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Before the U.S. Government killed Qassem Soleimani, they killed his good friend Imad Mughniyeh. I know this because for some reason practically everyone with some knowledge of Mughniyeh’s 2008 death on the streets of Damascus decided to tell journalist Jeff Stein about the sordid details in 2015. This was a bit startling because Mughniyeh was murdered with a specially crafted bomb designed by the CIA’s Office of Technical Services.

“It went from being a traditional car bomb, with a load of C-4 or Semtex or something packed into car chassis, into a very narrowly focused, very tailored weapon, which turned into basically a very large claymore mine, if you will, a shaped charge” hidden in the center of a rear tire mounted on the back of a Toyota or Mitsubishi SUV, a source said. “It was designed to throw out everything in a specific direction.”

They parked the car in front of Muhgniyeh’s apartment and waited months for him to walk past it alone with no bystanders nearby. When the opportunity finally arrived, the results were exactly what they were looking for:

Finally, on the night of February 12, 2008, after two months of round-the-clock surveillance, they caught Mugniyah alone.

“They made a positive ID. Click. One, one thousand; two, one thousand… ka-boom. It separated Mr. Mugniyah’s arms, legs, and head from the remainder of his torso, which was catapulted about 50 feet through a window,” the participant said. “It worked exactly like it was supposed to.”

Stein was chosen to tell us about this because he’s trusted by the CIA. A member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers, Stein earned a Bronze Star in Vietnam. Yet he’s written articles that were probably not welcomed at CIA headquarters. In particular, I am thinking of the piece he wrote just before the 9/11 attacks on Claire George’s eight-year campaign to destroy the life of a freelance journalist named Janice Pottker.

If you vaguely remember the name Claire George, it’s probably because he “retired” as deputy director of operations at the CIA after he was caught lying to Congress about the Iran-Contra affair. Eventually, he was found guilty on two counts of making false statements. He was among the key Iran-Contra figures President George H.W. Bush pardoned on Christmas Eve in 1992.

Even before he was pardoned, however, he had taken a job as a “consultant” for the Ringling Bros. circus. It was in that role that he oversaw a plot to prevent Ms. Pottker from writing a book on the circus’s treatment of animals and children entertainers.  If you really want to go down a rabbit hole, I suggest you start looking into this, for the shits and giggles if nothing else.

Anyway, Claire George was at once stationed in Beirut which was the venue for Imad Mughniyeh’s most spectacular and horrific terrorist activities. These would be, specifically, the 1983 bombings of the U.S. Embassy and Marine Barracks, and the 1984 kidnapping and extensive torture of the CIA’s station chief William Buckley. The CIA held a bit of a grudge about this, for understandable reasons:

In a video taken approximately seven months after the kidnapping, [Buckley’s] appearance was described as follows:

Buckley was close to a gibbering wretch. His words were often incoherent; he slobbered and drooled and, most unnerving of all, he would suddenly scream in terror, his eyes rolling helplessly and his body shaking. The CIA consensus was that he would be blindfolded and chained at the ankles and wrists and kept in a cell little bigger than a coffin.

Buckley died in 1985, probably of a heart attack. Claire George died in 2008, the same year that the CIA separated Mughniyeh’s head, arms, and legs from his torso. So it goes.

While he lived, Mughniyah didn’t content himself with operating in Lebanon, however. He was also involved in the 1983 bombings in Kuwait, which you may not remember. The man he allegedly put in charge of that operation died in the same drone strikes that killed Qassem Soleimani at the Baghdad Airport.

Interestingly, the Kuwaitis arrested 17 people in connection to the 1983 bombings. The primary reason Hezbollah began kidnapping Americans in the mid-1980s was to trade them for the release of these 17 prisoners. It was Ronald Reagan’s desperation to secure the release of these hostages that led him to approve weapons sales to Iran, leading to the Iran-Contra scandal that ruined Claire George’s career. In the end, the 17 prisoners escaped when Iraq invaded Kuwait. They made their way back to Iran.

All of this demonstrates clearly, I believe, that one act of violence leads to another. What we’re seeing go on now is inextricably connected to things that happened decades ago. The U.S. government took out Mughniyah in 2008, and they took out his long-time collaborators in 2020. But this all ties back to 1983. And the bombings back then were a response to the U.S. green-lighting the Likud government in Israeli’s decision to invade and occupy Lebanon in 1982.

Others will want to go further back, to Operation Ajax, the CIA’s 1953 plot to reinstall the Shah in power in Tehran.

However you want to subdivide the history, there seems to be no end to the resulting violence and misery. Some on each side of the conflict may celebrate when a new character in the saga meets their demise, but it won’t end the cycle.

At some point, peacemakers need to get the upper hand and put a stop to this endless nightmare.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at