From the June 30 Glenn Beck show on Fox:
From the June 30 Glenn Beck show on Fox:
So, the FBI and the NYPD arrested a group of four pathetic losers who planned to commit acts of terrorism in New York. I'm glad they're headed for prison, even though it turns out that they're utter incompetents whose aspirational plot wouldn't have gone far enough to get them arrested if the authorities hadn't been stringing them along from the beginning. What's notable is that, unlike similar schemes that were disrupted during the last eight years, this time no one is freaking out over it. A dead on post like this one is completely unnecessary. Maybe we're slowly coming around to this realization:
For any American (at least any American who isn't patroling the streets of Mosul or trying to run down a story in the hills of Afghanistan) to be afraid or anxious about terrorism seems to me as peculiar as being afraid or anxious about being eaten by a shark, or murdered by a serial killer. After all, sharks and serial killers exist, but if I went around obsessing about the possibility of being victimized by either I would be considered cowardly, or paranoid, or both. Now if I were diving for abalone or surfing Mavericks it would be understandable to be a little anxious about sharks. But, when it comes to terrorism, 99.99% of Americans aren't surfing Mavericks -- they're in a shopping mall in Topeka, inside of which (apparently) a good number of them are worried about land sharks.
Maybe it helps that we no longer suffer under a Cheney administration that feels it needs to keep people in a state of fear.
Okay, so you may have heard that Republican partisans are demagoguing Obama's decision to close Guantanamo, claiming this will mean terrorists living next door to you. This is stupid, of course. Our prisons already house some seriously dangerous people, including terrorists like the Unabomber, the shoe bomber, and the blind sheikh. During WWII we housed over 400,000 German and Japanese POWs right here in the good old USA. The fearmongering on this issue is ludicrous:
So this is it, then, is it? They’re going to move Osama in next door to you. Every last one of you, everywhere. It’s very complicated, involving things like timeshares and wormholes and stem cells, but it’s happening, believe me. And when it doesn’t happen, we’ll have thought up something even dumber to tell you rubes, believe me. Maybe next time the Democrats will be grafting al Qaeda heads onto spider bodies and putting them in your baby’s crib. A winning message for 2012.
Needless to say, though, it's not so ludicrous that Harry Reid isn't quivering in fear of it:
REID: I'm saying that the United States Senate, Democrats and Republicans, do not want terrorists to be released in the United States. That's very clear.
QUESTION: No one's talking about releasing them. We're talking about putting them in prison somewhere in the United States.
REID: Can't put them in prison unless you release them.
QUESTION: Sir, are you going to clarify that a little bit? ...
REID: I can't make it any more clear than the statement I have given to you. We will never allow terrorists to be released in the United States.
It would be easier to keep Republicans from demagoguing this issue if the Democratic Senate Majority Leader didn't repeat their dishonest talking points. But Reid apparently has troubles of his own back in Nevada. (Hey, here's an idea -- let's have a Senate Majority Leader who doesn't have to tack right to keep his job. Just a thought.) In any event, panicked Democrats voted to deny Obama the funds he needs to close Guantanamo until he assures them that they won't have to bunk with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Not exactly profiles in courage.
A little over a week ago I argued against Predator drone attacks in "AfPak", applying arguments made by counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen in his new book The Accidental Guerilla. In today's New York Times Kilcullen and fellow counterinsurgency expert Andrew Exum make that point with authority I lack:
Press reports suggest that over the last three years drone strikes have killed about 14 terrorist leaders. But, according to Pakistani sources, they have also killed some 700 civilians. This is 50 civilians for every militant killed, a hit rate of 2 percent -- hardly “precision.” American officials vehemently dispute these figures, and it is likely that more militants and fewer civilians have been killed than is reported by the press in Pakistan. Nevertheless, every one of these dead noncombatants represents an alienated family, a new desire for revenge, and more recruits for a militant movement that has grown exponentially even as drone strikes have increased.
. . . [P]ublic outrage at the strikes is hardly limited to the region in which they take place -- areas of northwestern Pakistan where ethnic Pashtuns predominate. Rather, the strikes are now exciting visceral opposition across a broad spectrum of Pakistani opinion in Punjab and Sindh, the nation’s two most populous provinces. Covered extensively by the news media, drone attacks are popularly believed to have caused even more civilian casualties than is actually the case. The persistence of these attacks on Pakistani territory offends people’s deepest sensibilities, alienates them from their government, and contributes to Pakistan’s instability.
. . . Imagine, for example, that burglars move into a neighborhood. If the police were to start blowing up people’s houses from the air, would this convince homeowners to rise up against the burglars? Wouldn’t it be more likely to turn the whole population against the police? And if their neighbors wanted to turn the burglars in, how would they do that, exactly? Yet this is the same basic logic underlying the drone war.
. . . Having Osama bin Laden in one’s sights is one thing. Devoting precious resources to his capture or death, rather than focusing on protecting the Afghan and Pakistani populations, is another. The goal should be to isolate extremists from the communities in which they live. The best way to do this is to adopt policies that build local partnerships. Al Qaeda and its Taliban allies must be defeated by indigenous forces -- not from the United States, and not even from Punjab, but from the parts of Pakistan in which they now hide. Drone strikes make this harder, not easier.
Barack Obama is doing precisely what he said he'd do in Pakistan. In this case that's not a good thing.
Barack Obama has continued (perhaps expanded) George Bush's use of Predator drones to attack suspected terrorist or Taliban targets in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. It certainly seems like a good idea to kill the bad guys when we practicably can, but stories like this suggest that we may be causing more trouble than we're preventing:
United States officials acknowledged Thursday for the first time that at least some of what might be 100 civilian deaths in western Afghanistan had been caused by American bombs. In Afghanistan, residents angrily protested the deaths and demanded that American forces leave the country.
. . . The deaths drew hundreds of Afghans into the streets to protest outside police stations and the governor’s office in Farah Province, where two villages were bombed after Afghan forces were ambushed by Taliban insurgents on Monday night.
Outside the governor’s office, police officers fired on demonstrators who threw stones, wounding three of them.
