The inside story of how U.S. terrorist hunters are going after al Qaeda
America had taken bin Laden seriously only in 1998, after he destroyed two U.S. Embassies in Africa. But "Osama's History" showed unmistakably how the Saudi multimillionaire had declared war on the United States back in 1991, how for a decade he had branded America the "head of the snake" and rationalized the killing of American civilians. But perhaps the most striking find were the handwritten minutes of an Aug. 11, 1988, meeting. It was there that bin Laden and others agreed on "the establishment of a new military group" consisting of three units, one to be called, in Arabic, Qaeda, or Base. A week later at bin Laden's home, they held a second meeting--for three days--that led to the official founding of the new entity. "Work of al Qaeda commenced on 9/10/1988 with a group of 15 brothers . . ." concluded the report. "And thanks be to God."
Half-Dead Bob. By early 2002, America and its allies had locked up nearly 1,000 al Qaeda members and supporters. Planeloads of captives from Afghanistan soon filled the holding pens of Camp X-Ray, the hastily built prison at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Some inmates left a lasting impression on their keepers, among them an emaciated fellow they called Half-Dead Bob.
The Arab fighter had come to Gitmo, as the base is called, weighing a bare 66 pounds last year. He had shrapnel wounds, suffered from tuberculosis, and had lost a lung. Army Maj. Gen. Michael Dunlavey vividly remembers his first encounter with "Bob." Dunlavey ran interrogations at the base until November of last year. By the time they met, Bob was making a rapid recovery. He had put on 50 pounds and, sitting across a table from Dunlavey, he thanked him for the food and medical treatment. "General, you are probably a good Christian," Dunlavey recalls him saying. "And you are probably a good man. But if I ever get free, I will kill you."
Dunlavey, a 57-year-old Army reservist and state trial judge in Erie, Pa., has rarely spoken publicly; his remarks come from a March speech at a Washington conference. Like many officials at Gitmo, Dunlavey came away alarmed by the interrogations. Like Half-Dead Bob, most appeared willing to die as martyrs. "These people are implacably committed to apocalyptic terrorism," Dunlavey concluded. "Their goal is the absolute destruction of America as we know it."
By last spring, Gitmo was filled with some 660 of Bob's fellow travelers. As a group, they reflect al Qaeda's extraordinary reach, hailing from no less than 42 countries (though nearly one fifth come from Saudi Arabia). From the start, the new prison was controversial, with human-rights groups raising questions about the detainees' legal status and treatment. Washington considers them not prisoners of war but "enemy combatants" subject to the military's justice system. They have been shackled, blindfolded, and forced to stand or kneel in the same position for hours. They have no access to attorneys. Moreover, the group has ranged in age from young teenagers to the elderly, and the intelligence value of many has been minimal. Criticism from U.S. allies prompted Secretary of State Colin Powell to write an April 14 letter to the Pentagon, arguing for release of some detainees.