Potential Terrorism in the Balkans (part 6): US Governmental Accusations and Lobby Groups

Bill Clinton in Israel (photo: YouTube)

Generally, the Pogorelica case was relatively well covered in the Bosnian media, primarily by investigative journalist Esad Hećimović, who regularly reported on the case and wrote long reviews with all the details. Hećimović explained personal conflict between Bakir Alispahić and Munir Alibabić, two directors of the Agency for Investigation and Documentation (AID), describing an indictment from 2002 as "bazaar revenge" rather than a global terrorism case. In his analyzes, he also pointed out a common mistake made by foreign security experts, equating Iranian instructors with foreign mujahideen and missionaries. Hećimović emphasized a big difference between them: Iranians, most often as military and intelligence instructors, provided so-called know-how and were integrated into the defense and security structures of the government in Sarajevo, and on the other hand, the camps of international Muslim volunteers and missionaries operated independently from government so no official knew what was happening there.

Other analysts have also explained the narrower international context at the trilateral level (Bosnia and Herzegovina–United States–Iran) and how Americans exploited the Iranian help to Bosnians. In 1994, Bosnia and Herzegovina was under the imposed arms embargo, and the Clinton administration neither wanted to violate it nor to allow Serbian forces to achieve a position of advantage. On the horns of a dilemma, the US government decided to keep silent about Iran's arms deliveries to the Bosnian government via Croatia, and two years later they pushed Iranian instructors out under pretense of the "terrorist threat." Without any doubt, it was in the US interest to prolong the Podgorelica case as long as possible (12 years), keep the accusations alive and manipulate with it for global policy purposes. Still, two things have gone completely unelaborated in the Bosnian media: the first one is the background and full career of Rohan Gunaratna who was appointed as an expert witness, and the second one is the wider international context of the US anti-Iranian terrorism charges, as well as its origin.

A witness called Rohan Gunaratna

In late December 2002, the Supreme Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina announced appointment of Rohan Gunaratna as an expert witness for the Pogorelica case. He had been recommended by the Prosecutor's Office, and described by the Supreme Court as "an expert of international reputation" for terrorism and anti-terrorism. Judge Mirjana Perišić argued "there's the lack of specialists in this field of expertise" and that "a foreign citizen with the high international recommendations was hired to avoid any kind of bias." In other statements, Perišić claimed "the United Nations recommended Gunaratna, the Court took this into consideration and accepted it, because we highly appreciate the opinion of Kofi Annan." This decision was condemned in a letter signed by 14 Sarajevo University professors who stated that country has its own experts for terrorism. Finally, in June of 2003, Gunaratna deemed Pogorelica to be a fundamentalist terrorist camp and a springboard for further attacks against the West. The Serbian media praised his report and called it as the strongest prosecutor's proof. However, given that his report was ultimately rejected and that the defendants were freed, many questions are arising: Who is Rohan Gunaratna? Is he an expert? Is he neutral? Who sent him and what was to be his task?

Singapore-based Gunaratna was born in Sri Lanka, worked as adviser to the local government, and his term coincided with the war against the Tamil LTTE. In the late 1990s he made a series of bizarre allegations against the separatist organization. In 1997, Gunaratna claimed that the LTTE had developed a new body suit that was specifically designed for suicide bombings. The new suit, he declared in an article, ensured that the terrorist's head would survive the explosion, becoming a "lethal projectile—sometimes travelling as far as two hundred yards." No evidence was provided, and in the ensuing six years nothing more has been heard of the deadly suit. In 2000, Gunaratna alleged that LTTE ships had been sighted in Australian waters and that Australian Tamils were exporting 'mini-helicopters' to Sri Lanka for attacks on government troops. His claims, which again were made without evidence, were condemned at the time and have since been quietly dropped.

