KhashoggiGate Continued.

19 Oct

By Sherifa Zuhur.


The #Saudi actors who ordered #Khashoggi‘s death were aware he had requested his proof of divorce document. They told him on September 28th that he had to return to the Saudi consulate on October 2nd.  They hadn’t anticipated his fiancee’s telephone call to Yasin Aktay, a Turkish official close to Erdogan, after she had waited for him to emerge from the consulate in vain. This call had some swift consequences. Turkish authorities rushed to the airport where one of the planes leaving with part of the murder team was about to depart, but they apparently found nothing of interest and allowed the plane to take off.

The Turkish intelligence agency, MIT decided to review an audio-visual feed from inside the consulate. This is not a legal bugging, but it is understood that there is surveillance on consulates and embassies.  “Grisly details [from the AV feed] suggest that Khashoggi was tortured then killed soon after entering the consulate.”


Had Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancee, not been present that afternoon, or not called Aktay, the Turks wouldn’t have suspected as soon as they did that Khashoggi had been killed. The information about that clandestine AV feed’s contents was leaked over the week as the Saudis were swift to deny, and slow to cooperate with the investigation (the joint investigators were finally admitted to the consulate on Monday of this week).

Saudi Twitter bots attacked Cengiz viciously. They accused her of not being Khashoggi’s fiancee, made much of a photoshopped photo of them together, and even accused her of being a male Muslim Brotherhood figure. In Saudi Arabia, a new restriction was passed to punish sedition on social media. Meanwhile people in West were trying to wrap their heads around the audacity of the murder, wondering how the team thought they would get away with it. Saudi-observers reiterated that even the kidnapping of another country’s (Lebanon) prime minister (Hariri), arrests of female activists and the outrageous abduction, confinement and shakedown of senior Saudi princes by MbS at the Ritz-Carlton hotel had not brought any serious consequences down on MbS thus far.

Inside KSA, there is radio silence on #Khashoggi‘s case from figures who typically comment on important events – a senior journalist and editor; a leading woman journalists, in Saudi Facebook groups. Obviously everyone is afraid. The point is made in this article that prior to MbS, there were channels for differences of opinion.–for-the-worse/2018/10/18/f48eaafc-d254-11e8-83d6-291fcead2ab1_story.html?utm_term=.9a37a91eef8e

#Khashoggi‘s main danger to Muhammad bin Salman was a) he insulted President #Trump (mildly) b) he was an insider and  knows a great deal about inter-Saudi loyalties c) he also had assessed #KSA‘s failures in regional policy in depth, and would likely have opposed Kushner’s ME peace deal d) opposed torture and imprisonment of his colleagues and fellow countrymen.

To those who can’t understand the brazenness of whoever ordered this hit, and obtained a green light from MbS, you must realize that it is foremost a #Saudi message to #SaudiArabians. Think of the purpose of public executions held in Saudi Arabia — deterrence.

The royal court is upset; there are reports that some suggested that #Khalid bin Salman might be appointed as the deputy crown prince. Muhammad bin Salman would remain as crown prince unless a larger faction within al-Sa’ud family change their stance. Following the Ritz-Carlton shakedown, too many fear him.

There are also rumors and reports that United States wants to weigh in on that decision. Well, the US is NOT part of the succession process; but of course it is heavily influential – a situation that is resented by some Saudi Arabians.

Reportedly, some princes insisted to meet with MbS and/or with each other and these meetings were held clandestinely. When news was floated that MbS would accuse General al-Asiri (another figure close to the Crown Prince and who has been the ‘face’ of the Saudi campaign on Yemen) some were shocked that MbS would try to quickly shift blame from himself.  This only increased the anxiety of other Saudi royals.

Saud al-Qahtani, a media advisor of MbS, known as Mr. Hashtag and with the reputation of an enforcer, hasn’t been seen at his office since October 9th. He was active on Twitter, now someone else is supposed to be managing his Twitter account.

The #Saudi succession process has been changed and fine-tuned in recent years; these changes, and the weakness of previous Crown Prince allowed for the appointment of Muhammad bin Salman. That represented a leap forward to the next generation of Saudi royals. Due to that bold move, Muhammad bin Salman sought to consolidate his power and undermine his enemies with the “anti-corruption campaign” whereby he imprisoned key Saudis and forced them to pay him off. This was pulled off with relatively little criticism in the Western press, probably because of the Crown Prince’s increasing proximity to Trump and the Kingdom’s media campaign through image consultants.

It is key to understand that the al-Sa’ud family need to maintain unity. Otherwise, the entire basis of their rule could be shaken. That has been achieved or at least managed through family councils during other periods of turmoil. If a Deputy Crown Prince is appointed, then we might also expect some other purges of figures closely associated with Muhammad bin Salman up to now.

I also wanted briefly to mention the red herring that Saudi bots (and US conservatives) have thrown into the mix linking Khashoggi to the Muslim Brotherhood organization. The Muslim Brotherhood were not political enemies in Saudi Arabia until recently; many were (and remain) within the educational system, and a strand influenced Saudi Arabia’s neo-salafis. Muslim Brotherhood from Egypt and Syria fled to KSA decades ago, where they were monitored but permitted to stay.

They also hold governmental and educational positions in Kuwait, Bahrain, Jordan (their cousins in Morocco, Gaza, Tunisia). It is in Egypt that the group was outlawed since 2013, and Saudi Arabia went along with this stance.   A senior journalist claimed Khashoggi joined the Muslim Brotherhood “in the 70s” – but recall, he was in that decade, 11 to 21 years old. And then he left the organization.  He has associates and friends who are in various groups which either support (like Turkey’s AKP) or are in favor of Muslim Brotherhood ideals, inasmuch as they are anti-corruption, and in more recent decades, pro-democracy (as their support base enlarged).

