Rudy’s Ties to a Terror Sheikh

Three weeks after 9/11, when the roar of fighter jets still haunted the city’s skyline, the emir of gas-rich Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifah al-Thani, toured Ground Zero. Although a member of the emir’s own royal family had harbored the man who would later be identified as the mastermind of the attack—a man named Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, often referred to in intelligence circles by his initials, KSM—al-Thani rushed to New York in its aftermath, offering to make a $3 million donation, principally to the families of its victims. Rudy Giuliani, apparently unaware of what the FBI and CIA had long known about Qatari links to Al Qaeda, appeared on CNN with al-Thani that night and vouched for the emir when Larry King asked the mayor: “You are a friend of his, are you not?”

“We had a very good meeting yesterday. Very good,” said Giuliani, adding that he was “very, very grateful” for al-Thani’s generosity. It was no cinch, of course, that Giuliani would take the money: A week later, he famously rejected a $10 million donation from a Saudi prince who advised America that it should “adopt a more balanced stand toward the Palestinian cause.” (Giuliani continues to congratulate himself for that snub on the campaign trail.) Al-Thani waited a month before expressing essentially the same feelings when he returned to New York for a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly and stressed how important it was to “distinguish” between the “phenomenon” of 9/11 and “the legitimate struggles” of the Palestinians “to get rid of the yoke of illegitimate occupation and subjugation.” Al-Thani then accused Israel of “state terrorism” against the Palestinians.

But there was another reason to think twice about accepting al-Thani’s generosity that Giuliani had to have been aware of, even as he heaped praise on the emir. Al Jazeera, the Arabic news network based in Qatar (pronounced “Cutter”), had been all but created by al-Thani, who was its largest shareholder. The Bush administration was so upset with the coverage of Osama bin Laden’s pronouncements and the U.S. threats to bomb Afghanistan that Secretary of State Colin Powell met the emir just hours before Giuliani’s on-air endorsement and asked him to tone down the state-subsidized channel’s Islamist footage and rhetoric. The six-foot-eight, 350-pound al-Thani, who was pumping about $30 million a year into Al Jazeera at the time, refused Powell’s request, citing the need for “a free and credible media.” The administration’s burgeoning distaste for what it would later brand “Terror TV” was already so palpable that King — hardly a newsman — asked the emir if he would help “spread the word” that the U.S. was “not targeting the average Afghan citizen.” Al-Thani ignored the question — right before Giuliani rushed in to praise him again.

In retrospect, Giuliani’s embrace of the emir appears peculiar. But it was only a sign of bigger things to come: the launching of a cozy business relationship with terrorist-tolerant Qatar that is inconsistent with the core message of Giuliani’s current presidential campaign, namely that his experience and toughness uniquely equip him to protect America from what he tauntingly calls “Islamic terrorists” — an enemy that he always portrays himself as ready to confront, and the Democrats as ready to accommodate.

The contradictory and stunning reality is that Giuliani Partners, the consulting company that has made Giuliani rich, feasts at the Qatar trough, doing business with the ministry run by the very member of the royal family identified in news and government reports as having concealed KSM—the terrorist mastermind who wired funds from Qatar to his nephew Ramzi Yousef prior to the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, and who also sold the idea of a plane attack on the towers to Osama bin Laden—on his Qatar farm in the mid-1990s.

This royal family member is Abdallah bin Khalid al-Thani, Qatar’s minister of Islamic affairs at the time, who was later installed at the interior ministry in January 2001 and reappointed by the emir during a government shake-up earlier this year. Abdallah al-Thani is also said to have welcomed Osama bin Laden on two visits to the farm, a charge repeated as recently as October 10, 2007, in a Congressional Research Service study. Abdallah al-Thani’s interior ministry or the state-owned company it helps oversee, Qatar Petroleum, has worked with Giuliani Security & Safety LLC, a subsidiary of Giuliani Partners, on an undisclosed number of contracts, the value of which neither the government nor the company will release. But there’s little question that a security agreement with Qatar’s government, or with Qatar Petroleum, would put a company like Giuliani’s in direct contact with the ministry run by Abdallah al-Thani: The website of Qatar’s government, and the interior ministry’s press office, as well as numerous press stories, all confirm that the ministry controls a 2,500-member police force, the General Administration of Public Security, and the Mubahathat, or secret police. The ministry’s charge under law is to “create and institute security in this country.” Hassan Sidibe, a public-relations officer for the ministry, says that “a company that does security work, they have to get permission from the interior ministry.”

What’s most shocking is that Abdallah al-Thani has been widely accused of helping to spirit KSM out of Qatar in 1996, just as the FBI was closing in on him. Robert Baer, a former CIA supervisor in the region, contends in a 2003 memoir that the emir himself actually sanctioned tipping KSM. The staff of the 9/11 Commission, meanwhile, noted that the FBI and CIA “were reluctant to seek help from the Qatari government” in the arrest of KSM, “fearing that he might be tipped off.” When Qatar’s emir was finally “asked for his help” in January 1996, Qatari authorities “first reported that KSM was under surveillance,” then “asked for an alternative plan that would conceal their aid to Americans,” and finally “reported that KSM had disappeared.”

Giuliani’s lifelong friend Louis Freeh, the FBI head who talked to Giuliani periodically about terrorist threats during Giuliani’s mayoral years and has endorsed him for president, was so outraged that he wrote a formal letter to Qatar’s foreign minister complaining that he’d received “disturbing information” that KSM “has again escaped the surveillance of your Security Services and that he appears to be aware of FBI interest in him.”

