Despite warrant issued for former Pakistani President Musharraf's arrest in the assassination of former Prime Minister Bhutto, major U.S. media remains curiously quiet...
By Ron Brynaert on 2/16/2011, 5:35am PT  

Guest blogged by Ron Brynaert

America's longtime economic and diplomatic support for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his despotic government has dominated news reports the last few weeks, but the US media has practically ignored stunning news regarding another former ally in the global war on terror.

"A Pakistani court issued an arrest warrant for ousted military leader Pervez Musharraf on Saturday over allegations he played a role in the 2007 assassination of an ex-prime minister and rival," the Associated Press reported over the weekend, although no major US newspaper seems to have followed up. "It was a major setback for the onetime U.S. ally, who was plotting a political comeback from outside the country."

Musharraf "seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999" and resigned in 2008 after impeachment charges were finalized against him by the newly elected government. After returning from self-imposed exile, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated at a campaign rally on December 27, 2007.

But with an arrest warrant now issued for Musharraf --- a very close partner for much of the last decade in the U.S. "War on Terror" --- involving the assassination of a former Prime Minister, the U.S. corporate media has been curiously quiet, or otherwise extraordinarily sympathetic to Pakistan's former dictator...

After the opening paragraph, the next four paragraphs of AP's report are devoted to defenses of Musharraf, accusations against the present Pakistan government, and doubts that the warrant will amount to much. An independent United Nations report which blasted the Musharraf government's security arrangements as "fatally insufficient" isn't mentioned until near the end, and reports that the Musharraf government lied and manipulated evidence about the ultimate cause of Bhutto's death are completely ignored.

"Musharraf, who has not been charged, described accusations that he had a hand in the attack on ex-Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto as a smear campaign by a government led by her aggrieved husband," the second paragraph states, even though the former coup leader is never directly quoted once in the article.

Like the AP story, a CBS News World Watch blog written by Farhan Bokhari devotes less attention to the actual charges than to protestations of innocence, quoting a Musharraf political ally who says, "The case has no legal basis. It is just a political drama, a vendetta.":

Mohammad Ali Saif, a Pakistani barrister and a member of Musharraf's All Pakistan Muslim League (APML,) confirmed the arrest warrant to CBS News, and said that it appeared to be built on a political vendetta launched by President Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto's husband, and Pakistan's prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani.
....
"In the past, our leaders have been telling us, the killing of Benazir Bhutto was done by Baitullah Mehsud. Suddenly, where does President Musharraf fit in to the picture? This sounds quite questionable," Saif told CBS News.

But Saif isn't just a "Pakistani barrister," as CBS News states, he's also Musharraf's lawyer, as the AP did note. According to the Associated Press, Saif claims "Pakistani investigators never tried to reach Musharraf about the case, whose proceedings are closed to the public.."

In April of 2010, after a UN report claimed that the assassination was preventable, "Muhammad Ali Saif, a spokesman and adviser to the former president," in an interview with CNN, essentially blamed Bhutto herself for her death:

"I believe the government at the time did whatever they thought was reasonable," said Muhammad Ali Saif, a spokesman and adviser to the former president.

"It was repeatedly stressed [to Bhutto] that she should be careful because of numerous credible threats against her," the spokesman said. "Unfortunately, she did not heed these requests, and she went ahead and took part in the procession. The government did take whatever reasonable measures to protect her.

"There's no prescribed standard for maximum or minimum security. The very fact that she deemed it necessary go to a public meeting shows that she herself was satisfied with the level of security the government provided."

CNN added, "Nationwide polls conducted shortly after Bhutto's death found that a majority of Pakistanis believed Musharraf's government was complicit in the assassination. Bhutto's supporters took to the streets after her killing. The ensuing riots left 58 dead and more than $200 million in property damage."

Although many Pakistan news reports claim Musharraf ignored requests for interviews, the former coup leader's spokesmen are claiming otherwise.

Pakistan's Dawn.com reported, "On Feb 7, the investigation team had asked the court to issue warrants for the arrest of the former president as despite repeated attempts, the FIA had not been able to contact Gen Musharraf for questioning him about his alleged role in the conspiracy to kill the former prime minister."...

It further added that Musharraf had also threatened Ms Bhutto and had quoted Ron Suskind, a US journalist who was told by Bhutto that Musharraf could kill her. She told Suskind that Musharraf said to her: "You should understand something; your security is based on the state of our relationship."

"The actual attack was carried out by terrorists based in Waziristan whereas former president Musharraf and the two accused police officer have aided and abetted the terrorist through their series of criminal activities," the FIA said in its report.