But it’s a terrible mistake to see the Khashoggi assassination as a Qatar/Turkey or MB plot (for which there is no motive) and not useful to utilize these divisions as key regional determinants.  In the MENA, the mixture of political trends cannot easily be reduced to pro- or anti- Ikhwan.   No, Khashoggi was a loyal Saudi, who did not oppose the al-Sa’ud’s rule, but he tried to stand up to some of its current actions – imprisonment and torture of activists, kidnappings, suppression of the press.

I fear that a new Deputy Crown Prince won’t fix these problems.




Naseeha to President Trump and Others on #KhashoggiGate

15 Oct

By Sherifa Zuhur.

Reactions to Jamal al-Khashoggi’s assassination, have ranged from despair from activist Manal al-Sharif, journalists’ sorrow and outrage, official demands for information from the UK, France and Germany to statements of support for Saudi Arabia by various Arab countries.

Jamal Khashoggi’s keen eye and voice on regional policy has also been lost. An official response is needed to underline non-tolerance for assassination and deter future similar actions.

It may be challenging for the Trump administration to craft a response to the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Arabia, since that country is so important to the U.S.’s current regional policy and business interests. Nevertheless, journalists, policy advisors, and those who support the U.S.’s moral role to support human rights internationally must urge it to act beyond bluster and prevarication.

On Monday, President Trump on echoed the Saudi King Salman’s denial of the Kingdom’s involvement in the murder of veteran journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Trump said after speaking with Salman, “He firmly denied that.” And “it sounded to me like these [murderers] could have been rogue killers. Who knows?” This notion had earlier come up in a call between the Saudi King and Turkey’s President Erdogan. Surely Trump’s advisors are capable of explaining the identities and government links of certain of the fifteen member Saudi team which traveled to Istanbul, was admitted to the embassy and residence, conveyed by chartered aircraft and in diplomatic vehicle, and that no such operation proceeded without the highest levels of approvals.

Trump cited the joint investigation being carried out by Turkey and the U.S. and dispatched Secretary of State Pompeo to the region. It’s unclear how thorough this investigation will be, and if it will include alleged audio (and now visual) evidence earlier claimed in Turkish leaks. A cleaning crew was spotted Monday prior to the entrance of investigators without any tools or protective gear. The integrity of the murder scene may have been compromised in the days between Oct. 2 and 14.

The first order of business is for the President and Pompeo to respond to the international audience without repetitions of Saudi disavowals and denials of responsibility.  Communications at the highest level, particularly in the absence of a U.S. ambassador, are symbolic, but not meaningless. It is possible to assure an ally that one is listening, but does not agree.


Whether the Saudis continue to state that the assassination team sent to Istanbul was a rogue operation, and the Turkish authorities release their compelling evidence or not, this should mark a turning point in U.S.-Saudi relations.

Trump’s options include:

*Breaking off of diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia.

This seems unlikely given Trump’s initial comment that Khashoggi was not a U.S. citizen, although he is a U.S. resident, which indicates some confusion about the status of human rights, are they for U.S. citizens only? Side note: there is no U.S. ambassador in Saudi Arabia for the Saudis to summon, or request to leave, but some action would be taken.

*Cancel or put off promised arms sales to the Kingdom. The President has already stated his disinclination to do so to avoid the loss of U.S. jobs in the defense sector. Congress could step in; Senator Rubio has in fact promised that it would if the President does not act, but this was contingent on a determination that Khashoggi was murdered.

If Congress took such an action, in adopting sanctions which impacted arms sales, this might either postpone them, or set moratorium on future sales could be announced to be cancelled if progress towards civil freedoms in Saudi Arabia is assessed.   How would this occur? Think of something similar to the annual report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedoms, perhaps a joint body made up of governmental and other monitoring organizations in a series of periodic executive reports.

*Congress, not the president must order an investigation into the lack of warning given to Khashoggi on intelligence received concerning plots against him, and the precise nature of that intelligence. It must also seek to understand if names of dissidents were passed to Muhammad bin Salman or those who work for him by individuals in the U.S. even to include Jared Kushner. Normally information obtained in this manner is not shared with the public unless someone is prosecuted for a crime related to national security. In this case, an exception should be made.

*acting to slow visa issuances. The Department of State could slow down visa issuance and cut back on the numbers of Saudi students admitted into the U.S. Trump’s likely response to such a suggestion would probably be negative. Similar actions were taken following 9/11 and then reversed. I’ve never considered these to be a good idea because students need education and exposure to the world, but a temporary action may send the desired message to the Saudi government.

*Some advised stepping back from the U.S. reliance on Saudi Arabia, which has been reinforced under the anticipation of a Kushner et al. ME peace plan.  Or, for pushing for a resolution to the Qatar – Saudi Arabia and UAE feud or ending U.S. cooperation with the war on Yemen.   Iran’s performance on human rights is as disastrous as Saudi Arabia;its regional ambitions are extremely strong and cooperation in any bargain is dubious. Thus while some action must be taken vis Saudi Arabia, the alternative is not to be found in Tehran at this time. Ending cooperation with the war on Yemen is strongly problematic with Ansarallah still active in Sana’a, but I agree that U.S. participation in the air bombing campaign could and should cease. The squabble with Qatar has been a distraction and a foolish effort to “end Islamism” by targeting one variety of that trend, whilst leaving others in place. However, none of these actions would ensure the integrity of exiles, journalists or civil society’s actors in the future without an explicit commitment to do so.

