AMERICA'S DANGEROUS LOVE AFFAIR WITH COUNTERINSURGENCY
At the beginning of this year one of the weirdest characters ever to become involved in the present Afghan war died. He was called Jack Idema and he was a brilliant con-man. For a moment, during the early part of the war, Idema persuaded all the major TV networks and scores of journalists that he was some kind of special forces super-hero who was using all kinds of "black ops" to track down and arrest the terrorists.
In reality, before 2001, Idema had been running a hotel for pets in North Carolina called The Ultimate Pet Resort. He had been in prison for fraud, and had tried to con journalists before about being some kind of super-spy. But September 11th gave him his chance - and he turned up in Kabul dressed like this.
And everyone believed him and his stories. In the process Idema brilliantly exposed the emptiness and fakery of much of the TV and newspaper reporting of the war on terror.
He told the journalists and the TV presenters all kinds of lies and fantasies. He even became the central, heroic figure in a book called The Hunt for Bin Laden.
Then Idema charged journalists fortunes for what he said was an "al qaeda" video of a "a training camp" - where strangely many of the terrorists spoke in english, and allegedly you could hear Idema's voice on the soundtrack. Few of the journalists did anything to really check if any of what he was saying was true.
CBS did a special programme about the tapes fronted by Dan Rather, called "Heart of Darkness". They did check on the tapes - the producers went to some of the new breed of "terror experts" that were spawning after 2001. CBS's press office said that they "showed the tapes to three former British Special Forces officers, who verified the tactics being practiced in the video were consistent with those of Al Qaeda".
The BBC did a report that showed the tapes. And they travelled to the village where they had been recorded - and found an old man who said, yes there had been Arabs there.
But much later a number of journalists did investigate Jack Idema properly - and the consensus now is that the tapes are probably fakes.
Here is the original BBC news report
But then Jack Idema started to believe his own stories. He set up his own militia group that he called Task Force Sabre Seven - and he and his men went and arrested Afghans they were convinced were terrorists. And then he locked them up in his own private prison.
Things got out of hand in June 2004 when Idema arrested the Afghan Supreme Court judge, Maulawi Siddiqullah, because he believed he might be involved with terrorists. The judge later described what it was like in Idema's prison:
"The first night, around midnight, I heard the screams of four people. They then poured very cold water on me. I tried to keep myself from screaming, but coudn't. Then they played loud, strange music. Then they prevented me from going to the bathroom; a terrible situation. I was hooded for twelve days."
In July Afghan police raided Idema's house in Kabul and found what was described as a private torture chamber. Eight hooded men, including the judge, were incarcerated there, and three of them were hanging by their feet from the ceiling, with their heads hooded.
Idema and two others were put on trial - and sentenced to ten years in an Afghan jail. And all the journalists puffed a lot about how persuasive he had been.
Here is Idema during the trial - still trying to persuade the journalists that he is what he said he was. And how he is being set up by dark sinister forces.
But what is also interesting about Jack Idema is that in a strange way he may have been ahead of his time.
Because at the moment that Idema was entering his Afghan prison, a group of very senior US military men, led by a General called David Petraeus, were sitting down in a military staff college in Kansas and beginning to write a study that would completely transform the tactics of the US army in Iraq and in Afghanistan.
What General Petraeus and his team did was to go back into the past and exhume a theory of warfare that had been discredited by the US military who thought it was long buried and forgotten. It was called Counterinsurgency.
And out of that would allegedly come the same kind of arms-length, privatised interrogation and torture methods that Idema was indulging in.
I thought I would tell the history of how Counterinsurgency was invented, why it was discredited in America, and how it returned in 2007 to dominate and brutalise the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is a fascinating and weird story that is far odder than anything Jack Idema could have dreamt up - it involves Mao Zedong, John F Kennedy, French fascists, the attempted assassination of Charles De Gaulle, and strange Potemkin-style villages in Vietnam where women get pregnant for no discernible reason.
The theory of Counterinsurgency also had a terrible logic built into it that repeatedly led, from the 1950s onwards, to horror - torture, assassination and mass killing on a far wider scale than anything Jack Idema ever did in his house in Kabul.