The United States defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, questioned by journalists as he visited the capital, Kabul, apologized for any loss of innocent life. But he said that “exploiting civilian casualties and often causing civilian casualties are a fundamental part” of the insurgents’ strategy.
I'm sure the insurgents do play up civilian casualties, but they do that because people understandably get very pissed off about civilian casualties. That's why we shouldn't carry out attacks that entail civilian casualties unless it's absolutely necessary.
John Mueller argues that the threat from al Qaeda and the Taliban doesn't justify the war in Afghanistan. Observing that "the operational base for 9/11 was in Hamburg, Germany", Mueller argues that al Qaeda doesn't really need a protected base camp, and to the extent it does need a sanctuary it already has one in Pakistan. Of perhaps greater interest is his contention that we've massively overstated the threat we face from "al Qaeda Central":
At present, al Qaeda consists of a few hundred people running around in Pakistan, seeking to avoid detection and helping the Taliban when possible. It also has a disjointed network of fellow travelers around the globe who communicate over the Internet. Over the last decade, the group has almost completely discredited itself in the Muslim world due to the fallout from the 9/11 attacks and subsequent counterproductive terrorism, much of it directed against Muslims. No convincing evidence has been offered publicly to show that al Qaeda Central has put together a single full operation anywhere in the world since 9/11. And, outside of war zones, the violence perpetrated by al Qaeda affiliates, wannabes, and lookalikes combined has resulted in the deaths of some 200 to 300 people per year, and may be declining. That is 200 to 300 too many, of course, but it scarcely suggests that "the safety of people around the world is at stake," as Obama dramatically puts it.
In addition, al Qaeda has yet to establish a significant presence in the United States. In 2002, U.S. intelligence reports asserted that the number of trained al Qaeda operatives in the United States was between 2,000 and 5,000, and FBI Director Robert Mueller assured a Senate committee that al Qaeda had "developed a support infrastructure" in the country and achieved both "the ability and the intent to inflict significant casualties in the U.S. with little warning." However, after years of well funded sleuthing, the FBI and other investigative agencies have been unable to uncover a single true al Qaeda sleeper cell or operative within the country. Mueller's rallying cry has now been reduced to a comparatively bland formulation: "We believe al Qaeda is still seeking to infiltrate operatives into the U.S. from overseas."
Even that may not be true. Since 9/11, some two million foreigners have been admitted to the United States legally and many others, of course, have entered illegally. Even if border security has been so effective that 90 percent of al Qaeda’s operatives have been turned away or deterred from entering the United States, some should have made it in -- and some of those, it seems reasonable to suggest, would have been picked up by law enforcement by now. The lack of attacks inside the United States combined with the inability of the FBI to find any potential attackers suggests that the terrorists are either not trying very hard or are far less clever and capable than usually depicted.
Barack Obama has appropriately adopted much more modest goals for Afghanistan, but they may be too ambitious still. It's not at all clear that we possess the power, the wisdom, or the determination to produce a stable, centrally-governed Afghanistan, which in any event would not be possible unless the Taliban's sanctuaries in Pakistan are eliminated. If we don't have to do this to safeguard ourselves against another 9/11, then we ought to reconsider why we are doing it.
Robert Farley's concise summary of the latest news is quote-worthy:
Osama Bin Laden has released an audio tape denouncing Somali President Shariff Sheikh Ahmed, and calling for Somalis to resist the new government's rule. Shariff Sheikh Ahmed is formerly the head of the Islamic Courts Union, which Ethiopia overthrew in 2006 with American assistance. The United States was concerned that the ICU was closely associated with Al Qaeda, and that it might harbor terrorists. Bin Laden's tape is either an elaborate ruse to make the Bush administration look incomparably stupid, or further evidence that the Bush administration was incomparably stupid.
You may recall the Bush administration's claims that the detainees it held at Guantanamo Bay were the "worst of the worst". You may not be shocked to learn that they were lying. Here's Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's former chief of staff, on some poorly understood truths about the Guantanamo detainees:
The first of these is the utter incompetence of the battlefield vetting in Afghanistan during the early stages of the U.S. operations there. Simply stated, no meaningful attempt at discrimination was made in-country by competent officials, civilian or military, as to who we were transporting to Cuba for detention and interrogation.
. . . The second dimension that is largely unreported is that several in the U.S. leadership became aware of this lack of proper vetting very early on and, thus, of the reality that many of the detainees were innocent of any substantial wrongdoing, had little intelligence value, and should be immediately released.
But to have admitted this reality would have been a black mark on their leadership from virtually day one of the so-called Global War on Terror and these leaders already had black marks enough: the dead in a field in Pennsylvania, in the ashes of the Pentagon, and in the ruins of the World Trade Towers. They were not about to admit to their further errors at Guantanamo Bay. Better to claim that everyone there was a hardcore terrorist, was of enduring intelligence value, and would return to jihad if released. I am very sorry to say that I believe there were uniformed military who aided and abetted these falsehoods, even at the highest levels of our armed forces.
. . . The fourth unknown is the ad hoc intelligence philosophy that was developed to justify keeping many of these people, called the mosaic philosophy. Simply stated, this philosophy held that it did not matter if a detainee were innocent. Indeed, because he lived in Afghanistan and was captured on or near the battle area, he must know something of importance (this general philosophy, in an even cruder form, prevailed in Iraq as well, helping to produce the nightmare at Abu Ghraib). All that was necessary was to extract everything possible from him and others like him, assemble it all in a computer program, and then look for cross-connections and serendipitous incidentals--in short, to have sufficient information about a village, a region, or a group of individuals, that dots could be connected and terrorists or their plots could be identified.
Thus, as many people as possible had to be kept in detention for as long as possible to allow this philosophy of intelligence gathering to work. The detainees' innocence was inconsequential. After all, they were ignorant peasants for the most part and mostly Muslim to boot.
Another unknown, a part of the fabric of the foregoing four, was the sheer incompetence involved in cataloging and maintaining the pertinent factors surrounding the detainees that might be relevant in any eventual legal proceedings, whether in an established court system or even in a kangaroo court that pretended to at least a few of the essentials, such as evidence.
Simply stated, even for those two dozen or so of the detainees who might well be hardcore terrorists, there was virtually no chain of custody, no disciplined handling of evidence, and no attention to the details that almost any court system would demand.