*Some called for King Salman to name a different Crown Prince. There is talk for instance about different candidates, or that the King might name a Deputy Crown Prince. More discussion of MbS writing a letter of resignation or  temporarily stepping down during an investigation has been active since Erdogan announced that he will disclose a lot in his AKP parliamentary meeting on Tuesday Oct. 23rd.  But this may be wishful thinking by parties already angered by this and many other incidents. This is not up to Trump, and note his previous silence during the months when Muhammad bin Salman tightened his grip on power, imprisoning other family members and Saudis in the Ritz-Carlton hotel under the guise of an “anti-corruption campaign.” But if the U.S. has little influence on political succession, it certainly can demand an end to thuggery.

The US can also call for the release those imprisoned or detained on political charges now, from Loujain to Raif al-Badawi to Hatoon al-Fassi. And a lifting a travel bans placed on many Saudis including the family members of Jamal Khashoggi.

Horrifying Attack on Jamal Khashoggi

12 Oct

This drama is 9 days old.  Khashoggi disappeared after entering the Saudi embassy in Istanbul on Feb. 2nd. He had gone there with no appointment on Sept. 28th but was told he must return to obtain his record of divorce so he could remarry.  He and his fiancee planned to marry on Feb. 3rd.

I haven’t yet processed this event.  As tweep Tanti Nazeeha put it I feel a huge “sense of gloom.”  They can kill you anywhere, anytime and in any manner they want.


I wanted to post this article here in the meantime regarding the U.S.’ duty to have informed Khashoggi of an intercepted threat against his life.



Revealing Intelligence on Jamal Khashoggi

By Carrie Cordero  

Wednesday, October 10, 2018, 10:19 AM



Washington Post Global Opinions columnist Jamal Khashoggi has been missing since entering the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on Oct. 2. As of this writing, Turkish officials have said that they believe Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate, and details are emerging regarding the timing of his entry, where Turkish security cameras were located and the entry and exit of Saudi officials precisely around the time of Khashoggi’s disappearance. The Saudi Arabian government denies involvement or knowledge of his whereabouts.

The manner in which Turkish officials have revealed new details raises questions about what other  intelligence information the government of Turkey—or other governments—may have available to them that might reveal or confirm what has happened to Khashoggi. Turkish officials are clearly being cautious by speaking to reporters without named attribution, but they are also providing—as evidenced by this New York Times report—highly detailed information regarding their conclusions.

Deciding whether and how much intelligence information to reveal can be a difficult call for a country unaccustomed to revealing its intelligence methods, especially when it involves such sensitivities as diplomatic facilities. But sometimes the gravity of a situation requires exposing intelligence collection activities.

Although not involving the same global awareness or foreign relations sensitivities, here’s an example of something that happened in the United States, decades ago:

Around 1991, the FBI was conducting surveillance of a U.S. citizen, Zein Hassan Isa, inside the United States for foreign intelligence purposes. The surveillance was directed at Isa in his home in Missouri and, in accordance with U.S. law, was conducted pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Accordingly, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) had approved the surveillance based on a probable cause finding that Isa was an agent of a foreign power. Under normal circumstances, this type of surveillance would not be revealed publicly unless an individual was prosecuted for a national security-related crime—espionage or terrorism, for example. But in this case, the U.S. Attorney General made an exception. He authorized the use of the evidence at Isa’s murder trial, which meant that the surveillance became public.

The surveillance recorded tapes that revealed Isa, with his wife’s assistance, stabbed their 16-year-old daughter to death in the family’s home. According to later written narratives of the case, Tina Isa had become too Americanized, and her father was enraged when he found her at home with a boyfriend. In his mind, perhaps, she had betrayed him, or their heritage.

Based on public reports, the picture that is emerging is that there is intelligence information Turkish officials or other international partners may have that either provides evidence of or information about what has happened to Khashoggi. Reports that U.S. intelligence may have had some advanced information regarding a plot to harm Khashoggi raises additional questions about intelligence services’ duty to warn. Under normal circumstances, intelligence services would want to protect their sources, whether human or technical. Intelligence services in Turkey and elsewhere likely have additional information that would shed light on events leading up to Khashoggi’s disappearance. The Turkish government may need to reveal sources it does not want to reveal if the Saudi Arabian government continues to deny involvement despite evidence Turkey has in its possession. Alternatively, one way for other countries to assist the Turkish government in protecting its sources while following through on its apparent desire to provide information to the public would be for cooperating governments to create a joint statement based on combined intelligence regarding threats to and the disappearance and alleged murder of Khashoggi.

Sometimes the greater public interest is served by releasing information, even if it means revealing how the information was obtained. This is such a case.

This article was accessed here:


Pres. Trump’s 10/18 National Strategy for Counterterrorism

6 Oct

In the past, I was asked to respond to earlier National Strategies and the QDR. After I responded, my boss, Steve Metz would castigate my comments, but our research group as a whole might have some useful discussion. I indulged in this on Twitter and assemble the comments here.


Dr. Sherifa Zuhur‏ @SherifaZuhur


The White House: “President Trump has released a new National Strategy for Counterterrorism that will protect American citizens and interests at home and abroad.” (the Executive Review section). Do continue to read the actual document here:


My response is that this new strategy will not make our nation safer; in other words less safe than it might be if the strategy involved building a true international partnership in counterterrorism.

