Daniel Pearl, Caught Between Two Wars

By Margie Burns

The murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Pakistan, apparently with Pakistani government connivance, in January 2002, was the consequence of not only a mighty heart but also a perfect storm.

A deadly confluence of three different, simultaneous developments, between the action in Afghanistan in late 2001 and early war plans against Iraq at the beginning of 2002, brought about Pearl’s killing. First, the US administration at this time began to put pressure on Omar Saeed Sheikh, a Pakistani probable double agent who was linked to both al Qaeda and Pakistan’s secret service, the ISI. Second, Daniel Pearl engaged in sensitive inquiries connecting al Qaeda to elements in the Pakistani government including the ISI. Third, the US administration was pushing for war with Iraq, applying pressure internally and on allied heads of state, while also adopting measures destined to inflame Islamist partisans further.

Developments over this short period moved in deadly sync. In Pakistan, Daniel Pearl was already pursuing leads about a 9/11 paymaster in December 2001, while U.S. policymakers and their media cohort were focused on Iraq, and had published articles in the Wall Street Journal linking Pakistani officialdom to the terrorists it was ostensibly pursuing.

With Pearl already in Pakistan, on Jan. 9, 2002, the US Ambassador to Pakistan, Wendy Chamberlin, officially asked the Pakistani government for assistance in arresting and extraditing a Pakistani named Saeed Sheikh. Saeed Sheikh’s financial connection to 9/11 hijackers had been reported by Oct. 7, 2001. According to the administration, a US grand jury had indicted Saeed Sheikh in November 2001 for the kidnapping of an American citizen back in 1994—raising some question as to why he was not indicted for the financial link to the hijackers. For further background, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf himself speculates, in his 2006 book, that Sheikh may have been recruited by the British intelligence service MI6 back in the 1980s while studying in London, went to Bosnia in support of Muslims there at MI6’s behest, and then later became a double agent. Sheikh was among sources and contacts targeted by Pearl.

Regrettably—considering the sensitivity of the 9/11 investigations—also on Jan. 9 the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice submitted a memorandum to William J. Haynes II, General Counsel to the Department of Defense. The memo, written by Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo and Special Counsel Robert J. Delahunty, became the basis for rejecting the Geneva Convention for captured alleged members of al Qaeda and Taliban, heightening tensions and impeding cooperation with investigations in the Arab world.

Two days later, on Jan. 11, according to the timeline compiled by independent researcher Paul Thompson and the Center for Cooperative Research, began the luring of Daniel Pearl that led to his kidnapping and murder.

There is no public record of a November 2001 indictment of Saeed Sheikh.

On Jan. 19, 2002, Sheikh—a British financial expert who had studied at the London School of Economics, who sent hijacker Mohamed Atta $100,000 the month before 9/11 and who was known to have trained some of the hijackers—moved out of his house in Lahore, Pakistan, known to the authorities, where he was living with his wife and child. On the same day, again regrettably, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld issued a memorandum ordering the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to inform combat commanders that “Al Qaeda and Taliban individuals ... are not entitled to prisoner of war status for purposes of the Geneva Conventions of 1949.”

On Jan. 22, further putting the squeeze on Saeed Sheikh, FBI Director Mueller visited India, where investigators told him that Sheikh sent ransom money to 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta in the US (already reported in October 2001 by Knight Ridder). Within a few days, Sheikh was outed, publicly blamed for associating with an Islamist guerrilla named Aftab Ansari in financing Atta and organizing other terrorist attacks. Coincidentally, the day of Mueller’s visit, the Office of Legal Counsel issued a memorandum from Jay S. Bybee for Alberto R. Gonzales, Counsel to the President, and William J. Haynes II, General Counsel of the Department of Defense, Re: Application of Treaties and Laws to al Qaeda and Taliban Detainees. This Bybee memo reinforced the Yoo-Delahunty memo.

The next day, Daniel Pearl was kidnapped. Pearl’s kidnapping occurred the evening of the 23rd. That day, the San Jose Mercury News, basing its information on reporting from India, had named Omar Saeed Sheikh as a person who sent money to the 9/11 hijackers. The Los Angeles Times did the same, also reporting from India, and also reported the killing by Indian police of Indian gangster Asif Raza Khan, an associate of Saeed Sheikh and Aftab Ansari.

On Jan. 24, FBI director Mueller and Ambassador Chamberlin discussed Saeed at a previously scheduled meeting with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Saeed’s role in the kidnapping of Daniel Pearl was not yet known, but reports that he was a 9/11 paymaster were increasing in Britain and the US. The following day, as it happened, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales sent a memo to President Bush advising Bush that “there are reasonable grounds for you to conclude” that the Geneva Convention “does not apply ... to the conflict with the Taliban.”

There was no sign of Pearl, but on Jan. 28, his kidnappers issued some implausible demands. Calling themselves “The National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty,” an unknown name, they demanded among other things the sale of US F-16 fighters to Pakistan—a wish-list item for the ISI and the Pakistani military rather than for militants.

On Jan. 29, a Pakistani official, apparently in the ISI, revealed publicly that Pearl was Jewish. Author Paul Thompson at cooperativeresearch.org suggests that this timely item may have been intended to ensure that Pearl would be murdered. On the same day, UPI reported that US officials believed the ISI was connected to the kidnapping. Also on the same date, Bush gave his second State of the Union address, notable for its “axis of evil” catchphrase and its focus on Iraq.

Daniel Pearl was murdered two days later.

On Feb. 5, Saeed Sheikh, by now thought to be behind the kidnapping, turned himself in—not to Pakistani police, but to the ISI. On the same day, his colleague Ansari—also with ties to both al-Qaeda and the ISI—was arrested in the United Arab Emirates, after pressure by FBI Director Mueller.

Saeed Sheikh’s apparent role in the kidnapping of Pearl was reported in the news media on Feb. 6, and the ISI turned him over to Pakistani police on Feb. 12. We do not know yet what information the administration was pursuing on Pearl during these days—but the OVP was actively pursuing intelligence on a purported Iraq-Niger uranium deal. The day Pearl was reported dead, Feb. 21, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson left on his ill-fated trip to Niger.

While large areas of inquiry remain, so do large caches of information. One cache is those missing White House emails from the first Bush term. Another is the thousands of emails sent outside government channels.

Another cache was generated by the CIA leak investigation. As CIA briefer Craig R. Schmall testified at the trial of Lewis Libby, Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, the tables of contents of the CIA briefing binders for that period still exist. At what point were Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld briefed on Pearl’s kidnapping, and to what effect?

This is not morbid curiosity. If the Pakistanis were desperate enough to abduct Pearl, then either he was on to something, or at the very least they thought he was.

Margie Burns is a Texas native who now writes from Washington, D.C. Email margie.burns@verizon.net. See her blog at www.margieburns.com

From The Progressive Populist, May 15, 2008

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