But, since they weren't lying about a blow job, I guess that's okay.
In September 2006, George Bush acknowledged that he had authorized the use of an "alternative set of procedures" to interrogate detainees in the War on Terror. Bush insisted that these alternative procedures did not constitute torture and were legal under US and international law. A February 2007 report by the International Committee of the Red Cross, leaked to Mark Danner, makes clear that he was lying.
1. Beginning in the spring of 2002 the United States government began to torture prisoners. This torture, approved by the President of the United States and monitored in its daily unfolding by senior officials, including the nation's highest law enforcement officer, clearly violated major treaty obligations of the United States, including the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture, as well as US law.
2. The most senior officers of the US government, President George W. Bush first among them, repeatedly and explicitly lied about this, both in reports to international institutions and directly to the public. The President lied about it in news conferences, interviews, and, most explicitly, in speeches expressly intended to set out the administration's policy on interrogation before the people who had elected him.
3. The US Congress, already in possession of a great deal of information about the torture conducted by the administration—which had been covered widely in the press, and had been briefed, at least in part, from the outset to a select few of its members—passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 and in so doing attempted to protect those responsible from criminal penalty under the War Crimes Act.
4. Democrats, who could have filibustered the bill, declined to do so—a decision that had much to do with the proximity of the midterm elections, in the run-up to which, they feared, the President and his Republican allies might gain advantage by accusing them of "coddling terrorists." One senator summarized the politics of the Military Commissions Act with admirable forthrightness:
Soon, we will adjourn for the fall, and the campaigning will begin in earnest. And there will be 30-second attack ads and negative mail pieces, and we will be criticized as caring more about the rights of terrorists than the protection of Americans. And I know that the vote before us was specifically designed and timed to add more fuel to that fire.
Senator Barack Obama was only saying aloud what every other legislator knew: that for all the horrified and gruesome exposés, for all the leaked photographs and documents and horrific testimony, when it came to torture in the September 11 era, the raw politics cut in the other direction. Most politicians remain convinced that still fearful Americans—given the choice between the image of 24 's Jack Bauer, a latter-day Dirty Harry, fantasy symbol of untrammeled power doing "everything it takes" to protect them from that ticking bomb, and the image of weak liberals "reading Miranda rights to terrorists"—will choose Bauer every time. As Senator Obama said, after the bill he voted against had passed, "politics won today."
5. The political damage to the United States' reputation, and to the "soft power" of its constitutional and democratic ideals, has been, though difficult to quantify, vast and enduring. In a war that is essentially an insurgency fought on a worldwide scale—which is to say, a political war, in which the attitudes and allegiances of young Muslims are the critical target of opportunity—the United States' decision to use torture has resulted in an enormous self-administered defeat, undermining liberal sympathizers of the United States and convincing others that the country is exactly as its enemies paint it: a ruthless imperial power determined to suppress and abuse Muslims. By choosing to torture, we freely chose to become the caricature they made of us.
With the Obama administration about to announce a new way forward in Afghanistan, counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen has written a new book on the role of counterinsurgency in what has been called the War on Terror: The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One. For Kilcullen's purposes, the war in Afghanistan is a small war in the midst of the broader War on Terror (an unfortunate formulation that the Obama administration appears to have abandoned).
Mucking around by outsiders converts small problems into big ones. An appreciation of this phenomenon lies at the heart of al-Qaeda’s strategy, which Kilcullen describes as “fundamentally one of bleeding the United States to exhaustion, while simultaneously using U.S. reaction to incite a mass uprising within the Islamic world.” With that end in mind, al-Qaeda conspires to lure the West into launching ill-advised military actions, confident that one result will be to antagonize the local population, which will then respond to al-Qaeda’s calls to expel the intruders. In essence, Western intervention serves as al-Qaeda’s best recruiting tool. This is Kilcullen’s Accidental Guerrilla Syndrome.
Kilcullen emphasizes that accidental guerrillas fight not to reinstitute the caliphate or to convert nonbelievers, but “principally to be left alone.” What they want above all is to preserve their way of life. The vast majority of those who take up arms against the United States and its allies do so “not because they hate the West and seek our overthrow, but because we have invaded their space to deal with a small extremist element.”
When we respond to al Qaeda by invading and occupying other countries, we're playing from al Qaeda's playbook. Nevertheless, Kilcullen supports a massive expansion of our mission in Afghanistan:
In 2008, Kilcullen left Baghdad and turned his attention to Afghanistan, surveying the situation there at the behest of then-Secretary Rice. More than seven years after U.S. forces first arrived, the news coming out of Kabul is almost uniformly bad. Kilcullen knows this but insists that the war “remains winnable.” In this case, winning will require the United States and its allies to commit themselves to an intensive effort, lasting “five to ten years at least,” aimed at “building a resilient Afghan state and civil society” capable of fending off the Taliban. The key to success, in his view, is to extend “an effective, legitimate government presence into Afghanistan’s 40,020 villages.” Such a presence, he concedes, is something that has never existed.
Stripped to its essentials, this is a call for Western-engineered nation building on a stupendous scale—in Kilcullen’s own words, “building an effective state structure, for the first time in modern Afghan history.” Yet even that will not suffice. Given the porous Afghan-Pakistani border, unless the United States and its partners also fix Pakistan, “a military victory in Afghanistan will simply shift the problem a few miles to the east.” With this is mind, Kilcullen calls for a “full-spectrum strategy” designed to “improve governance, security, and economic conditions” throughout the region. Although he illustrates this approach anecdotally, he offers no estimates of costs or who will pay them. Nor does Kilcullen explain why the results to be achieved in Afghanistan-Pakistan, even in the very best case, would produce an outcome any more definitive than the one he foresees in Iraq.
9/11 was a terrible blow, but it makes no sense to respond by invading and remaking countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, and in any event we can't afford the massive burdens of empire that this entails. It may make sense to add troops in the short run, but they need to be employed in pursuit of much more modest goals consistent with a clear-eyed reassessment of our national interest. Any assessment of our national interest that requires us to spend another decade or more conjuring up a new Afghan society that has never before existed has clearly gone off the rails.