Part of the dilemma concerns partisan political themes which have been embedded in this strategy, which itself should be non-partisan. Naturally, the document is constrained by a certain level of vagueness or generality, and perhaps its crafters will elaborate. Probably not to me, however.


This NSCT was written for Pres. #Trump, not by him. He neither understands nor supports key elements in it. It declares that “America First does not mean America alone” yet Trump’s words & actions re. trade, diplomacy and foreign policy have attacked certain key partnerships abroad. And notably where terrorist influence has been strongest – thus attacking “US interests abroad.”

This strategy specifies “working with our North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Allies and partners” yet Trump has acted & issued statements which attack the import and purpose of NATO.

It claims to counter ALL #terrorists and “not focus on a single organization” yet, the President has given a thumbs up to white supremacists and the NRA, which stands in the way of important counters to domestic terrorism. Although the document eventually mentions certain right wing organizations, very odd examples are included, while major racist, fascist bodies in the U.S. are not.

Echoing President Trump’s comments in various public for a, the document self-congratulates on having ” liberated nearly all of” #ISIS‘ territory. Ask any expert on #ISIS: its franchises are active, dangerous and spread around the world.

The strategy’s stated goals rework and enhance Pres. George W. Bush’s “4 Ds” as stated in his NSCT of February ’03 in the ‘global war on terror’: to defeat (terrorists) deny (them sanctuary, support and sponsorship) diminish conditions which terrorists exploit, and defend the U.S. The authors of this National Strategy, fifteen years hence, have not thought through the contradictions implied by a fascist, nationalist America First framework as in the punitive actions on (legal and illegal) immigrants in defending “strong borders.”

Perhaps the greatest failures of this NSCt and previous Nat’l Strategies for Counterterrorism have been in failing to erase “Terrorists’ ability to radicalize, recruit, and mobilize to violence.” And in drawing too sharp a line between domestic and international attacks.   Meanwhile, the Islamic State (and other groups) found ways to inspire and claim the actions of individuals who were not initially closely connected to it, for the purposes of terrorism. It accepted a bay’3a (oath of fealty) simply by a telephone call, or other communication. This has exaggerated the reach of the organization but made it far more difficult to “end,” “deny,” or defeat.

Yet this Oct. ’18 NSCT red flags #refugees to #Europe as if a) #IS had not already created networks there and b) anti-#migration is a bona fide counterterrorism strategy!! It names two perpetrators in the ’15 #Paris attacks, who posed (important!) as refugees. This is as flawed an approach to grand strategy as was invading #Iraq while targeting #AlQaeda in #Afghanistan , without considering the impact of each action and their respective, yet conflicting sets of goals.

The authors of this NSCT guess that #ISIS, #AQ and ‘other groups’ (names a few, but notably NOT the Taliban (!)) will “probably prioritize regional goals over attacks against the homeland or US interests” But it doesn’t spell out the downside of such attacks, nor any need for or means of response.


It defines #Iran as the “most prominent” sponsor of state terror, via IRGC-QF & Hizbullah and others. But if nations like #Israel or the #US aren’t also sources of ‘state terror’, they must adhere to #Geneva conventions. Here, in a shocking short paragraph, we see the plan to retain Guantanamo. It will fool some readers because it claims that doing so is a “use” of the the Law of Armed Combat when in fact, prisoners in Guantanamo were treated with shocking and flagrant violations of the LOAC.   The retention of Guantanamo, and the ‘forever’ prisoners there continues to be Li a violation of LOAC. Moreover, this is a clearly partisan move by #Trump, he promised his supporters to keep #Gitmo open because Obama promised to close it. Its use actually endangers Americans everywhere and diminishes the shining status of the #US‘s claim to provide a ‘rule of law’ as a principle of governance.

Ironically, the new NSCT is weak in explaining exactly HOW it will “COUNTER EXISTING AND EMERGING TERRORIST FUNDING METHODS” (p. 24) – an area of great interest to the Dept. of the Treasury. For example, President Trump’s idle boast that the US could have prevented #ISIS from selling oil is sheer delusion; #IS sold some of that oil to #Assad who used it to continue making electricity. Many experts were well aware of #iS‘ funding methods since late 2012-2013 (for some elaboration see my chapter in ) but the US was markedly unable to interrupt them, as they consist of: voluntary donations in response to private fundraising; use of oil income, but also drugs, kidnapping ransoms, antiquities proceeds, & more – all documented, but with no off-switch. (President Assad’s supporting militias and thugs also obtained funds from such sources.)


This Stategy promises that the U.S. Government will “educate the public on how to prepare for, respond during, and quickly recover after an [terrorist] attack.” There are so many questions here! The government has failed to train schools to prepare for, respond to and recover from school shootings and most of all, it has failed to support gun controls, no doubt because of the active funding to political candidates by the National Rifle Association.


So now, the government is going to train all citizens, whether they are accessible in such institutions as schools or not. How will this training be shared? In electronic training courses (if like any I took through the U.S. Army, may God help everyone! Ok, learning to create a unique password in cases of kidnapping might be useful as well as how to resist spilling secrets under torture.)? On television? In direct mailed sets of information? Going door to door?

Under the section “countering violent extremist ideologies” this Strategy paradoxically asserts that 1) terrorist ideologies “contain elements w. enduring appeal” – yet 2) we will show “their claims are false & do not offer effective solutions.” This is also an area of counterterrorism which has been stunningly unsuccessful and has produced comedically ridiculous efforts such as media claims that certain terrorists were homosexuals, engaged in porm, or that an American Catholic could force Muslims not to use the word “jihad”, or convoluted claims, articles, papers and books trying to demonstrate that the outcomes of U.S. foreign policy have not been deleterious to Muslim populations abroad.