A 2008 Pakistan Tribune story on Pulitzer Prize winner Ron Suskind's The Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism
reported, "The book said whenever Benazir Bhutto went harsh on Musharraf, the US ambassador in Islamabad advised her to 'tone down any criticism of Musharraf'. The author said Bhutto often regretted that Vice President Cheney never called Musharraf asking him to 'behave' and instead kept her pressing for coming to terms with him.":

The book also discloses details of Bhutto`s meeting with US Senator John Kerry requesting for her security and his reply that 'United States is generally hesitant to ensure the protection of anyone who is not a designated leader.'"
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In their many calls, he's been surprisingly cordial, often quite reasonable. But something has changed. His voice is harsh, almost mocking her. She asks if the US officials have had conversation with him that makes it clear that her safety is his responsibility. "Yes, someone has called", Musharraf says, and then laughs. "The Americans can call all they want with their suggestions about you and me, let them call," he tells her.
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As Bhutto met John Kerry in Washington, three weeks before going back to Pakistan, the author writes: "The priority of this trip is to get Bhutto the security support she lacks. October 18 is only three weeks away. Kerry is swift off the mark: "This is a volatile situation you`re walking into, Benazir." The United States, he says, is generally hesitant to ensure the protection of anyone who is not a designated leader, a provision to prevent US forces from becoming embroiled in the internal disputes of sovereign nations. "Senator Kerry, I want Pakistan to provide me with the security I am entitled to under the laws of my country. I`d be grateful if you would talk to the Musharraf government and tell him the US expects he will fulfill those obligations." Kerry sighs. Of course, he, a senator, can`t conduct unilateral foreign policy. "Well, Benazir, I will certainly talk to the State Department about that point being made to Musharraf," he says as forcefully as credulity will allow.

VICTIMS MORE CULPABLE THAN HEADS OF STATE?

Musharraf and his allies are going on the offensive, and are beginning to echo the 'it's Bhutto's fault' argument.

Another Pakistan media outlet reports, "Pervez Musharraf's spokesman on Sunday questioned the credibility of the judge, who had issued a warrant for the arrest of former president who lives in London in exile.":

Fawad Chaudhary told a press conference at Musharrafís All Pakistan Muslim League office in central London that the former president had apprised Benazir Bhutto of the threats to her life time and again but the former prime minister, who was killed in December 2007 in Rawalpindi in a gun attack, ignored all such warnings and continued to compromise her security.

Musharraf's spokesman said, "The security lapse was on her part and it has become a well-known fact. From Karachi to the KPK to the Liaqaut Bagh, she made her own decisions, ignoring the security advice. The charges against Mushararf are ridiculous."

But, even if Musharraf is complicit, his spokesman thinks that it's a joke to hold heads of state responsible for such matters...

Fawad said the charges laid against Musharraf were laughable because they ignored the fact that heads of the states cannot be held responsible for the murders in their countries. People are murdered in England and the United States but you cannot prosecute the queen or the US president just because they are head of the states and therefore, guilty, said Fawad, adding that Benazir was provided adequate security at all time.

Newscore notes, "Former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf logged onto Facebook on Monday to defend himself against an arrest warrant related to claims he was involved in the 2007 assassination of Benazir Bhutto."

"The fact that one is witnessing opposition trying to build pressure upon myself and other APML [All Pakistan Muslim League] members goes to show that they are afraid of us and our national movement," Musharraf said on his Facebook profile . "Time to stand up against deception and injustice that has constantly eaten away at our national unity. Pakistan First! PM," he wrote.

According to his Facebook page, protests defending Musharraf are scheduled for this Friday around the world, including outside the Pakistani embassies in the UK and USA. Out of 900 invites, so far, only 106 have committed to attending.

HIGHLIGHTS FROM UN REPORT ON BHUTTO ASSASSINATION

Last April, journalist Karen Lotter blogged, "A long-awaited UN report into the killing of Pakistani politician Benazir Bhutto two years ago has been highly critical of the General Musharaff's government of the day.":

The 65-page report released Thursday (15 April 2010) faults the Pakistani government and local authorities and says that Bhutto's assassination at a rally near Islamabad could have been prevented if proper security measures had been taken by General Pervez Musharraf's government.

The highly anticipated report says the ultimate responsibility for Ms. Bhutto's security on the day she was killed, rested with both levels of government - the federal government and the local government of Punjab as well as the police in Rawalpindi, where she died in a gun and suicide attack. Pakistan President, General Musharaff was her political rival. His government ignored warnings of threats against Bhutto.

A UN press release notes, "Security arrangements by Pakistan's federal and local authorities to protect assassinated Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto were 'fatally insufficient and ineffective' and subsequent investigations into her death were prejudiced and involved a whitewash, an independent United Nations inquiry reported today.":

"Particularly inexcusable was the Government's failure to direct provincial authorities to provide Ms. Bhutto the same stringent and specific security measures it ordered on 22 October 2007 for two other former prime ministers who belonged to the main political party supporting General Musharraf," it stated.

"This discriminatory treatment is profoundly troubling given the devastating attempt on her life only three days earlier and the specific threats against her which were being tracked by the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence agency)," it added, stressing that her assassination could have been prevented if the Rawalpindi District Police had taken adequate security measures.

