Friday, December 22, 2006

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From my Raw Story article, The redacted Iran op-ed revealed:

The New York Times has taken the unusual step of publishing an op-ed in which parts of the contents have been "redacted" or blacked out by government censors, who believe that its contents would reveal "sensitive" information that the White House wants to withold. Below is RAW STORY's best informed guess at what might hide behind the redactions.

In addition to the redacted op-ed, the Times published an explanatory note from its authors, Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann. Leverett served in the Bush National Security Council under Condoleezza Rice, and is now affiliated with the Washington, DC-based Brookings Institution. Hillary Mann is an ex-foreign service officer who participated in US dialogue with Iran from 2001 to 2003.

Leverett and Mann made available a set of publicly-available sources of information which they had " the board to demonstrate that all of the material the White House objected to is already in the public domain." However, as they noted, "to make sense of much of our Op-Ed article, readers will have to read the citations for themselves."

RAW STORY has examined these sources and has attempted to connect the previously published materials to the redacted paragraphs in the op-ed. What the information reveals is a series of events in which US-Iran dialogue broke down. In the aftermath of 9/11, the cooperative spirit around the world sparked by America's victimhood encouraged Iran to collaborate with the United States in its effort to topple the Taliban in Afghanistan. But the goodwill that might have been sustained by those early negotiations was undermined by a series of disputes between the US and Iran.

Read the entire article, bannered as "Raw Story decodes censored Iran op-ed" at this link.

One tiny redaction I didn't touch on was the last redaction in the op-ed:

Our experience dealing with xxxx xxxx Iranian diplomats over Afghanistan and in more recent private conversations in Europe and elsewhere convince us that Iran will not go down such a dead-end road again. Iran will not help the United States in Iraq because it wants to avoid chaos there; Tehran is well positioned to defend its interests in Iraq unilaterally as America flounders. Similarly, Iran will not accept strategically meaningful limits on its nuclear capabilities for a package of economic and technological goodies.

My best "informed guess" would be that the words "U.S. and" were redacted. My second best "informed guess" would be that the words were "U.K. and."

(Special thanks to Raw Story's Michael Roston for shaping my scribblings into something cohesive.)


Brad DeLong offers a "Guess at the Unredacted Leverett-Mann Op-Ed," by going the extra route and inserting lines Madlibs-style. His second "unredacted" paragraph (beginning with "In December 2001..." regarding Hekmatyar), in particular, looks perfect, and I think he's right about "European and" (rather than my "U.S. and" or "U.K. and" stabs) as the final redaction.

And thanks again to Michael Roston for e-mailing me a link to another take by Arms Control Wonk (the link to the post doesn't seem to be working, so here's a link to the entire blog).

And here's a link to another Raw Story article which "flashbacks" to Larisa Alexandrovna's work on Mujaheddin-e-Khalq (the terrorist group which may have had all references to from the draft of the Leverett-Mann op-ed completely removed).

Update #2

At the community website, Reddit, a user named "smacfarl" offers what he calls a "laughable crude attempt to supply context to the redaction based on the Raw Story selections."

I'd say he's being a little hard on himself, because he makes some nice choices (especially in the paragraph which he begins with "Richard Armitage accused...").

One thing that strikes me is that by redacting two words in one of the paragraphs, the Bush Administration may have accidently confirmed something that they seemed to be very worried of drawing attention to.

From Leverett-Mann's second redacted paragraph:

In December 2001, xxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx x Tehran to keep Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the brutal pro-Al Qaeda warlord, from returning to Afghanistan to lead jihadist resistance there. xxxxx xxxxxxx so long as the Bush administration did not criticize it for harboring terrorists. ....

I'd say the censors screwed up by leaving the word "Tehran" in the first sentence, because knowing that it's pretty simple to assume that the next sentence almost definitely appears to be "Iran agreed" or some variation (Brad DeLong, smacfarl both "agreed" on that redaction while Dr. Jeffrey Lewis went with "Tehran agreed").