As this has been an area of failure resulting in a wave of recruitment to terrorist organizations of a 2.0 generation despite all manner of propagandistic “Narrative” builders, it seems especially crucial to explain and introduce some new element here, and not merely mention how the propaganda will be shared (using civil society, going online, etc. which are detailed)

Eid al-Adha Reflections

21 Aug

This year, I am completely isolated from my old family, my family when I was married, my ‘chosen family’ of friends (a few are here, but they are celebrating Eid with their own families, or they aren’t Muslim).  I am cut off from the funny little mosque in Carlisle PA with the friendly and completely disparate attendees and whose inner circle determined their own Eid date by their own moon-sighting, choosing to not follow Egypt or Saudi Arabia.

I’m reading about Israa al-Ghamgham of Qatif who may soon be beheaded in Saudi Arabia for protesting, and then I read five excellent short stories, or excerpts of stories about the Eid from Egypt – available here  (

These evoked all kinds of old memories about the Eid when I lived in Cairo.  As a student (beginning graduate school), I was supposed to live in the women’s dorm in Zamalak, but couldn’t stand it.  I moved into a flat on the 10th story of a building on Champillion St. not too far from the Judges’ syndicate, and the office of the filmmaker, Youssef Chahine.  In the street were the auto body repairmen; the block reverberated with the sound of hammers clanging on metal all day.  The bedroom had a mirrored ceiling, and there was a small cot near the bed; the simsar had indicated this was for a servant.  The building was guarded by three bawaba; one of whom could not speak, but he made noises of great indignation whenever I broke any of the unwritten rules of the building.  Their task was to prevent entry of any unwanted visitors, which could mean any and all visitors except for certain persistent vendors.

One such was the milk boy – not a boy, but not yet a man.  He forced me to buy gamoosa milk at least 3 times a week.  I explained that I didn’t drink milk, when he said all foreigners drank milk, but only put it in my coffee.  All my energy was used up in arguing with him not to come further into the flat than putting the milk in the refrigerator.  Occasionally, another man came and banged on the door and ranted on and on about the sins of the flat’s owner.  My friends were usually halted by the bawaba, unless I went downstairs to bring them up, until the middle of the year, when I shattered my kneecap and couldn’t walk properly for a long time (and moved to another flat on the ground floor with a roommate at the other end of Zamalak near the now-extinct footbridge to Imbaba).

I had been a vegetarian for more than 10 years, but after some extreme weight loss in my early 20s, I began eating meat and chicken again.  However, in Egypt in those years, there were restrictions on buying meat. One had to queue up at the butchers’ on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  I was still struggling with the switchup in Arabic dialect in my shopping, still asking for “banadura” instead of “tamatim,” and the names of the various cuts of meat were confusing.  I decided on the day before the Eid that I needed ground meat, and found just the right place and a small enough amount (I was going to go camping for most of the Eid holiday far away up beyond Marsa Matruh, and I didn’t want meat spoiling).  As I returned from classes and then shopping, the gruesome sights and sounds of animals being slaughtered in the streets were all around me.

As I entered the foyer of my building, the bawaba were slaughtering a huge animal right there — blood was all over the marble floor, on the walls and I ran past, not waiting for the elevator, up the 10 flights.  I can’t remember if I cooked the ground meat or not; I think not, but I didn’t venture out for the rest of the evening.  This memory of feeling Cairo suddenly turned into a slaughterhouse dissipated after the long drive up north and out into the desert, but I suppose I will always associate it with the Eid.  And long discussions at the time about how the First World can afford to embrace vegetarianism, non-smoking, and environmentalism, but Egypt could and should not, as people need their pleasures in this life (that roughly was the position of some other students).

This horror of meat and death returned when I lived in Damascus, and then again when I had married an Egyptian living in the U.S. and he told me that he planned to buy a lamb, and either split it with a friend, or bring it home and kill it in the bathroom.  He said that just to see me wince.  I urged him to buy no more than a quarter since we’d have to freeze much of that, and then I didn’t want any of it.


Sirhan Sirhan: The Forever Prisoner and Robert F. Kennedy’s Assassination. By Sherifa Zuhur

6 Jun


Most of the article below was published in Al Jazeera English‘s Opinion section on June 5th.  I haven’t blogged for a while, and so I thought I’d put the entire piece I wrote here.  This took me years to research.   Rose Lynn Mangan and Adel Sirhan explained certain details to me. Mangan who died in 2017, put her research online where it is still accessible.

Here is the AJ article:

Sirhan Sirhan’s crime is one mired in the tragedy of Palestine. If the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy was a conspiracy extending beyond Sirhan, then we may speculate about a power struggle between key American political forces. Sirhan’s 50 years in prison are colored by the failures of the U.S. criminal justice system in which racial disparities are apparent. A poor young unconnected Palestinian was easily convicted, and accused of political fanaticism. Today, Sirhan would likely have been charged with terrorism.

His case may remind us of the many Palestinian prisoners confined for years in Israel’s jails, and that some are ‘forever prisoners.’   Sirhan Sirhan has been denied 15 times. He was originally scheduled for release in 1984. Now 74 years old, this forever prisoner has served longer in jail than any Palestinian prisoner in Israel including Nael Barghouti, who was imprisoned for 33 years, released and then re-imprisoned.

