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Who's Out, Who's In

Wednesday, Feb. 08, 2006 12;01 AM

Pertaining to the mass exodus from a Yemeni prison, let's toss around some ideas.

First, the facts:

Jamal Ahmed al-Badawi (File - Photo: AP)

We have a 460-foot long tunnel, dug in relative secrecy, from the women's section of a neighboring mosque into the basement prison cells of Yemen's public security organization (equivalent to the CIA).

Engineers estimate that the task would take close to a month and generate three dump trucks' worth of dirt.


-- How did this operation go unnoticed inside of the mosque? My understanding is that men do not normally go into the women's area. Yet, unless women were conscripted into doing the labor, there had to be a regular pattern of men coming and going.

-- Is the clerical leadership involved? One would think that, if you're excavating the basement, the imam has either given his permission or has knowledge of work being done. If the latter, is it believable that the imam never went to see the work in progress, or that it was arranged as to be hidden from him?

-- One would expect that an excavation of this size (just over 1.5 football fields in length) would require knowledge of public utilities - sewage, gas, water, electricity - so as not to end up driving one's shovel into a natural gas line. One might also expect that, if someone were to inquire about such things in the vicinity of a prison or government installation, that it would automatically draw notice. Unless someone in the government were paid for their cooperation and silence.

-- How, exactly, does one tunnel into a prison and extract 23 people without being noticed? If it's the middle of the night, then the prisoners should be in their respective cells and lights out, requiring access to multiple and specific cells. If it's a common area like a prison yard, we're to believe nobody noticed?


There is complicity on the part of the clerical leadership, any civic planning administration, and the prison itself. Despite Yemen's public committment to fighting terrorism since the bombing of the USS Cole, it's ringing a bit hollow right now.

The dirt had to be removed openly, hidden in plain sight as a project to reinforce or renovate part of the mosque's foundation. (Incidentally, if someone were to claim, 'We are reinforcing the foundation,' it is a subtle truth - the translation of al-Qaeda is, 'the foundation' - and the escape of thirteen prisoners affiliated with the group can certainly be viewed as 'reinforcing' it.)

Alternately, the dirt was removed slowly by workers dressed in burkahs, hiding buckets beneath their robes. It is possible, also, that the escapees were removed in the same manner, by disguising themselves as women.


Where will Jamil Ahmed al-Badawi go? Some conservatives have already argued that this is why we need President Bush's (formerly) secret surveillance program, just in case al-Badawi drops a dime on someone here in the United States. Consider, however, that if a plan of action existed, it is doubtful folks would be waiting for a phone call, unless al-Badawi was the sole person who had an account number or other data necessary for execution. If so, knowing al-Badawi was in custody, would you reasonably leave everything in place for officials to sweep up retroactively after peeling the information out of al-Badawi's skull?

What indications are there that al-Badawi's strengths are applicable to domestic terrorism within the United States?

It is likely that al-Badawi has already contacted the necessary people, those who helped plan/sponsor his escape. If you're willing to commit to a month's labor digging a tunnel, then it follows that you have a plan for getting from the tunnel exit to a safe house or means of transit across the border.

Despite fear-mongering from conservative pundits, al-Badawi's escape does not justify the surveillance program initiated by the NSA with President Bush's approval. Yes, al-Badawi is a person of interest, as the saying goes, perhaps of particular significance since resources were committed to his escape, hinting at his importance within al-Qaeda. However, it should be noted that terrorists can effectively plan and execute missions without having to call anyone in the United States, and that even exclusively foreign surveillance did not help in this case.

The terrorists know we're watching and listening. Stop pretending that they're so clueless as to believe their phone calls aren't monitored. Even Jack Bauer doesn't have that easy a life.

A side note to Zacarais Moussaoui, who disrupted his own trial by shouting out, "I am al-Qaeda!"

What you are is in U.S. custody and on trial for your life.

Please note that al-Qaeda or its sympathizers saw fit to bust Jamal al-Badawi out of jail along with 22 other terrorists (at least thirteen of which are believed to be al-Qaeda) in a plot that likely took several months to execute.

You're still sitting on your ass in jail.

Kind of puts it in perspective, don't it?

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