Last week, after Barack Obama signed an executive order requiring the closure of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, the New York Times reported that a former Guantanamo detainee had "returned to the battlefield":
The emergence of a former Guantánamo Bay detainee as the deputy leader of Al Qaeda’s Yemeni branch has underscored the potential complications in carrying out the executive order President Obama signed Thursday that the detention center be shut down within a year.
The militant, Said Ali al-Shihri, is suspected of involvement in a deadly bombing of the United States Embassy in Yemen’s capital, Sana, in September. He was released to Saudi Arabia in 2007 and passed through a Saudi rehabilitation program for former jihadists before resurfacing with Al Qaeda in Yemen.
This had the usual suspects in a panic. For example, here's Bill O'Reilly:
Just hours after President Obama announced he was going to shut down Guantanamo Bay, the feds confirmed that a released Gitmo inmate, 35-year-old Sahid al-Shahiri, had resumed terrorist activities in Yemen.
Now if this isn't a warning, ladies and gentlemen, I don't know what is. Obama tells the world no more Gitmo, and a guy the Bush administration let go in 2007 is now a major Al-Qaeda terrorist again. So we can add this guy to a list of 61 former Gitmo detainees who have returned to being terrorists after they've been released, that according to the Defense Department. That's 11 percent of those let go returning to the terror world.
Not to be outdone, here's Rep. Steve King (R-IA):
KING: Let’s just say that, that, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11, is brought to the United States to be tried in a federal court in the United States, under a federal judge, and we know what some of those judges do, and on a technicality, such as, let’s just say he wasn’t read his Miranda rights. … He is released into the streets of America. Walks over and steps up into a US embassy and applies for asylum for fear that he can’t go back home cause he spilled the beans on al Qaeda. What happens then if another judge grants him asylum in the United States and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is on a path to citizenship. I mean, I give you the extreme example of this.
The best antidote to this craziness is, as always, Jon Stewart:
President Obama's plans to expeditiously determine the fates of about 245 terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and quickly close the military prison there were set back last week when incoming legal and national security officials -- barred until the inauguration from examining classified material on the detainees -- discovered that there were no comprehensive case files on many of them.
Instead, they found that information on individual prisoners is "scattered throughout the executive branch," a senior administration official said.
Justice Department lawyers responding in federal courts to defense challenges over the past six months have said repeatedly that the government was overwhelmed by the sudden need to assemble material after Supreme Court rulings giving detainees habeas corpus and other rights.
In one federal filing, the Justice Department said that "the record . . . is not simply a collection of papers sitting in a box at the Defense Department. It is a massive undertaking just to produce the record in this one case." In another filing, the department said that "defending these cases requires an intense, inter-agency coordination of efforts. None of the relevant agencies, however, was prepared to handle this volume of habeas cases on an expedited basis."
Evidence gathered for military commission trials is in disarray, according to some former officials, who said military lawyers lacked the trial experience to prosecute complex international terrorism cases.
In a court filing this month, Darrel Vandeveld, a former military prosecutor at Guantanamo who asked to be relieved of his duties, said evidence was "strewn throughout the prosecution offices in desk drawers, bookcases packed with vaguely-labeled plastic containers, or even simply piled on the tops of desks."
He said he once accidentally found "crucial physical evidence" that "had been tossed in a locker located at Guantanamo and promptly forgotten."
Let's just run a highlighter over that last point. Here's LTC Vandeveld, describing his difficulties sorting out the facts regarding Muhammed Jawad, who was captured when he was only a minor and then subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment for several years, even though the government has no prosecutable case against him:
7. It is important to understand that the "case files" compiled at OMC-P or developed by CITF are nothing like the investigation and case files assembled by civilian police agencies and prosecution offices, which typically follow a standardized format, include initial reports of investigation, subsequent reports compiled by investigators, and the like. Similarly, neither OMC-P nor CITF maintained any central repository for case files, any method for cataloguing and storing physical evidence, or any other system for assembling a potential case into a readily intelligible format that is the sine qua non of a successful prosecution. While no experienced prosecutor, much less one who had performed his or her duties in the fog of war, would expect that potential war crimes would be presented, at least initially, in "tidy little packages," at the time I inherited the Jawad case, Mr. Jawad had been in U.S. custody for approximately five years. It seemed reasonable to expect at the very least that after such a lengthy period of time, all available evidence would have been collected, catalogued, systemized, and evaluated thoroughly -- particularly since the suspect had been imprisoned throughout the entire time the case should have been undergoing preparation.
8. Instead, to the shock of my professional sensibilities, I discovered that the evidence, such as it was, remained scattered throughout an incomprehensible labyrinth of databases primarily under the control of CITF, or strewn throughout the prosecution offices in desk drawers, bookcases packed with vaguely-labeled plastic containers, or even simply piled on the tops of desks vacated by prosecutors who had departed the Commissions for other assignments. I further discovered that most physical evidence that had been collected had either disappeared or had been stored in locations that no one with any tenure at, or institutional knowledge of, the Commissions could identify with any degree of specificity or certainty. The state of disarray was so extensive that I later learned, as described below, that crucial physical evidence and other documents relevant to both the prosecution and the defense had been tossed into a locker located at Guantanamo and promptly forgotten. Although it took me a number of months -- so extensive was the lack of any discernable organization, and so difficult was it for me to accept that the US military could have failed so miserably in six years of effort -- I began to entertain my first, developing doubts about the propriety of attempting to prosecute Mr. Jawad without any assurance that through the exercise of due diligence I could collect and organize the evidence in a manner that would meet our common professional obligations.
It's no surprise that systems like this produce bad outcomes.
Professor Denbeaux of the Center for Policy & Research has said that the Center has determined that “DOD has issued 'recidivism' numbers 43 times, and each time they have been wrong—this last time the most egregiously so.”
Denbeaux stated: “Once again, they’ve failed to identify names, numbers, dates, times, places, or acts upon which their report relies. Every time they have been required to identify the parties, the DOD has been forced to retract their false IDs and their numbers. They have included people who have never even set foot in Guantánamo—much less were they released from there. They have counted people as 'returning to the fight' for their having written an Op-ed piece in the New York and for their having appeared in a documentary exhibited at the Cannes Film Festival. The DOD has revised and retracted their internally conflicting definitions, criteria, and their numbers so often that they have ceased to have any meaning—except as an effort to sway public opinion by painting a false portrait of the supposed dangers of these men.