After the 9/11 attacks, Gunaratna allied himself with the American neoconservatives and gave unconditional support to the Bush's invasions in the Middle East. It was well rewarded. In June 2002, he published a book "Inside Al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror" which was promoted heavily around the world and went on to become a bestseller. During the first several weeks it received universal acclaim in the mainstream media, but it was not long before several of the book's sensational claims were vigorously challenged by academics and slandered governments. One of the most bizarre assertion is alleged strong cooperation between Iran and al Qaeda, a claim rejected by virtually all academic authors. A wide range of organizations, including banks, governmental and non-governmental bodies, financial enterprises, religious and educational institutions, commercial entities, transport companies and charitable bodies are referred to in this book as having had contact or dealings with Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. The British publisher of book also became very concerned about possible legal repercussions arising out of the unreliability of its assertions, that it published an extraordinary disclaimer under the heading "Publisher's note" advising the reader to treat the book's contents as mere suggestions.

Rohan Gunaratna in 8th ICT's conference at the IDC Herzliya in Israel (YouTube)

Despite the inconsistencies and fantastic character of his allegations, Gunaratna's musings continued to be reported uncritically in the mainstream media, and he made numerous interview appearances. As in the case of Steven Emerson and similar quasi-experts, the media elevated Gunaratna to the status of a "world authority" on Al Qaeda and all aspects of international terrorism. That his credentials rested on a single, co-authored article, following a dubious record on Sri Lankan affairs, was never mentioned. Gunaratna's book also fudged the record of its author, as it claimed he was "principal investigator of the United Nations' Terrorism Prevention Branch," and that after the 9/11 attacks he was "called to address the United Nations, the US Congress and the Australian Parliament." After the 'Sunday Age' conducted an investigation into his biographical details, Gunaratna admitted that there was, in fact, no such position as "principal investigator" at the UN's Terrorism Prevention Branch, and that he simply "worked there in 2001-2002 as a research consultant." He also confirmed that, rather than directly addressing the UN, Congress, and the Australian Parliament, he had actually "spoken at a seminar organized by the parliamentary library, given evidence to a congressional hearing, and delivered a research paper to a conference organized by the UN's Department for Disarmament Affairs."

Gunaratna also accomplished himself as an "expert witness" for the prosecution in terrorism cases against Muslims in the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States, like Evan F. Kohlmann did (see part 2). The similarity between Gunaratna's and Kohlmann's modus operandi has already been highlighted by a number of scholars, including Christina Hellmich, Wadie E. Said, Magnus Ranstorp, Darryl Li, and David Miller. Interestingly enough, in 2006 Gunaratna was originally going to testify against the so-called 'Newburgh Four' in Albany, New York, but the government instead brought in Kohlmann. Obviously, they were recommended to the prosecution by the same lobby group. For a testimony against Iran in the Pogorelica case, according to the Bosnian media Gunaratna received between $150,000-200,000. This does not have to be an exaggeration, given that he was paid precisely $53,700 as the principal prosecution witness in 'USA vs. Hassoun, Jayyousi and Padilla' at the Florida's United District Court in June/July 2007.

As the Bosnian media correctly stated already in late 2002, there is no chance that Kofi Annan or anyone from the United Nations recommended Rohan Gunaratna to the Bosnian Supreme Court. His alleged "experience at the UN" proved to be the fake credentials for personal promotion, but still somebody powerful and politically influential had to push him to such an important court case, as they did in the US, the UK and Canada. Gunaratna has a low reputation virtually everywhere. During the 2000s and 2010s, numerous Gunaratna's assertions were rejected as unsubstantiated claims and exaggerated threats by the governments, judiciaries and security services of many countries, including those of Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and New Zealand. In 2014, he has been ordered by a Canadian court to pay $53,000 in damages to a Toronto-based Tamil organization for defamation. The only place where he enjoy the reputation is, of course, Israel. Gunaratna co-authored a book with Aviv A. Oreg, a veteran officer of the Israel's Intelligence branches, and as admitted during the Padilla trial in 2007, he visited Israel for the first time in 1999 or 2000. Since his bizarre allegations and modus operandi are quite similar to those quasi-experts treated in the part 3, it's not a big surprise that Gunaratna is also a frequent participator in the ICT's International Conferences at the IDC Herzliya in Israel, as well as a listed collaborator of the WINEP (a subsidiary of the AIPAC). The Bosnian media speculated it was the British who sent Gunaratna to the Supreme Court, but without any doubt actually it was the Neocon-Zionist lobby groups.

