As the U.S. renews its training sessions for Palestinian security forces, a group photo from seven years ago holds a stark warning for the Bush administration about the fate of past CIA trainees.
In June 1998, somewhere near CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., two rows of men in military fatigues posed for their graduation photo.
All of them were officers in the Palestinian General Intelligence Service, charged with hunting down terrorists and preventing attacks on Israel. They had just completed a training course, paid for by American taxpayers, in which they learned firearms and counterterrorist tactics.
But some of the men in the picture later swapped sides and began using the skills they learned in Virginia against the Israelis.
Now the Bush administration is considering renewing these courses under the supervision of Mideast security coordinator Lt. Gen. William Ward.
The U.S. is prepared to play a major role in “the training of the Palestinian security forces and in making sure that they are security forces that are part of the solution, not part of the problem,” Secretary of State Rice said in London last month.
The men in the 1998 photo came from the West Bank towns of Bethlehem, Jericho and Nablus.
Kneeling fourth from the left in the front row is Raafat Bajali. In December 2001, Bajali was killed when a bomb he was making blew up in his face. He had become a member of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.
Standing in the back row, second from the left, is Khaled Abu Nijmeh, from the Deheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem.
By 2001, he had become one of the most-wanted Palestinian militants in the city, suspected of involvement in a string of attacks against Israelis.
In May 2002, he was one of 13 gunmen escorted from the Church of the Nativity siege in Bethlehem, flown to Cyprus and then to exile in Europe.
“I am a member of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and a first sergeant in Palestinian General Intelligence,” Abu Nijmeh, now 36, said from his temporary home in Rome.
“I personally received a course in anti-terrorism and VIP protection,” he continued. “I was not alone. Many Palestinian security people were trained by the Americans.”
There have been warnings for years of the dangers of the CIA training program.
“The CIA and British efforts to train Palestinians during the Oslo process helped strengthen terrorist capabilities,” said Israeli political analyst Gerald Steinberg of Bar-Ilan University.
A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that if previous U.S. aid went to train would-be militants, “obviously steps will be taken so that any future training does not lead to a similar outcome
This article ran on the New York Daily News on March 3rd, 2005: www.nydailynews.com/news/wn_report/story/286157p-245023c.html