"Forty-three times they have given numbers—which conflict with each other—all of which are seriously undercut by the DOD statement that 'they do not track' former detainees. Rather than making up numbers “willy-nilly” about post release conduct, America might be better served if our government actually kept track of them.”
Still, leaving aside the lies and the inanity, it's entirely possible that even a competent process would release some detainees who might later join up with al Qaeda. That's a risk worth considering, but let's consider it in context. According to every counter-terrorism expert I can find, our lawless detention and interrogation practices have radicalized far more than the relatively small number of detainees who have "returned to the battlefield". Indeed, abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are said to be the number one and two motivations for the foreign fighters who've flocked to Iraq. Why isn't Bill O'Reilly fulminating about that?
Barack Obama is assembling a very high quality team of lawyers at the Justice Department, and in particular, at the Office of Legal Counsel. After appointing Dawn Johnson to head OLC, he has now appointed Georgetown law professor Marty Lederman to serve as OLC's Deputy AG. Lederman has been a prolific opponent of the Bush administration's lawless policies; he's been particularly critical of the administration's interrogation and warrantless surveillance programs. (A list of 244 such articles can be found here, and a recent law review article he co-authored with the Department's new Principal Deputy, David Barron, can be found here.)
Lederman, another former Clinton Office of Legal Counsel lawyer, is perhaps the most prominent of several high-profile opponents of the Bush Administration's executive power claims joining Obama, a mark that he intends not just to change but to aggressively reverse Bush's moves on subjects like torture. With hires like Barron, [Johnson], and Lederman, Obama is not just going back to Democratic lawyers: These are anti-Bush lawyers.
Lederman has been, in particular, an early and vocal critic of torture, and has suggested Bush Administration officials have committed specific crimes in that regard.
Several days ago AP reported that Obama is preparing to issue an executive order prohibiting further use of the Bush administration's so-called "enhanced interrogation methods", but that some unnamed Obama advisors were considering the possibility of a "classified annex" that would allow some techniques that weren't specifically authorized in the Army Field Manual. The Field Manual doesn't purport to include an exhaustive list of all permissible interrogation techniques, so it's possible for a technique to be excluded from the list yet still be permissible under international law. Current law forbids the military from using any methods not specifically authorized in the manual, but George Bush vetoed a bill that would have extended that same prohibition to the CIA.
My post below may explain why Michael Mukasey wouldn't admit that waterboarding is torture: If he did he'd have to prosecute his boss, who personally authorized the waterboarding of at least three detainees. In his confirmation hearing today, Eric Holder was unequivocal.
In an interview with George Stephanopoulos, Barack Obama said, "Vice President Cheney, I think, continues to defend what he calls extraordinary measures or procedures and from my view waterboarding is torture. I have said that under my administration we will not torture."
Under the analysis in my post below, Obama and Holder may now be obligated to prosecute their predecessors.
On Wednesday Bob Woodward published quite a scoop in the Washington Post:
The top Bush administration official in charge of deciding whether to bring Guantanamo Bay detainees to trial has concluded that the U.S. military tortured a Saudi national who allegedly planned to participate in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, interrogating him with techniques that included sustained isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity and prolonged exposure to cold, leaving him in a "life-threatening condition."
"We tortured [Mohammed al-]Qahtani," said Susan J. Crawford, in her first interview since being named convening authority of military commissions by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in February 2007. "His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that's why I did not refer the case" for prosecution.
Crawford, a retired judge who served as general counsel for the Army during the Reagan administration and as Pentagon inspector general when Dick Cheney was secretary of defense, is the first senior Bush administration official responsible for reviewing practices at Guantanamo to publicly state that a detainee was tortured.
Crawford, 61, said the combination of the interrogation techniques, their duration and the impact on Qahtani's health led to her conclusion. "The techniques they used were all authorized, but the manner in which they applied them was overly aggressive and too persistent. . . . You think of torture, you think of some horrendous physical act done to an individual. This was not any one particular act; this was just a combination of things that had a medical impact on him, that hurt his health. It was abusive and uncalled for. And coercive. Clearly coercive. It was that medical impact that pushed me over the edge" to call it torture, she said.
I thought it was a big deal that a high-ranking administration figure would expressly admit that methods we commonly employ constitute "torture", but since "merely" cruel or inhuman methods constitute war crimes (even if they don't technically constitute "torture") I thought this merely confirmed what we already know -- that George Bush, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzales, David Addington, John Yoo, and other high administration officials are war criminals. As Dahlia Lithwick and Phillipe Sands point out, however, the classification of our interrogation methods as "torture" triggers our international treaty obligations to investigate and prosecute those responsible:
Whatever her reasons for speaking now—the fact that she chose to do so with a journalist whose name resonates around the globe and is indelibly associated with presidential criminality—itself changes the terms of the debate. Whether torture occurred and who was responsible will no longer be issues behind which senior members of the administration and their lawyers and policymakers can hide. The only real issue now is: What happens next?
The answer to that question takes you to a very different place when the act is torture, as Crawford says it is. Under the Torture Convention, its 146 state parties (including the United States) are under an obligation to "ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law." These states must take any person alleged to have committed torture (or been complicit or participated in an act of torture) who is present in their territories into custody. The convention allows no exceptions, as Sen. Pinochet discovered in 1998. The state party to the Torture Convention must then submit the case to its competent authorities for prosecution or extradition for prosecution in another country.
The former chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces and general counsel for the Department of the Army has spoken. Her clear words have been picked up around the world. And that takes the prospects of accountability and criminal investigation onto another level. For the Obama administration, the door to the do-nothing option is now closed. That is why today may come to be seen as the turning point.