Missing context: Dual containment

After the devastation of Iran and Iraq in the eight-year war, and further devastation of Iraq in the 1991 US war, Israel turned its attention to containing Iran. Since a military confrontation between the US and Iran was not on the horizon, Israel chose a different game to advance its Iran policy, the game of sanctioning Iran. The US already used various sanctions to contain Iran after the 1979 Revolution and, more particularly, during the Iran–Iraq war. In the 1990s Israel concentrated mostly on strengthening these unilateral US sanctions, hoping to derail the economy of Iran and thus weaken the Iranian government. Strengthening US sanctions policies became easier for Israel when Martin Indyk, an individual well connected to Israel, was put at the helm of formulating Middle East policy in the Clinton Administration. While in Israel, Indyk was the media and communication advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. After his arrival in the US, Indyk became a staffer at the American–Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and its the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP). Indyk and his associates were quite successful in "educating" the policy makers in Washington, and he briefed the likes of Michael S. Dukakis, George H. W. Bush, and Bill Clinton.

In between these activities, Indyk and his colleagues at the Washington Institute and AIPAC managed to gain almost complete control of formulating US policy toward Iran. This was true not only for the Clinton Administration, but for the George W. Bush Administration as well. The major difference is that under the former the policy makers, such as Indyk, were associated mostly with the Israeli Labor Party. Under the latter, however, the architects of the US policy, such as Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, while still associated with the Washington Institute and the Israeli lobby in general, represented the Likud wing of the Israeli government.

Indyk's inaugural address as national security advisor was delivered on 18 May 1993 at the Washington Institute. Interestingly, it makes no distinction between the US interest and that of Israel. Almost all references to "our" or "American interest" in the speech could easily be read as the interest of Israel. In the speech Indyk stated that "as a result of the Iraq–Iran War and the Gulf War, we are fortunate to inherit a balance of power in the region and a much reduced level of military capability to threaten our interests." It is interesting to note that the two wars, in which the US and Israel played major roles and which left over a million people dead, made Indyk feel "fortunate" because "a balance of power" had been established and the military power of Iraq had disappeared. With the furpose of maintaining the same balance of power, Indyk proposed a new policy of "dual containment" of Iraq and Iran, a policy encapsulating the Clinton administration strategy.

The Clinton administration's policy of "dual containment" of Iraq and Iran derives in the first instance from an assessment that the Iraqi and Iranian governments are both hostile to American interests in the region. Accordingly, the US do not accept the argument that it should continue the old balance of power game, building up one to balance the other. Nevertheless, since 1979 US policy toward the region had been very similar, and the original architect of this policy was actually Brzezinski. "Containment" of Iraq, Indyk announced, was to be carried out through UN economic sanctions, the UN resolutions and their enforcement and inspection measures, that as long as the Saddam Hussein regime survives, it will not be in a position to be a threat. His containment meant a weak and disarmed Iraq that would not be in any position to oppose Israel. Continued UN sanctions, with or without Saddam, he believed, would achieve this goal.

Indyk then offered his vision of how to "contain" Iran and made a long list of allegations about the "Iranian misbehavior." Some of these alleged misbehaviors were soon dropped. For example, Iran's "connections with Sudan" and "fishing in troubled waters across the Arab world" disappeared, and Iran's attempt to "dominate the Persian Gulf by military means" was also set aside. Some others, such as Iran's "abuse of the human rights of the Iranian people," would resurface only once in a while. However, three other reasons why Iran had to be contained would endure. These were Iran's support for international terrorism, opposition to the peace process in the Middle East, and pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.