Abdallah al-Thani remains a named defendant in the 9/11 lawsuits that are still proceeding in Manhattan federal court, but his Washington lawyers declined to address the charges that he shielded KSM, insisting only that he never “supported” any “terrorist acts.” Asked if Abdallah al-Thani ever supported any terrorists rather than their acts, his lawyer David Nachman declined to comment further. The Congressional Research Service report summarized the evidence against him: “According to the 9/11 Commission Report and former U.S. government officials, royal family member and current Qatari Interior Minister, Sheikh Abdullah (Abdallah) bin Khalid Al Thani, provided safe harbor and assistance to Al Qaeda leaders during the 1990s,” including KSM. While numerous accounts have named Abdallah as the KSM tipster, the report simply says that “a high ranking member of the Qatari government” is believed to have “alerted” KSM “to the impending raid.”

Freeh’s letter in 1996 highlighted the consequences of this government-orchestrated escape with a prophetic declaration, saying that the “failure to apprehend KSM would allow him and other associates to continue to conduct terrorist operations.” Indeed, had KSM, who was even then focused on the use of hijacked planes as weapons, been captured in 1996, 9/11 might well have never happened.

In other words, as incredible as it might seem, Rudy Giuliani—whose presidential candidacy is steeped in 9/11 iconography—has been doing business with a government agency run by the very man who made the attacks on 9/11 possible.

This startling revelation is not a sudden disclosure from new sources. It has, in fact, been staring us in the face for many months.

The Wall Street Journal reported on November 7 that one Giuliani Partners client the former mayor hadn’t previously disclosed was, in fact, the government of Qatar. Quoting the recently retired Bush envoy to Qatar, Chase Untermeyer, the Journal reported that state-run Qatar Petroleum had signed a contract with Giuliani Security “around 2005” and that the firm (of which Giuliani has a 30 percent equity stake) is offering security advice to a giant natural-gas processing facility called Ras Laffan. While the interior ministry wouldn’t confirm individual contracts, it did tell the Voice that Qatar Petroleum and security “purchasing” are part of its portfolio.

(The Journal story was followed by a similar piece in the Chicago Tribune last week, which revealed that Giuliani’s firm has also represented a complex casino partnership seeking to build a $3.5 billion Singapore resort. The partnership included “the family of a controversial Hong Kong billionaire who has ties to the regime of North Korea’s Kim Jong II and has been linked to international organized crime by the U.S. government.”)

The Journal story, however, didn’t go into detail about the unsavory connections that Giuliani had made in the Middle East. The Journal wrote that it learned about the Qatar contract after reading a speech that Untermeyer gave in 2006, when he said that Giuliani’s firm had “important contracts” in Qatar. In fact, Untermeyer—who returned to Texas when he stepped down as ambassador to join a real-estate firm partnered with the National Bank of Qatar—told the Houston Forum that Giuliani’s “security company” has “several” contracts in Qatar, and that Giuliani himself “comes to Doha [Qatar’s capital] twice a year.” Untermeyer’s wife Diana spoke at the same event about their daughter Elly, who she said “makes friends with all she meets—other kids, generals, sheikhs, and even our famous American visitors like former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, whom she deems ‘cool.’ ”

While it is true that Giuliani hasn’t disclosed the particulars of his Qatar business, he and others at the firm have been bragging about it for years, presumably on the assumption that mentioning good-paying clients is the best way to generate more of the same. Giuliani told South Africa’s Business Times in June 2006, for example, that he’d “recently helped Qatar” to transform Doha in preparation for the Asian Games, an Olympics- sanctioned, 45-country competition that occurred last December. He was in Johannesburg in part to offer to do the same before South Africa hosts the 2010 World Cup. “They had the same concerns as you,” he said at the Global Leaders Africa summit, “and I helped them pull things together. You can see not only how they pulled together physical things that were necessary, such as stadiums, but how they used the plan to improve their security.”

Richard Bradshaw, a consulting-services manager for an Australian security firm that played a two-and-a-half-year role in planning the Asian Games, says that “the ministry of the interior is essentially the chief ministry in charge of internal security”—for the games and other matters. Bradshaw says that he “heard the name of Giuliani Partners quoted in this town,” but that he knew nothing directly about their Asian Games involvement, adding that “maybe they just dealt with high levels in the government.” But Hassan Sidibe, the interior ministry’s press officer, says that a special organizing committee handled contracts for the Asian Games and that “the minister of interior was part of that committee.”

In addition to specific references to the natural-gas and Asian Games deals, Giuliani Partners has hinted at broader ties to Qatar. A New York Post story in January that was filled with quotes about Giuliani Partners’ clients from Michael Hess, a managing partner at the firm, reported that Giuliani himself “has given advice from Qatar to Spain.” Another Post story in May reported that Giuliani had made lucrative speeches in 30 countries—which he does in addition to his Giuliani Partners business—and named Qatar as one of those locations. A New York Times story in January, also laced with Hess quotes, reported that Pasquale J. D’Amuro, the ex-FBI chief who replaced Bernard Kerik as the head of Giuliani’s security division, “has traveled to meet with executives in Japan, Qatar, and other nations, often focusing on clients who seek the firm out for advice on how to protect against a terrorist attack.” Any of these dealings in Qatar that involved security would necessarily connect the firm with the interior ministry run by Abdallah al-Thani.

Peter Boyer, whose New Yorker profile of Giuliani appeared this August, quoted D’Amuro and Giuliani about the expertise and work of Ali Soufan, an Arabic-speaking Lebanese-American who also left the FBI to become the international director of Giuliani Security. Both D’Amuro and Giuliani said that Soufan, the lead investigator in the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in 2000, had been spending “most of his time” in a Persian Gulf country that is a Giuliani client. Boyer didn’t identify the country, but another source familiar with Soufan’s assignment has confirmed that Soufan has, until recently, been based in Qatar. “The firm has helped the country with training, and with a revamping of its security infrastructure,” Boyer wrote. “The locale is an ideal listening post for someone whose expertise is unraveling the tangle of international terror.” Soufan was the firm’s point man with the royal family, according to another former FBI operative, even providing security advice for Her Highness Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned, the emir’s favorite of his three wives.