Last Sunday the New York Times sponsored something of a debate about war crimes prosecutions. Dahlia Lithwick argued that there should be prosecutions, Charles Fried argued that there shouldn't be, and Jack Balkin argued for a truth commission. I'd previously been in Balkin's camp, because I think it's most important that these lawless policies be exposed, disgraced, and repudiated, but criminal prosecutions might actually make that more difficult. It may be, however, that it doesn't matter what would be preferable, because the Convention Against Torture is unequivocal. From Article 6:
Upon being satisfied, after an examination of information available to it, that the circumstances so warrant, any State Party in whose territory a person alleged to have committed any offence referred to in article 4 [ed.: acts of torture] is present shall take him into custody or take other legal measures to ensure his presence. The custody and other legal measures shall be as provided in the law of that State but may be continued only for such time as is necessary to enable any criminal or extradition proceedings to be instituted.
2. Such State shall immediately make a preliminary inquiry into the facts.
From Article 7:
1. The State Party in the territory under whose jurisdiction a person alleged to have committed any offence referred to in article 4 is found shall in the cases contemplated in article 5, if it does not extradite him, submit the case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution.
From Article 12:
Each State Party shall ensure that its competent authorities proceed to a prompt and impartial investigation, wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committed in any territory under its jurisdiction.
All those "shalls" seem to require that we investigate credible accusations of torture and prosecute whenever torture has in fact occurred. If our government concludes that Qahtani has been tortured, then, it is obligated to prosecute those responsible. And since the methods that were deemed torture in Qahtani's case were approved at the highest levels of our government and systematically employed against many detainees, it's unclear how such prosecutions could fail to implicate everyone involved, all the way to the top of our government. This may develop a life of its own.
People I deeply respect have high regard for Newsweek editor Jon Meacham. This is easy to understand -- Meacham is intelligent, articulate, and measured. In particular, he has nuanced and well-informed views on the role of religion in our culture. But despite his rectitude and his apparent morality, Jon Meacham is an apologist for torture: From his "Editor's Desk", Meacham praises the "balanced" view of this week's cover story, "Obama's Cheney Dilemma", in which the serious, sensible, sober-minded Evan Thomas and Stuart Taylor opine that, notwithstanding all that liberal grandstanding about the rule of law, President Obama will almost certainly continue Dick Cheney's lawless interrogation policies.
Before I address the substance of this claim, I must say something about Stuart Taylor: He's an idiot. I don't mean this in the sense of "He's biased", or "He says things I disagree with". I mean it literally. He's an idiot. I know this because I've participated in numerous online discussions with him at an internet board set up for discussions among lawyers. I assume that Taylor must therefore have a law degree, but if any first year associate had come to me with the legal arguments Taylor routinely published I'd have fired the young lawyer on the spot. For example, a magazine (the board's media sponsor) published one of our exchanges in which Taylor argued that reporters have the constitutional authority to conduct searches and seizures just like the police. Taylor had been forced to concede that this meant that Sam Donaldson was constitutionally entitled to break into my home and rummage around in my closets in search of something he could talk about on ABC's "This Week", then hosted by David Brinkley. (Taylor broke off the discussion before I could ask if Sam would have to get some kind of "warrant" from ABC News to break into my house.) Anyway, he's an idiot, and his byline set off all my bullshit detectors.
The clamor didn't subside when I started reading:
The issue of torture is more complicated than it seems. America brought untold shame on itself with the abuses at Abu Ghraib. It’s likely that the take-the-gloves-off attitude of Cheney and his allies filtered down through the ranks, until untrained prison guards with sadistic tendencies were making sport with electric shock. But no direct link has been reported.
The claim that the administration's resort to torture is "complicated" is as common as it is baseless. In fact, it's quite clear that the "enhanced interrogation methods" the Bush administration authorized are illegal. There is voluminous legal authority that they're illegal, but fundamentally, George Bush wouldn't have needed specious legal opinions from John Yoo saying that the President can break the law if he hadn't intended to break the law. And now that the United States Supreme Court has explicitly rejected that Nixonian view, there isn't any doubt that lawless actions are in fact illegal, even if committed by a President who claims to be above the law.
The contention that "no direct link has been reported" between the administration's lawless policies and the abuses at abu Ghraib is obviously, preposterously wrong. After the path-breaking reports from Philippe Sands and Jane Mayer, a bipartisan Senate report unanimously concluded that the abuses at abu Ghraib resulted directly from the administration's lawless policies. Lynndie England and Charlie Graner may have been "bad apples" in the sense that they hadn't been specifically authorized to employ these illegal methods, but George Bush and Dick Cheney specifically authorized those methods, and that's why they were systematically employed at every US detention facility around the world -- including abu Ghraib.
It's well-established that these illegal methods don't reliably produce actionable intelligence. And why would they? They were designed to produce confessions, not the truth -- those subjected to torture will say whatever they think their interrogators want to hear. This is why people confessed to being witches in the Spanish Inquisition, and it is part of the reason why we went to war in Iraq based on bogus intel.
And speaking of Iraq, both the Air Force interrogator who found Zarqawi using only legal methods, and Alberto Mora, the former Navy General Counsel, have testified that the number one and number two motivations for insurgents attacking our troops in Iraq are (1) abu Ghraib; and (2) Guantanamo. Hundreds, or perhaps even thousands, of American soldiers have lost their lives, and thousands more have been grievously wounded, as a result of our war crimes in the War on Terror™.
None of this is complicated, and all of it is well documented. Yet somehow it all managed to slip past the folks at Newsweek, who persist in misinforming their readers that Dick Cheney really was on to something. Morons.
I've frequently complained about the tendency in this country to view everyone in the Middle East as one undifferentiated mass of angry brown people. Among many other things, this causes us to confuse groups like Hamas (Israel's enemy) with groups like al Qaeda (our enemy). Posting at his new Foreign Policy digs, Marc Lynch explains why the current violence is a win-win scenario for al Qaeda, then offers this helpful discussion on the distinctions between Hamas and al Qaeda, which are, in fact, bitter enemies:
The Muslim Brotherhood, from whence Hamas evolved twenty years ago, is no friend of the United States or Israel but is nevertheless one of al-Qaeda's fiercest rivals. Zawahiri himself penned one of the most famous anti-Brotherhood tracts, Bitter Harvest. Over the last few years, the doctrinal and political conflict between the Brotherhood and al-Qaeda's salafi-jihadism has become one of the most active fault-lines in Islamist politics. As ‘Abu Qandahar’ wrote on al-Qaeda's key al-Ekhlaas forum in October 2007, the "Islamic world is divided between two projects, jihad and Ikhwan [Brotherhood]."