Thus what Indyk, and his colleagues at the Washington Institute, wished to achieve was the imposition of multilateral sanctions on Iran, similar to those imposed against Iraq. This way, both Iraq and Iran would be militarily "contained," that is, disarmed, in favor of Israel. Moreover, it was hoped that multilateral sanctions would wreck the economies of these countries, bring about popular discontent, and cause the overthrow of the Iranian government in favor of the establishment of a US–Israel friendly regime. Even though Indyk's policy of "dual containment" was not new, his list of alleged misbehaviors of Iran laid the foundation for the development of future US policy toward the country. Once formulated, these three "misbehaviors" or sins of Iran would be repeated ad nauseam by various Israeli lobby groups in the US in order to maintain and even strengthen US sanctions against Iran. One such group is, of course, AIPAC, which gave rise to the Washington Institute and the promotion of Martin Indyk. AIPAC is usually ranked as one of the most powerful lobbies in the US.

These three sins or "misbehaviors" of Iran were as murky as those first pronounced by Martin Indyk in 1993. For example, given that till the late 2000s Iran had not yet enriched uranium, it was not at all clear what AIPAC meant by Iran's "pursuit of weapons of mass destruction." By "opposition to the peace process," the Israeli lobby meant Iran's opposition to the Oslo Accord, but soon the Israelis themselves would oppose and shelve the accord. Iran's "support for international terrorism" apparently meant any support, moral or material, that Iran might provide to those groups who were strongly opposed to the Israeli occupation of Arab lands, such as Hamas in the Palestinian Territories and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Again, how these groups threatened US interests was unclear. In desperate need for the "Iranian" terrorist cases, the US government started accusing Iran of participation in numerous attacks, before the investigations were even launched.

The Pogorelica case was neither the first nor the last one in a series of such charges. In July 1994, only a several weeks after the dual containment policy was officially adopted, the US and Israeli government accused Iran for masterminding the AMIA bombing in Argentina. Still, "there was never any real evidence of Iranian responsibility and investigators never came up with anything," according to James Cheek, Clinton's Ambassador to Argentina at the time of the attack. Like the Bosnian case, this Argentine case has also been marked by strong lobbying pressures, using false witnesses, and extraordinary prolongation. To a lesser extent, it was also speculated that Iran was behind the explosion of Alas Chiricanas Flight 901 and the bombing of Israeli Embassy in London, both occurred in July of the same year. Today, both Panamanian and American authorities consider the bombing an unsolved crime, and in 1996 two Palestinian nationalists were found guilty of conspiracy to cause explosions in London. After the Pogorelica case, the US government accused Iran for Khobar Towers bombing and TWA Flight 800 incident, both occurred in summer of 1996, but again allegation proved false. Last night, Trump has announced that the United States pulled out of the Iran Deal and faithfully repeated all three "misbehaviors" formulated by Indyk a quarter century ago.

See also:
Potential Terrorism in the Balkans (part 1): A Brief Overview
Potential Terrorism in the Balkans (part 2): Quasi-expertise by Neocons & Zionists
Potential Terrorism in the Balkans (part 3): Quasi-expertise by Denialists
Potential Terrorism in the Balkans (part 4): Regional Quasi-expertise under Israeli influence
Potential Terrorism in the Balkans (part 5): US Governmental Accusations and Pogorelica Case
Potential Terrorism in the Balkans (part 6): US Governmental Accusations and Lobby Groups
Potential Terrorism in the Balkans (part 7): Foreign Mujahideen
Potential Terrorism in the Balkans (part 8): Wahhabi Movement
Potential Terrorism in the Balkans (part 9): From the Balkans to Syria, and Back
Potential Terrorism in the Balkans (part 10): Recorded Attacks
Potential Terrorism in the Balkans (part 11): MEK in Albania

Robert Novak

Robert Novak is a social anthropologist and human rights defender with more than five years of experience in the Open Society Institute (OSF), an organization campaigning for human rights and reconciliation in the former Yugoslavia. His research interests include law and religion, human rights, comparative ethics, and international relations. Born in Osijek, he lives and works in Zagreb.

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