Gulf States Newsletter, a respected news publication in the region, used similar language this October to describe the firm’s business in Qatar. Closing a lengthy piece of boosterism that assessed who was getting security contracts in Qatar, the newsletter cited a sole example “in the field of high-end consultancy,” namely what it called “well-partnered players like Giuliani Associates.” It said the firm had, “through a combination of luck and good positioning, become trusted partners” of the Qatari government. The “key lesson for any security sector incomer,” concluded the newsletter, is that “in Qatar it is necessary but not sufficient to be technically competent. As ever, it may be who you know, not what you know, that wins the day.”

Despite this ample supply of evidence, Sunny Mindel, the firm’s spokeswoman, denied in a November 11 Post story that Giuliani Partners “had any ties to Qatar Petroleum.” Mindel may have meant that the company’s business in Qatar had come to an end, parsing her verbs carefully, or she may have been denying that the contract came directly from the petroleum entity, suggesting that the government itself paid for this security advice. Mindel’s elusive answers are consistent with other efforts by the company to conceal the Qatar deals, even as Giuliani and others have occasionally talked openly about them. These efforts suggest that Giuliani is aware the association could prove disquieting, even without the embarrassing connection to the notorious KSM.

The best example of how Giuliani’s Qatar ties could prove disastrous for his presidential candidacy occurred a year ago, at the opening of the Asian Games on December 1, 2006, eleven days after Giuliani registered his presidential exploratory committee. Ben Smith, then of the Daily News and now with, obtained a detailed internal memo from the Giuliani campaign in January, and it contained a travel schedule. Smith wrote that “Giuliani spent the first weekend in December in Doha, Qatar, at the Qatari-government sponsored Asian Games, on which he had reportedly worked as a consultant.” Giuliani’s calendar indicates that he arrived in Qatar on December 2 and left on December 3, heading to Las Vegas to address the state’s GOP. The Qatari government spent $2.8 billion to host the games, building a massive sports complex with security very much in mind. “We have 8,000 well-trained security members and the latest technology that were used in the Olympics,” said a security spokesman.

On December 1, the day before Giuliani arrived, the emir’s special guests at the lavish opening, attended by 55,000, were Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Palestinian prime minister Ismail Haniyeh and Syrian president Bashar Assad, all of whom are Qatar allies and were pictured sitting together on television. Giuliani’s presence that weekend wasn’t noted in news coverage at the time, even though his firm had apparently provided security advice for an event that included Ahmadinejad, whose country Giuliani has since promised to “set back five years” should it pursue its nuclear program. Ahmadinejad was later assailed by opponents in his own country for watching a female song-and-dance show that was part of the opening extravaganza. The presence of Hamas’s Haniyeh, who attended private meetings with the emir while Giuliani was in Qatar, might also have been embarrassing to Giuliani, since Qatar agreed to pay $22.5 million a month to cover the salaries of 40,000 Palestinian teachers, as well as to create a bank in the territories with a $50 million initial deposit. This break in the boycott against Hamas orchestrated by the U.S. and Israel prompted a stern rebuke from the State Department on December 5.

While Qatar’s emir has allowed the U.S. to locate its central command and other strategic facilities in the country, including the largest pre-positioning base in the region, his government was also the only member of the U.N. Security Council to oppose the July 2006 resolution that called on Iran to suspend all nuclear research and development activities. Indeed, Iran and Qatar share the North Field/South Pars natural-gas deposit off the Qatari coast, the very one that includes the Giuliani-advised Ras Laffan project. Similarly, the emir praised the Hezbollah resistance in Lebanon during the 2006 war with Israel, calling it “the first Arab victory, something we had longed for,” and he visited southern Lebanon after the war, meeting with families and giving away $250 million to rebuild destroyed homes. While Qatar had allowed Israel to open a small trade mission in Doha amid much fanfare in the mid-’90s, it had virtually shut down the office by 2000, and the last of the Israeli envoys left in 2003.

Also, Saddam Hussein’s wife, Sajida Khayrallah Tilfa, lives in Qatar, in defiance of an Interpol arrest warrant and her appearance on the Iraqi government’s 2006 most-wanted list for allegedly providing financial support to Iraqi insurgents, according to an October 2007 report by the Congressional Research Service. Invited with her daughter to Qatar by the deputy prime minister, she has not returned to Iraq despite an extradition demand issued months before Giuliani’s December visit.

Another potentially uncomfortable Giuliani visit to Doha also stayed under the radar. On January 16, 2006, Giuliani visited the Aspire Academy for Sports Excellence and the Aspire Zone, the largest sports dome in the world, built for the Asian Games as well as future international events (including the Olympic Games, which Qatar hopes to host someday). Giuliani praised the academy, which he called “a fantastic achievement,” adding that he was “looking forward to seeing it develop in the coming years.” Aspire’s communications director says that Giuliani “spent more than an hour and a half” touring its facilities, adding that the former mayor “spoke very eloquently.” But even putting his stamp of approval on such apparently benign facilities could come back to bite Giuliani: The academy, a $1.3 billion facility designed to move Qatar into the top ranks of international soccer, has been denounced in unusually blunt terms by Sepp Blatter, the head of world football’s governing body, FIFA. Blatter called Qatar’s “establishment of recruitment networks”—using 6,000 staff members to assess a half-million young footballers in seven African countries and then moving the best to Qatar—”a good example of exploitation.”