Sirhan Bishara Sirhan was born on March 19, 1944 in Jerusalem, the fifth son of Christian Orthodox parents.   His father, Bishara, originally from Taybeh, worked for the British mandate government in Jerusalem’s water department, and his mother, Mary Muzher was from Bethlehem. Sirhan witnessed the bombing of Damascus Gate as a child, the death of his older brother, a man disemboweled by a bomb and other traumatic sights. In 1948, with Israel’s seizure of mandate and Arab properties, Sirhan’s father lost his job. The family had to move from Musrara to the Jordanian controlled area of East Jerusalem, where they shared a single room with 9 other families. They immigrated to the U.S. when Sirhan was 12, but his father returned to Palestine after a family dispute.

Sirhan had worked in several gas stations where two owners subsequently told the FBI he was an excellent worker, never made problems and never expressed any nationalist views. He attended horse races, was interested in becoming a jockey and was bright and completed two years of community college. He was fascinated with the idea of mind control. He also worked as an exercise boy at the Granja Vista Del Rio ranch, but was fired, after he fell from a horse and tried to collect insurance. He and his immigrant family were motivated to keep away from serious trouble, nor were they connected to any radical organizations. His sister Aida, married an American but came home to die at the age of 29 from leukemia in 1965.

Sirhan was not a gun person, but acquired a gun in March of 1968 “for target practice” from his brother when he asked him to find him one. He acted strangely in the days just prior to the assassination on June 5, 1968. He stated that he drove downtown that night because there was supposed to be an anniversary celebration of the Six Day War, but he had the wrong date. He stopped at the Ambassador Hotel, where he quickly drank four Tom Collins cocktails. Kennedy, who had won the California presidential primary elections, spoke in the main ballroom. In a change of previous security plans, he was guided to exit through the kitchen and pantry area. Kennedy was shaking busboy Jean Romero’s hand, when Sirhan, facing him, shot him. Five others were also hit and wounded: Paul Schrade, William Weisel, Ira Goldstein, Elizabeth Evans, and Irwin Stroll.

RFK had a small security detail. Congress did not authorize protection of presidential candidates until after his assassination. He wanted to be able to see and touch people, and he was reportedly averse to being spied on by the FBI. Two of his acting guards, Roosevelt Grier, a football player and Rafer Johnson, an Olympic star tackled Sirhan, and witnesses heard him say, “I can explain. I did it for my country.” An Ace security guard, Thane Eugene Cesar was standing behind RFK. There was also Bill Barry, an ex-FBI agent who had followed Kennedy into the kitchen pantry area, and two more Ace guards.

Numerous investigators and Sirhan’s later defense teams believe that a second shooter was involved. An audio recording made that night by a freelance reporter, Stanislaw Pruszynski revealed the sounds of up to thirteen bullets according to analysts and that there was insufficient time between certain firings for one weapon to have been used. Other details indicated that at least nine shots were fired.

Sirhan’s Cadet model Iver-Johnson .22 revolver had only eight bullets. Three bullets hit Kennedy, two remaining in his body and one tearing through his arm. A fourth bullet passed through his coat without injuring him. All three bullets traveled back to front, right to left, and upwards. The bullets remained in the bodies of the five others who were shot. It was claimed that the bullet that passed through Kennedy’s coat then made a U-turn and hit Schrade, standing behind Kennedy, in the head. There were three bullet holes in the ceiling and two bullets lodged in a door frame, which the LAPD destroyed, along with the ceiling tiles. I mention aspects of the evidence and ballistics because Sirhan’s researcher, Rose Lynn Mangan meticulously detailed these disparities and many others prior to her 2017 death.

According to the medical examiner and coroner, Thomas Noguchi, the bullet which impacted Kennedy behind his right ear was fired a distance of one inch, and no greater than two inches. Yet, according to witnesses, Sirhan was four to seven feet in front of him. Some held that he had turned his head at that moment and so Sirhan might have hit him. But it is problematic that Thane Eugene Cesar, the Ace security guard who stood behind Kennedy might have fired, indeed Don Schulman, an eyewitness was certain he had done so. Cesar claimed that he drew his weapon but that it was a .38 and it was never checked. In fact, he had owned a .22, which he claimed to have sold.

Sirhan’s attorneys William and Laurie Duseck maintain in a 2011 filing intended to lead to another appeal for Sirhan, that the bullet hitting Kennedy’s neck was not from Sirhan’s gun and the bullet in evidence was switched for another bullet. Not incidentally, William Pepper was the attorney for James Earl Ray in the trial for the murder of Martin Luther King and argues that a conspiracy took place then. Much earlier, criminalist Larry Baggett stated that the bullets hitting Kennedy and Wiesel were not fired by the same gun. The same was maintained by Professor Herbert McDonnell in a 1973 affidavit. Rose Lynn Mangan discovered many other anomalies, and mislabelings in the evidence, finding that the bullet that struck Kennedy in the neck, which should have read ‘TN31’ on its base, instead reads ‘DWTN.’ The LAPD seized all photographs taken at the scene by Scott Enyart as Sirhan was firing his gun. They returned only 20 percent of them, did not use them at trial. The photos went missing from the state archives. Enyart initiated a suit in 1996, but then the LAPD said they “found” the photographs. Enyart said they did not depict the events in the pantry, and then they were stolen prior to this civil trial.

