CNN had no problem broadcasting “unverified” videos that allegedly documented atrocities committed by pro-Qaddafi forces. Those videos, by the way, almost surely showed atrocities that were likewise committed by the rebels.
Similarly, at least until the rebellion triumphed, the American media either ignored or hushed up the al-Qaeda connections of the rebel leadership. They did so even though one rebel commander, Abdul-Hakim al-Hasadi, was happily holding forth to European reporters about his jihadist past in Afghanistan and his support for al-Qaeda in Iraq.