The Aspire facilities were part of the Asian Games security preparations that Giuliani told the Business Times his firm had participated in planning, since the dome allowed 10 sports to be staged simultaneously under one roof. But even the notice of Giuliani’s January appearance, which was posted on the website of an English newspaper there, made no mention of his consulting work for the government. The ex-FBI source says that Giuliani’s secretive security work in Qatar—which also includes vulnerability assessments on port facilities in Doha and pipeline security—would necessarily have involved the interior ministry.

A case officer in the CIA’s Directorate of Operations for nearly 19 years, Robert Baer—who calls Qatar “the center of intrigue in the Gulf”—laid out the KSM escape story in his 2003 book,
Sleeping with the Devil. His source was Hamad bin Jasim bin Hamad al-Thani, a close relative of the emir who was once the finance minister and chief of police. (An exile living in Beirut in 1997 when Baer began a relationship with him, Hamad al-Thani has since been captured by Qatar and is serving a life sentence for attempting to overthrow the emir.) Hamad told Baer that Abdallah al-Thani, whom he described as “a fanatic Wahhabi,” had taken KSM “under his wing” and that the emir had ordered Hamad to help Abdallah. He gave 20 blank Qatari passports to Abdallah, who he said gave them to KSM. “As soon as the FBI showed up in Doha” in 1996, the emir, according to Hamad, ordered Abdallah to move KSM out of his apartment to his beach estate, and eventually out of the country. “Flew the coop. Sayonara,” Hamad concluded.

Baer’s account of how KSM got away is the most far-reaching, implicating the emir himself. Since KSM “moved his family to Qatar at the suggestion” of Abdallah al-Thani, according to the 9/11 Commission, and held a job at the Ministry of Electricity and Water, Baer’s account is hardly implausible. The commission even found that Abdallah ah-Thani “underwrote a 1995 trip KSM took to join the Bosnia jihad.” Bill Gertz, the Washington Times reporter whose ties to the Bush White House are well established, affirmed Baer’s version in his 2002 book, Breakdown. Another CIA agent, Melissa Boyle Mahle, who was assigned to the KSM probe in Qatar in 1995, said that she tried to convince the FBI to do a snatch operation rather than taking the diplomatic approach, concerned about “certain Qatari officials known for their sympathies for Islamic extremists.” Instead, “Muhammad disappeared immediately after the request to the government was made,” making it “obvious to me what had happened.” Louis Freeh’s book says simply: “We believe he was tipped off; but however he got away, it was a slipup with tragic consequences.” Neither Mahle nor Freeh named names.

Counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke so mistrusted the Qataris that he plotted an extraordinary rendition, but the FBI, CIA, and Defense Department said they couldn’t pull it off. Then he asked the ambassador to “obtain the Emir’s approval for a snatch, without the word getting to anyone else.” Despite assurances that “only a few senior officials knew about our plan, KSM learned of it and fled the country ahead of the FBI’s arrest team’s arrival,” Clarke concluded in his book, Against All Enemies. “We were of course outraged at Qatari security and assumed the leak came from within the palace.” Clarke noted that “one report” indicated that KSM had evaporated on a passport supplied by Abdallah al-Thani’s Islamic-affairs ministry. When Clarke was told by the Los Angeles Times in 2003 that Abdallah had been elevated to interior minister, he said: “I’m shocked to hear that. You’re telling me that al-Thani is in charge of security inside Qatar. I hope that’s not true.” Having just left the Bush administration, Clarke added that Abdallah “had great sympathy for bin Laden, great sympathy for terrorist groups, [and] was using his personal money and ministry money to transfer to al Qaeda front groups that were allegedly charities.” The Los Angeles Times quoted “several U.S. officials involved in the hunt” for KSM who fingered Abdallah as “the one who learned of the imminent FBI dragnet and tipped off Muhammad.”

Even earlier than the Los Angeles Times report, ABC News’ Brian Ross reported that Abdallah had warned KSM, citing American intelligence officials, and added that KSM had left Qatar “with a passport provided by that country’s government.” Ross didn’t limit his broadside to Abdallah, saying that “there were others in the Qatari royal family who were sympathetic and provided safe havens for Al Qaeda.” A New York Times story in 2003 said that Abdallah “harbored as many as 100 Arab extremists on his farm.” The story also quoted Freeh as saying that KSM had “over 20 false passports at his disposal” and cited American officials who suspected Abdallah of tipping him off. However, the Times story also quoted a Qatari official who claimed that Abdallah “always provided support for Islamic extremists with the knowledge and acceptance of Qatar’s emir.”

Indeed, the Times reported in another 2003 story that after 9/11, KSM was said by Saudi intelligence officials to have “spent two weeks hiding in Qatar, with the help of prominent patrons.” Abdul Karim al-Thani, a royal family member who did not hold a government post, was also accused in the story of operating a safe house for Abu Massab al-Zarqawi, who later became the face of the early Iraqi insurgency but was depicted then as an Al Qaeda operative moving from Baghdad to Afghanistan. Abdul al-Thani, according to a senior coalition official, provided Qatari passports and a million-dollar bank account to finance the network.

Other connections between Qatar and terrorism have been reported in the press. Newsweek identified an Iraqi living in Doha and working at Abdallah’s Islamic-affairs ministry as being detained by Qatar police because of the ties he had to 9/11 hijackers—yet he was released even though phone records linked him as well to the 1993 bombers and the so-called “Bojinka” plot hatched in Manila to blow up civilian airlines. A Chechen terrorist financier harbored in Qatar was assassinated there by a Russian hit squad in 2004. Yousef Qardawi, a cleric with a talk show on Al Jazeera and ties to the emir, issued a fatwa against Americans the same year. An engineer at Qatar Petroleum carried out a suicide bomb attack at a theater popular with Westerners in early 2005, killing one and wounding 12.