Several witnesses claimed to have seen three persons entering, a woman in a polka dot dress with another man, and a man of Sirhan’s appearance and that afterwards she, with another man leaving the scene, was heard to have said “We got him. We killed Kennedy.” Then there was the claim that three CIA operatives were in the ballroom, named by filmmaker Shane O’Sullivan as David Sanchez Morales (El Gordo) who was supposed to be stationed in Laos, Gordon Campbell, both of whom had worked at the CIA base in Miami, JM-Wave, and George Joannides, chief of the psychological warfare operations at JM-Wave. Morales might have been motivated by what Cubans viewed as the Kennedy brothers’ betrayal in the Bay of Pigs incident.   But critics showed that Campbell was dead, and two Bulova salesmen were present, and others disputed Morales’ identification. Despite this possible red herring, Lisa Pease (she has a book coming out this year) has argued that CIA and FBI linked persons may have played a role in the cover-up of evidence tampering and failings in Sirhan’s first defense, and have been responsible for the assassination.

Sirhan claims to remember nothing, beyond parking, being led inside the hotel, being angry and drinking.   A clipping was found in his pocket which quoted Kennedy: “the United States should without delay sell Israel the 50 Phantom jets she has so long been promised.” More damning, a notebook was found in his home that contained repetitive scrawlings of “RFK must die.” His demeanor was, however, not of a drunk man. He refused to give his name, or any details when taken into custody, or even to speak in Arabic.

To Americans reading about the radical Palestinian political groups, which emerged in the wake of Black September 1970, it seemed a no-brainer that an Arab would become an assassin. As recently as May 24, 2018, an article in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper tried to characterize Sirhan as the first “lone wolf” killer. As someone who writes on terrorism, I’ve learned that most “lone wolves” are in fact not alone – they are assisted or instructed.

Sirhan’s notebook also contained a sentence that Kennedy must die by June 5th. It was suggested this was because it was the anniversary of the 1967 war, although the Sirhan family’s trauma and displacement was in 1948.   He and his defense and psychological experts have argued this writing and the shooting was done under hypnosis.   A version of how this might have been accomplished was fictionalized in Margaret Truman and Donald Bains’ murder Experiment in Murder, detailing the hypnosis and manipulation of a fictional Arab-American named Iskander Itani to murder a fictional U.S. president.

Why might others have wanted to kill Robert F. Kennedy? To prevent him from becoming president, perhaps ending the war in Vietnam sooner than occurred. Others held that he might succeed in uncovering who had killed his brother John. According to his own son, RFK had not supposedly accepted the official version of the JFK assassination.  He had expressed some suspicions of Lyndon B. Johnson’s involvement directly to Johnson. Many in the CIA felt that RFK had treated them unfairly. In any case, RFK’s death was a huge loss for the liberals and left in America, as he was charismatic, bore the Kennedy name, and had been expected to win the presidency and carry on his brother John’s legacy.   Due to Kennedy’s assassination, Hubert Humphrey ran for president and lost to Richard Nixon. That blocked any success in returning to the policies John Kennedy had initiated.

Sirhan’s testimony could not help him. Either he was political motivated or he was insane in the eyes of the public, except for those who began to believe that a conspiracy was at work. The idea of “diminished capacity” was too novel a concept in 1968. Furthermore many Americans didn’t understand Sirhan’s Palestinian identity, since many newspapers simply identified him as Jordanian. If they did know who the Palestinians were, they were unsympathetic.

Sirhan explained that he admired RFK, but felt betrayed by his staunch support of Israel and intent to send 50 bombers to Israel.   His defense attorneys argued that he had been hypnotized, and that due to his prior traumatic experiences, was not fully responsible due to diminished capacity. This defense was discounted. Some aspects of the evidence were never satisfactorily explained, and elements of the evidence were omitted or improperly recorded, or destroyed when controlled by the Special Unit Senator, rather than the Los Angeles Police Department.

Sirhan was sentenced to death in the gas chamber. However, the California Supreme Court ruled all capital cases to be a violation of California’s Constitution and his sentence was commuted to life in prison.   Sirhan was housed in San Quentin Prison. His brother, Adel and his mother would travel to San Francisco to see him and stayed with a Palestinian friend, who remembered Adel’s assertions, that Sirhan wasn’t responsible for the assassination, even though he opened fire. He was then transferred to CTF in Soledad until 1992, and then to the state prison in Corcoran.

While in he was in San Quentin, gunmen of the Black September group burst into the Saudi Arabian embassy in Khartoum on March 1, 1973, and took ten hostages including the U.S. ambassador to the Sudan, Cleo A. Noel, and the Deputy Chief of Mission, George Curtis Moore, the Saudi ambassador, Shaykh Abdullah al-Malhouk, his wife and children, and the Belgian and Jordanian charges d’affairs to Sudan. First the militants demanded the release of some members of the Bader-Meinhoff gang and Sirhan Sirhan. Then they asked for the release of 90 Arabs being held by the Jordanian government, including Abu Daoud. President Nixon refused to negotiate and the gunmen killed their three Western hostages, before they were captured by Sudanese authorities. The U.S. believed that Yasir Arafat was part of the direction of this operation and the PLO gave the order to kill the three hostages. This incident obviously did nothing to help Sirhan with his legal efforts at a reversal, a new trial or his parole hearings. He also could not assist himself by showing remorse for his crime, as he claimed not to remember it.

Sirhan’s subsequent attorney, Larry Teeter argued that his first attorney, Grant Cooper had been compromised by a conflict of interest and Sirhan won the right to a new trial   Teeter tried to have the venue for this new trial moved to Fresno, California and this motion was denied. Meanwhile Sirhan’s brother, Adel who had handled his affairs, died in the spring of 2001.

