Friday, August 8, 2003

The strange case of Leili Helms

International affairs > Afghanistan
Leili (or Leila) Helms' case is unique. Niece of ex-CIA director Jesse Helms, and of Afghan descent, she was the de facto spokesperson for the Taliban in the United States before Sept. 11. This is a story about her career as a Taliban apologist, published in the Village Voice, before the WTC bombings; excerpt:

"Early this year, the Taliban's ambassador at large, Hashami, a young man speaking perfect English, met with CIA operations people and State Department reps, Helms says. At this final meeting, she says, Hashami proposed that the Taliban hold bin Laden in one location long enough for the U.S. to locate and destroy him. The U.S. refused, says Helms, who claims she was the go-between in this deal between the supreme leader and the feds.
A U.S. government source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, made clear that the U.S. is not trying to kill bin Laden but instead wants him expelled from Afghanistan so he can be brought to justice. Acknowledging that Laili Helms does a lot of lobbying on behalf of the Taliban, this source said Helms does not speak to the Taliban for the U.S."

Post 11-9-2001, she is no longer simply an oddity:

"Before the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States, her support of the Taliban was startling to some, but nobody described it as treasonous.
That has changed. For almost three months, Ms.Helms has lived under siege in her suburban house in Bergen County, N. J."

she still insisted on the same point though:

'To this day, she argues that the Taliban were not in league with him but that their leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, was too proud and primitive to break tribal rules of hospitality or surrender to American demands.
"Everyone I talked to in the Taliban wanted to hand him over," she said. "But Omar is an Afghan hillbilly who deals with the world at a tribal level, and the United States never really went down to his level."'

In their book "La Verite Interdite" ("The Forbidden Truth: U.S.-Taliban Secret Oil Diplomacy and the Failed Hunt for Bin Laden"), Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquie make a few mentions about Leili Helms:

"Between March 18 and March 23, Muhammad Omar's itinerant ambassador and personal advisor, twenty-four-year-old Sayed Rahmatullah Hashimi, mad a bvrief trip to the United States. His visit came just after the Taliban's destruction of the centuries-old Buddha statues in Bamiyan. Despite the tense context, Helms organized several meetings for the young Afghan dignitary, including ones at the Directorate of Intelligence at the CIA, and the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the State Department. Even better, Helms got her client interviews on two influencial media channels, ABC and National Public Radio. This was a perfect opportunity to improve the Taliban's image, and thus facilitate negotiations.""

The latest public sign of her that I could find was this interview of hers in the Spring 2002 issue of BardPolitik[warning: pdf file]. In it she analyses a lot of what has transpired in Afghanistan these past two years and the implications on US policy. Very interesting.
Which brings me to the question: given that she was the westerner closest to the Taliban (who, she still insists BTW, had nothing to do with Sept. 11) how come she was a side story rather than a main source in the whole Afghanistan coverage these past few years. I mean, here we have the niece of a former CIA chief for chrissakes, an insider supporting (for her own inexplicable, no matter how she defends them) reasons, a medieval misogynistic regime, that was considered responsible for the largest attack on American soil in history and she is (for all practical purposes ignored by mainstream US media? Two articles in two years are hardly the sort of exposure one would expect for such a person...
You be the judge on whether her story is interesting...

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