Finally, the long-smoldering question of whether Osama bin Laden played a role in the 1996 bombing of the American barracks at Khobar Towers—funneling 20 tons of C-4 explosives into Saudi Arabia through Qatar—resurfaced in a story based intelligence reports and endorsed by none other than Dick Cheney. In 2003, Steven Hayes of The Weekly Standard wrote a celebrated story based on a 16-page Defense Department intelligence assessment. The thrust of the story was to advance the administration’s thesis about Al Qaeda’s ties to Iraq, but Hayes also found that in a January 1996 visit to Qatar, Osama bin Laden “discussed the successful movement of explosives into Saudi Arabia, and operations targeted against U.S. interests” in Khobar and two other locations, “using clandestine al Qaeda cells in Saudi Arabia.” The 2007 CRS study says that it is “unclear” if those conversations were “related to the preparations for the June 1996 attack” that killed 19 servicemen, but that the “Qatari individual” who reportedly hosted bin Laden for these discussions was none other than Abdallah al-Thani. Bill Gertz and others have been writing for years that the path to the carnage at Khobar led through Doha.

The Khobar attack closely followed an unsuccessful coup attempt against the emir on February 20, 1996, which Qatar officials, in later criminal prosecutions, formally accused Saudi Arabia of fomenting. Analysts in the region have suggested that any use of Qatar as a launching pad for the Khobar attack so soon after the coup attempt was likely to have been approved at the highest levels of the government. In October 1996, within months of both the KSM escape and the Khobar bombing, Abdallah al-Thani got his first major promotion, elevated by the emir to Minister of State for Interior Affairs, a cabinet position.

All of this evidence of Qatar’s role as a facilitator of terrorism—reaching even to the emir himself—was reported well before Giuliani Partners began its business there “around 2005.” Yet even the New York Times story, filled with quotes from Giuliani’s friend Freeh, didn’t deter him. Nor did the firm’s retention of D’Amuro and Soufan, two ex-FBI counterterrorism experts who certainly knew the terror landscape of Qatar.

Soufan, in fact, was the primary investigator who assembled the case against the terrorists who bombed American embassies in Africa in 1998. And the testimony in that 2001 trial established that the Qatar Charitable Society, a nongovernmental agency that is said to “draw much of its funding from official sources,” helped finance the attack. Daniel Pipes, a foreign-policy adviser to the Giuliani campaign, has branded the Qatar Charitable Society “one of bin Laden’s de facto banks.” Reached at home and asked about his work in Qatar, Soufan declined to comment.

Even the revelations about Khobar Towers didn’t slow Giuliani down, though he’s subsequently made the bombing a central feature in his stump-speech litany of the Clinton administration’s failings. Giuliani also ignored an official State Department report on terrorism for 2003—released in mid-2004, just before his firm began doing business in Qatar—which said that the country’s security services “monitored extremists passively,” and that “members of transnational terrorist groups and state sponsors of terror are present in Qatar.” The report added that Qatar’s government “remains cautious about taking any action that would cause embarrassment or public scrutiny” when nationals from the Gulf countries were involved. (Later reports issued by the new secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, moderated the department’s Qatar assessment.) Also in 2004, Michael Knights, an analyst at the Washington Institute who works with the Defense Department, wrote that a “Wahhabi clique” tied to extremists “is still in charge [in Qatar], and seeded the security establishment with personnel of their choosing.” But even this strong, specific warning didn’t deter Giuliani Partners’ interest in Qatar.

Presumably, Giuliani’s rationale for doing business there was that Qatar had become an American ally, hosting up to 40,000 troops. The CRS report put the complexity of the relationship well, noting that American concerns about Qatari support for terrorists “have been balanced over time by Qatar’s counterterrorism efforts and its broader, long-term commitment to host and support U.S. military forces.” In a footnote, the CRS report adds that the emir may finally be downplaying Abdallah al-Thani’s influence, even as he reappointed him this year. The U.S. government may have to be satisfied with that suggestion of progress; it does not have limitless military options in the Middle East. (The emir, for his part, once reportedly explained his willingness to host U.S. forces by saying: “The only way we can be sure the Americans will answer our 911 call is if we have the police at our own house.”)

Giuliani Partners, however, has a world of choices, quite literally. Some American companies who do business in Qatar, like Shell and ExxonMobil, have to chase the gas and oil wherever they are. But a consulting company with instant name recognition like Giuliani’s—and which claims to carefully vet its clients—can be both profitable and selective. Moreover, it’s the only American company known to be providing security advice to Qatar; the rest hail from Singapore, Australia, and France. A company headed by a man who has known that he would make this presidential run for years—and with 9/11 as its rationale—could have chosen to make his millions elsewhere. Especially a candidate who divides the world into good guys and bad guys, claims that this war is a “divine” mission, and shuns complexity. For that kind of a candidate, Qatar may become one Giuliani contradiction too many.




Founded in Tel Aviv 50 years ago, with Martha Graham as its first artistic adviser, Batsheva Dance Company is Israel’s largest dance troupe. Current director Ohad Naharin, one of the most prolific and innovative choreographers working today, began his career there but spent years in New York before taking the reins. For the ensemble’s sixth visit to BAM, he brings the 2011 Sadeh21; set to a wildly diverse collage score assembled by Maxim Waratt, the piece was devised in collaboration between Naharin and 18 athletic dancers who speak, sing, crawl, and collapse. In a bare white space, as abstract as any composition of human bodies can possibly be, it startles with contrasts between joyous abandon and piercing solitude.