Hamas enjoys a special place in al-Qaeda's enemies list. Al-Qaeda has long been desperate for a foothold in Palestine, but has been largely kept out because Hamas has the place locked. Jihadist forums bear a deep grudge over Hamas's crackdown on various jihadist groups which have tried to set up shop there (Jaysh al-Islam, et al). In March 2006, Zawahiri denounced Hamas's electoral victory and called on them to reject the democratic trap and pursue armed struggle. In February 2007 he attacked the Mecca Agreement between Fatah and Hamas, and in March declared that Hamas had "surrendered most of Palestine to the Jews, sold the Palestinian issue, and sold shari'a in order to retain leadership of the Palestinian government." In June 2007 he called on Hamas to "correct your path." Just last week, the leading Jordanian jihadist theoretician Abu Mohammed al-Maqdisi (thanks to Will McCants) complained that "Hamas is misleading Muslims with its glittering slogans, which blind people to their wayward goals and strategies, leading them down the path of criminals... [and] Hamas started the bloodshed in Gaza several weeks ago when it killed members of the Army of Islam organization."
From al-Qaeda's perspective, therefore, Israel's assault on Gaza is an unmitigated blessing. The images flooding the Arab and world media have already discredited moderates, fueled outrage, and pushed the center of political gravity towards more hard-line and radical positions. As in past crises, Islamists of all stripes are outbidding each other, competing to "lead" the popular outrage, while "moderates" are silent or jumping on the bandwagon. Governments are under pressure, most people are glued to al-Jazeera's coverage (and, from what anyone can tell, ignoring stations that don't offer similar coverage), the internet is flooded with horrifying images, and people are angry and mobilized against Israel, the United States, and their own governments. That's the kind of world al-Qaeda likes to see.
Even if Hamas emerges weakened, as Israeli strategists hope, all the better (from al-Qaeda's point of view, that is). In general, where the MB is strong (Egypt, Jordan, and Palestine for example), AQ has had a hard time finding a point of entry despite serious efforts to do so, while where the MB is weak (Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Lebanon) it has had more success. Up to now, AQ-minded groups have had little success in penetrating Gaza, because Hamas had it locked. Now they clearly have high hopes of finding an entree with a radicalized, devastated population and a weakened Hamas.
Al-Qaeda likely can not thank Israel enough for its efforts over the last two weeks. Over the last few years, al-Qaeda has been losing ground with the mainstream Muslim public -- because of its real radicalism and fringe ideology, its killing of so many Muslim innocents in its attacks in Muslim countries, challenges from other Islamist groups and from within its own ranks, an increasingly effective strategic communications campaign by Western and Arab governments, and more. Israel's military assault against Gaza threatens to reverse that trend.
As I've argued before, Israel's actions conflict with our interests, but no one seems to know or care about that. This massive retaliation in Gaza won't accomplish anything more than Israel's 2006 retaliation in Lebanon, but it helps our enemies and undermines our safety and our security. That can't be answered with platitudes about Israel's right of self-defense.
In 1996, Israeli jets bombed a UN building where civilians had taken refuge at Cana/ Qana in south Lebanon, killing 102 persons; in the place where Jesus is said to have made water into wine, Israeli bombs wrought a different sort of transformation. In the distant, picturesque port of Hamburg, a young graduate student studying traditional architecture of Aleppo saw footage like this on the news [graphic]. He was consumed with anguish and the desire for revenge. He immediately wrote out a martyrdom will, pledging to die avenging the innocent victims, killed with airplanes and bombs that were a free gift from the United States. His name was Muhammad Atta. Five years later he piloted American Airlines 11 into the World Trade Center. On Tuesday, the Israeli military shelled a United Nations school to which terrified Gazans had fled for refuge, killing at least 42 persons and wounding 55, virtually all of them civilians, and many of them children. The Palestinian death toll rose to 660. The Israelis say they took fire from one of the schools. Was it tank fire?You wonder if someone somewhere is writing out a will today.. . . Michael Scheuer, who headed the CIA Bin Laden desk for some years and knows something about radical fundamentalism, concludes, "What is likely to become known across the Islamic world as the "Gaza slaughter" will ensure the continued growth of the Sunni insurgency al-Qaeda leads and inspires."And as though on cue, Ayman al-Zawahiri came out with a video Tuesday, saying, ""We will never stop until we avenge the death of all who are killed, injured, widowed and orphaned in Palestine and throughout the Islamic world . . ." He then attacked Barack Obama, saying "These air strikes are a gift from Obama before he takes office, and from Hosni Mubarak, the traitor who is the primary partner in your siege and murder."
As Matt Yglesias notes, the rise of Hamas resulted in large part from Israel's determined efforts to undermine Fatah, hoping that a more accommodating partner might emerge in its place. The alternative to Fatah, it unfortunately turned out, was the more radical Hamas faction. Now Israel is trying to destroy Hamas, hoping it can get back to business with Fatah. At worst, many presume, Israel will fail to destroy Hamas, and a somewhat more entrenched Hamas may emerge from the battle, like a more powerful Hezbollah emerged from Israel's 2006 assault in Lebanon. Matt Duss explains that this presumption is baseless. The real worst case scenario is that, just as the more radical Hamas emerged when Fatah was weakened, something worse than Hamas could emerge if Hamas is weakened:
A number of writers have noted the possibility of Hamas being politically strengthened by Israel’s bombing of Gaza, just as Hezbollah were strengthened by Israel’s 2006 bombing of Lebanon. This would obviously be a bad outcome, but it’s important to understand that it would not be the worst. A much worse outcome would be that the bombings weaken Hamas while strengthening Salafist elements in Gaza, who consider Hamas a bunch of timid, half-stepping sellouts.
Salafism is a strict, puritanical interpretation of Islam, of which Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda are extreme exponents. One of the many tragic consequences of the Iraq war is that, not only did it contribute to the rising popularity of this radical doctrine in the Middle East, it provided an environment for radicalized Muslims to come and train alongside their radical brethren in the latest guerrilla tactics against the world’s best military. They took very seriously President Bush’s invitation to “bring it on,” managing to turn Iraq into a killing field for several years before their Iraqi allies turned against them.