Further selections from the PDF report:

The Commission was mystified by the efforts of certain high- ranking Pakistani government authorities to obstruct access to military and intelligence sources, as revealed in their public declarations.
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The federal Government under General Musharraf, although fully aware of and tracking the serious threats to Ms. Bhutto, did little more than pass on those threats to her and to provincial authorities and were not proactive in neutralizing them or ensuring that the security provided was commensurate to the threats. This is especially grave given the attempt on her life in Karachi when she returned to Pakistan on 18 October 2007.
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Ms. Bhutto faced threats from a number of sources; these included Al-Qaida, the Taliban, local jihadi groups and potentially from elements in the Pakistani Establishment. Yet the Commission found that the investigation focused on pursuing lower level operatives and placed little to no focus on investigating those further up the hierarchy in the planning, financing and execution of the assassination.

The investigation was severely hampered by intelligence agencies and other government officials, which impeded an unfettered search for the truth. More significantly, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) cond ucted parallel investigations, gathering evidence and detaining suspects. Evidence gathered from such parallel investigations was selectively shared with the police.

The Commission believes that the failure of the police to investigate effectively Ms Bhutto's assassination was deliberate. These officials, in part fearing intelligence agencies' involvement, were unsure of how vigorously they ought to pursue actions, which they knew, as professionals, they should have taken.

It remains the responsibility of the Pakistani authorities to carry out a serious, credible criminal investigation that determines who conceived, ordered and executed this heinous crime of historic proportions, and brings those responsible to justice. Doing so would constitute a ma jor step toward ending impunity for political crimes in this country.

Last year, an article in Time Magazine noted that Musharraf ordered a press conference laying blame for the assassination before any investigation or autopsy had been undertaken (Note: No autopsy was ever completed).

The day after Bhutto was killed, Brigadier Javed Iqbal Cheema, a senior official at the Interior Ministry, held a press conference, on Musharraf's instructions, to pin the assassination on Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed last August in a rocket strike in South Waziristan - a claim later supported by the CIA. According to the report, it was no secret that Pakistan's militants loathed Bhutto and her stance against Islamist violence. But the Musharraf government's "hasty" announcement, the report says, "was premature at best" and "prejudiced the police investigations which had not yet begun."

In December of 2007, The New York Times reported, "New details of Benazir Bhutto's final moments, including indications that her doctors felt pressured to conform to government accounts of her death, fueled the arguments over her assassination on Sunday and added to the pressure on Pakistan's leaders to accept an international inquiry.":

Pakistani and Western security experts said the government's insistence that Ms. Bhutto, a former prime minister, was not killed by a bullet was intended to deflect attention from the lack of government security around her.
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The government's explanation, that Ms. Bhutto died after hitting her head as she ducked from the gunfire or was tossed by the force of the suicide blast, has been greeted with disbelief by her supporters, ordinary Pakistanis and medical experts. While some of the mystery could be cleared up by exhuming the body, it is not clear whether Ms. Bhutto's family would give permission, such is their distrust of the government.
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An account of her death that did not involve a gunshot wound was the optimal explanation for the government, said Bruce Riedel, an expert on Pakistan at the Brookings Institution in Washington, and a former member of the National Security Council in the Clinton administration. "If there is a gunshot wound, the security was abysmal," Mr. Riedel said. The government did not want to be exposed on its careless approach to security, he said.

According to the AP, "Pakistan's information minister Firdous Ashiq Awan said the government will contact Interpol about seeking Musharraf's detention if the court requests it."

Supporters of Julian Assange believe that Interpol only added the WikiLeaks founder, --- accused of allegedly failing to use a condom during sex --- to their most wanted list because of pressure from the United States.

But a paragraph from the CBS News World Watch blog linked earlier showcases why no one will blame America if Interpol agrees to help arrest Musharraf.

"Bitter political infighting in Pakistan will of course be of concern to the US, just at a time when the US is trying to establish closer relations with Pakistan" said one senior western diplomat who spoke to CBS News on condition of anonymity. "Every time the matter of President Musharraf becomes a high profile issue, there are some in Pakistan who remember the undemocratic character of his military regime and the backing he received from the U.S. Ultimately, this feeds in to anti-U.S. sentiment which is already strong in Pakistan."

As of today, The New York Times has only published one article on the arrest warrant for Musharraf: a Reuters article from the weekend that stated "authorities did not provide details of their accusations against Mr. Musharraf" and that his spokesman believes the charges are baseless.

Last October, NY Times London bureau chief John F. Burns wrote an article about Musharraf's plans to return to Pakistan, which made no mention of the UN report criticizing the former president's government in Bhutto's assassination. It also failed to note that Islamabad police officials "had registered a criminal case against former President Pervez Musharraf for detaining Supreme Court judges after he imposed emergency rule in 2007, raising the prospect of his arrest if he returns to the country," as The New York Times reported in August of 2009.

The Washington Post still hasn't done any independent reporting on the warrant either.

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Ron Brynaert was the Executive Editor for Raw Story from January of 2007 to October of 2010, and has worked on such topics as the current Pentagon spokesman's undisclosed involvement in the military analyst scandal, the Abramoff lobbying scandal, alleged "plagiarism" by Ann Coulter, and reporting from his old blog on former White House reporter Jeff Gannon and the Downing Street Memo was cited in two separate Congressional reports. He is currently taking a breather from the political reporting scene to focus on a few film and theater related projects, but he tweets regularly on politics at www.twitter.com/ronbryn and can be reached at ronbrynaert@yahoo.com.