Nov. 12-15, 7:30 p.m., 2014


Netflix Doc E-Team Showcases Human Rights Workers Fighting in the Field

Well-known both for its political activities and for its long-running film festival, Human Rights Watch becomes the subject of a documentary itself in E-Team. Katy Chevigny and Ross Kauffman’s film isn’t a broad portrait of the organization.

Instead, it focuses on four Europe-based case workers on the HRW emergency team: Anna Neistat; her husband, Ole Solvang; Peter Bouckaert; and Fred Abrahams. Starting in 2011, they investigated human rights abuses in Syria and Libya. Initially, these are presented almost as if E-Team were a fictional adventure film and Neistat a female Indiana Jones.

The emphasis on the team’s daring amid mass chaos seems a bit off: This threatens to become yet another film about white Americans and Europeans telling the stories of Third World people. But the rest of the film does much to redeem that dubious trope: E-Team is ultimately about activists trying to summarize the crimes of Syria’s Assad regime in a way that will inspire the world’s media and governments to take action.

The results are sometimes maddening: A Moscow press conference leads to accusations of HRW being part of an American conspiracy. Abrahams points to his experiences in Kosovo in the late ’90s and the eventual prosecution of Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic as success stories for the organization. However, it’s much harder to put an upbeat face on three years of slaughter in Syria, all documented by the E-Team. You sense them struggling to remain positive, even as the very existence of this film suggests that many people care deeply about the work of Human Rights Watch.


Francophone Comedy My Old Lady Never Quite Makes Sense

My Old Lady sounds like a title from the days of screwball comedy, a genre in which director Israel Horovitz’s adaptation of his own play might have fared better.

Concerning the French property release scheme known as viager, wherein a buyer pays a monthly fee in exchange for ownership when the seller one day kicks the bucket, the film stars a blustery Kevin Kline as Mathias Gold, an itinerant heir arrived in Paris to claim his late father’s property, and Maggie Smith as Mathilde, a nonagenarian who, it turns out, is legally tied to the apartment. Her daughter, Chloé (Kristin Scott Thomas), meets Mathias when he bursts in on her in the john; later, she indignantly declares him an “imbecile.”

It sounds like a recipe for comedy (and Kline seems to think so too, waltzing and prat-falling through Mathias’s alcoholic foibles), but Horovitz’s screenplay guns instead for an emotionally and financially tangled melodrama, and ends up feeling aggravatingly inconsistent. His directing frequently places character development at odds with the flow of information, and despite repetitive explanations, the financial arrangement somehow remains as vague and nonsensical as Mathias and Chloé’s budding romance.

Never mind that this vaunted cast deserves better (the film was shot on location, so all three leads probably got a nice vacation out of it) — Horovitz somehow turns Paris into a city of dingy canals, dimly lit interiors, and generic sidewalk cafés. It’s not romantic so much as depressing. There’s a reason why the three main characters eventually settle into an entente with (if not literal, then certainly emotional) incestuous undertones. Anyone who’s not profiting directly from this arrangement won’t want to stick around to hash out the details.


Spiritual Doc Kabbalah Me Isn’t Quite Transcendent

Steven Bram is a filmmaker on the cusp of 50, who has tried and failed to find fulfillment “from jumping out of an airplane to going to Grateful Dead shows.” Now he’s turned to kabbalah. Formerly an apathetic Jew and voracious eater of lobster, Bram wants to understand Jewish mysticism, and whether it might be meaningful for him. The result is the sweetly odd documentary Kabbalah Me.

Though its structure occasionally feels too heimish, as when Bram trots out photos of himself as a child, Bram’s film is most interesting when he visits with Hasidic relatives in Brooklyn, or interviews his wife, Miriam, who describes herself as “a practical person” and finds her husband’s new enthusiasm baffling. Uninterested in religious practice, Miriam pursues yoga and Buddhism while her husband heads to Israel. In a softer moment, she allows that “Steven and I often learn the same philosophies from different texts and different people.”

This democratic view of enlightenment makes the film welcoming and intriguing, though it’s hard to overlook the privilege that allows Bram his time for contemplation. But who hasn’t wanted to “overcome…this disconnect of the universe?” The visuals are less transcendent, the Israel footage especially dull and ill framed. Even the sacred city Safed is reduced to obligatory images of sandstone and palm trees — but the film’s first shots, filmed in NYC, where Bram lives, are luminous.

Thousands of Hasidic men holding hands dance joyfully, filling the screen with smears of black and white. Then, toward the documentary’s end, Bram walks by the East River at sunset, the Brooklyn Bridge searing through an egg yolk sky, and eternity feels very close.


Omar Souleyman

You may not know his name, but Omar Souleyman is, by far, the coolest man alive. The musician hails from Ra’s al-‘Ayn, Syria, and with his 2013 record Wenu Wenu, he broke out of his standard audience and into the worlds of those who subscribe to The Fader. On stage, he floats around stoically, sporting sunglasses and a smile. He claps along to his songs, of which he’ll play roughly four or five for an entire set given the typical length of around 15 minutes. The music, despite being a bit different for those of us used to listening to guitar rock, is bouncy and strange and bizarrely infectious and positive. Omar makes everyone experiencing Omar feel great—so you need to experience Omar yourself.