After 9/11 Sirhan was bizarrely accused of some connection to the suicide bombers because he had suddenly shaved his head and acquired a television just two days before the attacks. His brother Munir explained to me that Sirhan was watching the television during the attacks and had covered his head with a towel, as he was cold. Apparently the guards were suspicious of his mail, and that he was reading the Qur’an. Although Christian, he was trying to retain his knowledge of the Arabic language. The warden placed special restrictions on him; he was questioned by the FBI, and was unable to see visitors for a long period.

Teeter died in 2005, and Sirhan had no counsel for some years.   In 2011, Sirhan’s defense team Pepper and Duseck filed a motion for a new trial based on evidentiary claims. These were supposed to include the testimony of Nina Rhodes-Hughes, a witness in the pantry, who said despite her claim that there were two shooters, the authorities altered her account.   Besides Ms. Rhodes-Hughes, there were four others who heard more than eight shots, and there were other problematic details in evidence. The U.S. District Court rejected this motion.

Sirhan had also shot Paul Schrade, a Kennedy confidante, the director of the United Auto Workers union, who recovered. At the age of 91, he testified at Sirhan’s 2016 parole hearing. He has long believed there was a second shooter. He called for Sirhan’s release and said “the evidence clearly shows that Sirhan Sirhan could not and did not shoot Senator Bob Kennedy,” but his testimony was disregarded by, and at one point, mocked by the parole commissioner

In October 2009, Sirhan was transferred to a solitary cell at Pleasant Valley State Prison and then moved back to Corcoran. He was then moved to the Richard J. Donovan prison in San Diego on November 22, 2013.   Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. met with him there, and he supports Schrade’s call for a reinvestigation of the assassination, as does his sister, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

Sirhan’s father, mother, and brothers, except for one, have all died. When his mother was still alive, she prayed that he would be released, forgiven, she said, as in the Biblical story of the prodigal son. This small woman, whose only valuables on arrival to the U.S. were two mother-of-pearl brooches marked ‘Jerusalem,’ never saw that day. His brother Adel shared that the family never again celebrated Christmas after 1968; “what’s the point when your family member is in jail?” Unspoken was the word “forever.”

Perceptions of the RFK assassination are split between those who see evidence of a conspiracy and those who do not. The world has changed since 1968. There are far more who express empathy with Palestinians today. Sirhan has always articulated distress at his people’s treatment.

What Palestinian youth may think of Sirhan is another difficult question. It may be difficult for them to embrace his story as one of nationalist heroism when he denies any conscious knowledge of committing the assassination. They may quite well understand the radical period of Palestinian politics in which this case was framed, or not. Many Palestinian youth are thoroughly aware of the perversion of justice in Israel’s criminal system, and so, extending from that, they may understand Sirhan’s predicament.

Thoughts on #Iran Protests.

17 Jan

Thoughts on #IranProtests
Sherifa Zuhur

The significance of the Iran Protests which began December 28, 2017 and which have continued (today is January 17, 2018) despite massive arrests cannot be overstated.
People of all walks of life are challenging the leadership of the Islamic Republic and calling for an Iranian Republic. That calls into question the clerical or theocratic nature of the regime and the already dubious argument of vilayat-e faqih, or rule of the cleric.

The Islamic revolution, or rather, the revolution against Mohammad Shah Pahlavi which exploded, resulted in a struggle for power and ended up in an elevation of Islamism, has changed the Muslim world. Instead of moving forward, it has in many regards, moved backwards. Salafism has burgeoned in Sunni majority populations – a philosophy which is very close to that of the Islamic Republic, and in the GCC countries. Governments have used Islamism to defeat enemies and constrain friends. We can speculate that if Iranians were able to successfully change their form of government, this would affect the rising number of those who believe that religious rather than national identity should dictate laws, policies and systems of justice. Iran’s protesters have been shouting:

Down with (the) dictator
Hardliners, reformers, your adventure is over!
Every night will be the same (with protests) until we get back our rights
Clerics get lost!
Sayed Ali, shame on you, let go of power
Death to Khamenei, Death to Rouhani

There have been many comparisons to the 2009-10 protests, and some were self-serving arguments which basically postulated that if Islamist reformers were not involved in the Iran protests, they were suspect, and could not succeed. Many pundits claim that the Green Movement was larger, but it extended only to a few cities, whereas these recent protests broke out throughout Iran. Such arguments betray a sense of identification by some Western advisors on Iran and certain Iranians with the Islamic Republic, particularly arguments that a retraction or restructuring of the Obama administration’s-engineered Iran Deal would be catastrophic. In a thread put forth in the media, some tried to expose the ‘hand’ of hardliners in the original airing of grievances and their economic nature; but peoples’ despair clearly goes far beyond the specifics that were presented.

The ferocity of the Iranian regime in repressing its own dissidents and dual nationals has been on display for years. And yet, acts of protests are continuing. Even where the regime tried to organize counter-protests, some involving schoolchildren chanted against the government and the Basij. Strikes have taken place. The major news outlets stopped major stories after only a week to 10 days; only those keenly interested are following. One of Tehran’s Friday imam’s claimed that all those saying “no to Gaza, no to Lebanon” in a refutation of the regime’s regional policy were supporters of Netanyahu. But even this kneejerk effort to taint the protests doesn’t seem to have been effective.
It is too soon to conclude that all of this will not result – now or later – in substantive changes to Iran’s leadership and governance.