In other words, the White House did more than redact something already available in the "public domain," they basically confirmed that Iran had been keeping a "brutal pro-Al Qaeda warlord" from leaving to Afghanistan since December of 2001, who had reportedly threatened against a U.S. invasion of Afghanistan only one week after the September 11 attacks. Hekmatyar allegedly believed Osama bin Laden's first reported denial of involvement, and told the BBC that "if Afghanistan is attacked by America, then our nation has no other choice but to defend their country... The whole of our nation will stand against the attack on their country and... we will go and join our nation."

But after President Bush accused it of "export[ing] terror" as a member of the "axis of evil" in his January 29, 2002 State of the Union address, Iran either embarked on a series of actions in an attempt to patch things up or decided to toss a monkey wrench in the American-led efforts to stabilize the Afghanistan government.

Soon afterward, on February 10, 2002, Iran shut down Hekmatyar's Hezb-i-Islami offices, and on February 26, 2002, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported that Hekmatyar left Tehran, at the same time Afghan leader Hamid Karzai was visiting Iran (he'd reportedly been officially asked to leave on the eve of Karzai's arrival on the 24th for his three day visit).

Hekmatyar reportedly went to Afghanistan (or perhaps somewhere to some pro-militant part of Pakistan nearby), then a few weeks later, surprisingly backed Karzai's government on March 11, 2002, through a spokesman. The Hezb-i-Islami Party's deputy leader Qutbuddin Hilal told the press, at a conference held in Pakistan, that the former Afghan premier had been misquoted before, and that he "wanted to show to the world by leaving Iran that he was not the reason for strains in relations between Iran and the US."

But two months later, on May 6, 2002, the United States, reportedly on President Bush's direct orders, attempted to assassinate Hekmatyar with a "Hellfire anti-tank missile...fired by a CIA Predator drone," because, according to an unnamed American official quoted in the New York Times, "We had information that he was planning attacks on American and coalition forces, on the interim government, and on Karzai himself."

Later that year, on September 5, 2002, Karzai narrowly escaped an attempt on his own life, and Afghanistan's foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, blamed "al-Qaida, groups associated to al-Qaida remnants of the Taliban, and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar."

But it wasn't until February 19, 2003, nearly a year after Hekmatyar had left Iran, that the State Department designated him as a "Specially Designated Global Terrorist," in a press statement released by Richard Boucher:

The U.S. Government has information indicating that Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has participated in and supported terrorist acts committed by al-Qa’ida and the Taliban. Because of his terrorist activity, the United States is designating Hekmatyar as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist under the authority of Executive Order 13224. At the same time, the United States will request that the UN 1267 Sanctions Committee include Hekmatyar on its consolidated list of entities and individuals associated with Usama bin Laden, al-Qa’ida, and the Taliban, which would obligate all Member States to impose sanctions, including assets freezes, under UN Security Council Resolutions 1267, 1390, and 1455.

A few weeks ago, in a tape acquired by the A.P., Hekmatyar was quoted as predicting "that U.S. troops would be forced out of Afghanistan like the Soviets before them" and "tout[ing] the Republican defeat in the U.S. midterm elections as a victory for Islamic militants."

"It seems that every bullet that mujahedeen had fired toward the Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan has turned into a vote against Bush," Hekmatyar said.

Hekmatyar appears to be some sort of "flip-flopper," because in 2004 he supposedly supported the Bush-Cheney ticket, according to a Pak Tribune article:

Fugitive leader and one of the most wanted militant commanders Gulbuddin Hekmatyar said he would be pleased with President George W. Bush again winning presidential election to see how 'more stupidly' the US government will run the affairs in more five years.

In a statement titled 'Joint Message of Afghan and Iraqi Mujahideen,' Hekmatyar said let the White House be ruled another term by the Republicans to win more 'bad name for the US' in the world due to their failed policies.

"It is a good way to rid the world of the menace of US to continue the failed war policy. For this, US really need such a stupid and arrogant president (like Bush), a vice President like Cheney and a defence secretary like Rumsfeld to make a team of war," said the statement obtained by Pajhwok Afghan News.


He added the Bush-led war-loving team in the White House was not harmful for the Mujahideen if not beneficial, either. "To be honest, we and every opponent of US would be grieved if any team wiser than the Bush's come to the White House. All those who want to get rid of US's evils should encourage people to vote for the Republicans."


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