Wed., Aug. 6, 8:30 p.m., 2014


The New Museum Assembles a Staggering Show of Arab Art

New Yorkers are accustomed to publicly admitting our provincialism while privately upholding the belief that we live at the center of it all. The New Museum’s current exhibition “Here and Elsewhere” does nothing if not deftly point out that, at least as far as the art world is concerned, our horizons need quite a bit of expanding. The show is New York’s first museumwide survey of contemporary art “from and about the Arab world,” an uncomfortable, sweeping proposition that cuts across its subjects with a double-edged sword, reminding us that geography is as much about projection as about physical place.

Curated by Massimiliano Gioni and an in-house team including Natalie Bell, Gary Carrion-Murayari, Helga Christoffersen and Margot Norton, “Here and Elsewhere” borrows its title from the film Ici et ailleurs (1976) by Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Pierre Gorin, and Anne-Marie Miéville. What began for the filmmakers as a sympathetic documentary about the Palestinian struggle became an uneasy meditation on the ethics of photographic representation. Images — like borders — are political, porous. They frame and restrain their contents, mediating the spaces between subject and viewer while other meanings, other agendas, still sneak in.

The exhibition winds this thread through the work of 45 artists for whom image-making is a potent, slippery tool for documenting, creating, and reclaiming ever-unspooling identity narratives that are both personal and political, chosen and imposed. New Yorkers may recognize some of the artists in the show (Yto Barrada, Wael Shawky, Etel Adnan), but most of the names will be new. As such, there is much to see in this intelligent, at times cacophonous exhibition as it conducts the eye across the nations of Syria, Lebanon, Kuwait, Morocco, Egypt, Dubai, Tunisia, Jordan, Iran, Iraq, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates to forge a rich and complicating vision of Arab identity.

As you open the door to the museum, you walk past a large-scale photograph plastered to its glass façade, of a lavishly appointed entrance to an Arabian Gulf resort. Once inside, turn around to see that the image has disappeared and left you looking back onto the Bowery through dully tinted windows. The illusion is courtesy of The One and Only Madinat New Museum Royal Mirage, an installation by the Gulf-based artists collective known as GCC. If the piece is a witty heads-up that the show is but a vision of the Arab world, other works remind us that there are very real theres there.

The short videos of Syrian production-collective Abounaddara capture the epic intimacies of everyday life, moving images to balance those the news broadcasts of civil war. In Jamal Penjweny’s photographic series, Saddam is here, Iraqi citizens are snapped in situ, holding portraits of Saddam Hussein over their faces. Read by an American, the portraits are shameful reminders of then-President Bush’s mapping and attacking Iraq as part of an “axis of evil,” though the masking also speaks to the psychological aftermath of Saddam’s dictatorship. The burdens of violence are also captured in Jordanian photographer Tanya Habjouqa’s Tomorrow there will be apricots, which documents the heavy mementos Syrian refugee women carry to remind themselves of those they’ve lost in the war.

The exhibition also reveals the sites out of sight (as it were), where identity has been expressed and explored with daring intimacy. The luminous self-portraits of Turkish-born Cairene photographer Van Leo were taken in his studio in the early to mid-1940s and capture the artist costumed as characters one might see in the movies, including one image of him in drag. Inside his Studio Shehrazade, Lebanese photographer Hashem el Madani snapped decades’ worth of clients posing and role playing — kissing, dancing, brandishing arms — seemingly without worry as to who was looking.

Although photographs and moving images comprise the majority of the show, artists working in other media contribute to the conversation with equal power. Syrian painter Marwan’s intense expressionistic figures agitate before us, while the languid and graceful lines of Palestinian conceptual artist Suha Traboulsi’s works in ink on paper eschew such representations for minimal gestures. Three color-block landscapes painted by Lebanese artist and poet Etel Adnan hang opposite the framed manuscript pages from her book-length poem, The Arab Apocalypse (1989), which many consider to be a masterwork of literature after the Lebanese Civil War. Her typewritten words laced throughout with handwritten revisions remind us that where images fail, language can provoke visions of another kind.

Perhaps the show’s greatest success is that there are so many artists here worth noting. (The joy of discovery isn’t a service most New York museums typically provide.) Egyptian Anna Boghiguian’s drawings are forceful incantations of odd wonderlands that collapse the ancient with the contemporary. Palestinian Wafa Hourani’s Qalandia 2087, meanwhile, constructs a vision of the Qalandia refugee camp’s future, at once dystopian and dazzling. Plan to linger longer at Bouchra Khalili’s video installation, titled, The Mapping Project, as well as Amal Kenawy’s dreamlike animation, The Purple Artificial Forest. Leave time to hover over Rokni Haerizadeh’s tragicomic drawings, Abdul Hay Mosallam’s relief paintings in acrylic and sawdust…the list could go on.

Although the exhibition prods us to see and think through and beyond the limits of place, a curatorial eagerness to illuminate the show’s subjects unsurprisingly leads to a fatiguing didacticism. The artists’ contributions are meticulously narrated throughout the entire exhibition, so much so that you may find yourself having to ignore the somewhat lengthy wall texts in order to have time enough to look. The problem has perhaps less to do with word count than it does with the classic perils of how an artwork’s origins, an artist’s intentions, and an institution’s bid for education can overdetermine how an audience receives the work itself. That said, audiences should view any excess of direction as an embarrassment of riches set inside what is, from beginning to end, an absolute gem.


Art vs. State: Panahi’s Closed Curtain Unveils Iran

Sometimes, if not often enough, movies demand to be watched as something more than just expensive daydreams — they come festooned with real-world urgency and relevance, and the context of their existence kicks the shit out of how entertained we may or may not be at any given moment. No contemporary filmmaker possesses the hyper-context belonging to Jafar Panahi, who has become justly world famous for not only being under house arrest in Iran until 2016 and banned from filmmaking for 20 years (for anti-government “propaganda”) but also for continuing to make films anyway.

Closed Curtain opens with a five-minute-long view through the security grate of Panahi’s beach house, as a cab pulls up down by the Caspian beach and slowly disgorges a writer (Kambuzia Partovi). Once inside, he releases the dog he had secreted in his duffel bag — and the reality dawns that he is in hiding, as much for himself as for his dog, whom he had saved from the Islamic Republic’s newly ramped-up campaign against “unclean” pets. (Soon enough the dog — in one of movie history’s deftest and most eloquent animal performances — is watching televised news footage of mass canine roundups and executions. We hardly need a better reason to dismiss the mullahs as blinkered fools.) The writer immediately closes the curtains and blacks out every window with cloth, and we have the acute sense that from here on in, everything concrete will be metaphoric, and vice versa.

Trapped with the protagonist in these rather lavish digs, we’re perhaps less surprised than he is to be accosted by a 20-something brother and sister (Hadi Saeedi and Maryam Moghadam) invading the house after running, so they say, from the police.

The girl lingers, and is clearly a projection from the outset, possibly of the writer’s own fears and worries (her supposed penchant for suicide attempts emerges later as Panahi’s own), and more likely as a figure in the unmentioned screenplay he’s trying to write. Eventually, Panahi appears as well, roughly alternating with his alter ego, and the film slips between the movie we’re watching, its production (which might include the script that never gets finished), and multiple movies within the movie, coming off as imagined scenarios that can be swiped and reconceptualized.

And that’s moviemaking, isn’t it? Of course the real world doesn’t stay out — in Closed Curtain an ominous break-in and ransacking necessitate the intrusion of neighbors and handymen, and they bring others, creating a kind of social meditation on how life can be lived in a violently absurdist culture. Art, on the other hand, may not survive.

Possibly the Iranian new wave’s last meta-man, Panahi is in an ideal position to make the unique methodology of his filmmaking merge with its substance. But he’s always been fascinated by how a film’s bell-jar bubble can be punctured, leaving a viscous interface between real and cinematic. Throughout Closed Curtain there’s the feeling that the film itself is unfinished — it is, in fact, unfinishable, because life does go on.

Peel the artichoke, beyond the visual doublings and textual enigmas — and the hypnotic cutaways to the dog named Boy, so baffled by life in Iran and so nakedly fascinated by his owner — and you may come to wonder, as I did, if the fictionalized “realness” of Panahi’s movie, and how it expresses his life’s dilemma, isn’t just more simulacra and self-publicity, as authentic or inauthentic as a bedroom YouTube spat or activist Twitter chain. If so, so what? The reality of Closed Curtain is entirely off-screen, in the grip of Sharia fanaticism, and no less vital for that. (After the film splashed at the Berlin Film Festival last year, Partovi and Moghadam have both had their passports confiscated at home.) If that’s not your idea of what movies can do, feel free to go stick your head up a giant robot’s ass.


The Defiant Manuscripts Don’t Burn Exposes Iran’s Brutal Measures Against Free Expression

Harrowing, defiant, and exemplifying through its very existence the moral courage its totalitarian villains stamp down, Mohammad Rasoulof’s Manuscripts Don’t Burn exposes the brutal measures Iran’s government takes against free expression, and does this so powerfully that, for fear of retaliation, its credits list no cast- or crewmember besides Rasoulof.

Rasoulof himself is now forbidden to leave his home country, far from his first punishment at the hands of a paranoid regime. (Manuscripts Don’t Burn exists despite its creator living under a 20-year ban from filmmaking.)

The film, while wrenching and audacious, is crafted with that humane and observational mastery of great Iranian cinema of recent decades: Even the lugs punishing writers for the state turn out to be regular guys battling their own consciences, and, early on, Rasoulof contributes a doozy of a sequence to the stockpile of that standby of Iranian film: real-time single-shot Frogger–style street crossings.

The build-up is patient, the story involving novelist Fourouzadeh learning that his new book can only be published with over 100 official changes; Khosrow, a freelance tough desperate for money to pay for his son’s hospitalization, is charged with recovering a document revealing the government’s involvement in the assassination attempts of writers, a document likely in the hands of Fourouzadeh.

The last third is gut-churning in its slow suspense, especially an inventive bit centered on a clothespin, but what lingers most, as in Rasoulof’s The White Meadows and Goodbye, is his honoring of life as it’s actually lived, even as he’s condemning what’s gone so wrong with it.


The Cruelty of Camel Racing Again Exposed in Desert Riders

None of the reliably irritating qualities of the social issue documentary gall quite so acutely as the tendency to venerate mere awareness.

Audiences are invited to leave such films duly pleased for having cared enough to watch, congratulated by the filmmakers for recognizing, from the comfort of the theater or living room, the iniquities of a strife-ridden world.

The injustice addressed by Desert Riders is a particularly alarming one: Many thousands of young boys, we learn, have been trafficked over the years from their homes in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Sudan to the United Arab Emirates, where, regularly starved and abused, they are commissioned to ride as jockeys in the country’s popular camel races. Survivors of this system emerge bedraggled and pained, and, as dozens testify to the extent of their mistreatment, it’s difficult to imagine anybody remaining unconvinced of the sport’s cruelty.

By this point in likeminded documentaries, a spirit of vicarious activism usually kicks in: We’ve been persuaded that the situation is dire, and we want to know what the world ought to do about it. Can we purchase some sort of supportive ribbon or rubber bracelet?

But it soon transpires that the camel-racing issue has already been resolved — nearly a decade ago, in fact, after HBO aired a documentary on the subject and the U.S. was called to intervene. (The camels are now ridden by small robots.) Well, that’s certainly a relief.

We’ve been made aware. And we don’t even have to do anything about it.