Many of these fighters are now filtering back into the region, bringing their hardened ideology and training with them. Michael Scheuer, the CIA’s former point man on bin Laden, has been examining the penetration of the Levant by extremist factionsfacilitated by the war in Iraq. Scheuer recently reported that “the bleed-through from Iraq also is having some impact in the Palestinian territories — especially Gaza — and in Israel.”
. . . Scheuer quoted Jordanian writer Urayb al-Rintawi’s warning that “those who blockaded Gaza to take revenge on Hamas and champion Fatah could one not-too-distant day see that their reprehensible deed has only led to bring [in] al-Qaeda and draw [in] fundamentalist organizations that are more extreme than both the hawks of Hamas and the militants of Islamic jihad.”
In July, Der Speigel ran a story on the competition between Hamas and Salafist elements in Gaza:
Abu Mustafa says, he and his comrades in arms realize they need to be patient. There’s a long way to go before they can begin their struggle for global influence. First, they have to take care of an enemy closer to home: Hamas.
So far, Hamas has done what it can to keep the Salafis under control. They know the ultra-radicals are just waiting to take over Hamas’ position of leadership. “They are traitors,” Abu Mustafa says of Hamas. “Compared to us, they are Islamism lite.” […]
The group’s greatest sin, says Abu Mustafa… is its effort to bring Islam and democracy together. “Hamas represents an American style of Islam. They have tried to curry favor.” Which is not such a bad thing for Abu Mustafa and his Salafis. “Hamas is like a block of ice in the sun,” he says. “Every minute they get smaller — and we get larger.”
. . . Since 9/11, neoconservatives and other supporters of a “war on terror” have tried to conflate Israel’s war with the Palestinians with America’s war with Al Qaeda, playing upon Americans’ fear and trauma to obscure the very different issues that in fact motivate the Israel-Palestine conflict. But just as an Iraq invasion premised in part on the myth of an Iraq-Al Qaeda connection resulted in a foothold for Al Qaeda in Iraq, so a U.S.-Israel policy that admits essentially no difference between Hamas and Al Qaeda — and that continues to blindly support attempts to crush extremism without addressing the conditions that drive extremism — could very likely do the same for Al Qaeda in Palestine.
Note that the Salafist alternative to Hamas isn't merely more radical than Hamas, it has a very different goal and a very different set of enemies. The Salafists don't just want Israel out of what once was Palestine, they want to restore the Caliphate, and just as Salafist al Qaeda considers us its enemy, so do the Salafists in Gaza. If it succeeded, Israel's attempt to destroy Hamas could very well give birth to a brand new Palestinian al Qaeda. Our unquestioning support for Israel's effort to destroy Hamas may therefore be repaid with a brand new terrorist movement aimed at us.
Our policies -- or at least our current policy-makers -- treat all the angry brown people as though they were one and the same. Our failure to distinguish among Islamist groups with different goals and different enemies is helping to empower the most radical elements within the Middle East. That's worth thinking about the next time you hear someone pounding the table about how evil Hamas is.
It's quite simple. They win by making us afraid. Here's what that fear looks like:
Officials ordered nine Muslim passengers, including three young children, off an AirTran flight headed to Orlando from Reagan National Airport yesterday afternoon after two other passengers overheard what they thought was a suspicious remark.
FBI agents who characterized the incident as a misunderstanding, an airport official said. But the passengers said AirTran refused to rebook them, and they had to pay for seats on another carrier secured with help from the FBI.
Kashif Irfan, one of the removed passengers, said the incident began about 1 p.m. after his brother, Atif, and his brother's wife wondered aloud about the safest place to sit on an airplane.
"My brother and his wife were discussing some aspect of airport security," Irfan said. "The only thing my brother said was, 'Wow, the jets are right next to my window.' I think they were remarking about safety."
Irfan said he and the others think they were profiled because of their appearance. He said five of the six adults in the party are of South Asian descent, and all six are traditionally Muslim in appearance, with the men wearing beards and the women in headscarves. Irfan, 34, is an anesthesiologist. His brother, 29, is a lawyer. Both live in Alexandria with their families, and both were born in Detroit. They were traveling with their wives, Kashif Irfan's sister-in-law, a friend and Kashif Irfan's three sons, ages 7, 4 and 2.
AirTran spokesman Tad Hutcheson agreed that the incident amounted to a misunderstanding. But he defended AirTran's handling of the incident, which he said strictly followed federal rules. And he denied any wrongdoing on the airline's part.
"At the end of the day, people got on and made comments they shouldn't have made on the airplane, and other people heard them," Hutcheson said. "Other people heard them, misconstrued them. It just so happened these people were of Muslim faith and appearance. It escalated, it got out of hand and everyone took precautions."
I wonder, Mr. Hutcheson, what sort of comments shouldn't be made by people who just so happen to be Muslim. Will someone who just so happens to not be Muslim also get kicked off a plane if s/he wonders where the safest seats are? And by the way, Mr. Hutcheson, suicide terrorists don't typically worry about where the safest seats are. Just for future reference.
Here's a thought: Instead of teaching Muslim-Americans what otherwise innocuous comments their panicky countrymen might misinterpret, maybe those of us who just so happen to not be Muslim could calm the fuck down.
With apologies to Tommy Franks, that description fits Alberto Gonzales even better than it fits Doug Feith:
Mr. Gonzales has been portrayed by critics both as unqualified for his position and instrumental in laying the groundwork for the administration's "war on terror." He was pilloried by Congress in a manner not usually directed toward cabinet officials.
"What is it that I did that is so fundamentally wrong, that deserves this kind of response to my service?" he said during an interview Tuesday, offering his most extensive comments since leaving government.During a lunch meeting two blocks from the White House, where he served under his longtime friend, President George W. Bush, Mr. Gonzales said that "for some reason, I am portrayed as the one who is evil in formulating policies that people disagree with. I consider myself a casualty, one of the many casualties of the war on terror."
Gonzales is a victim only in the limited sense that such a pathetically unqualified troll (Bush calls him "Fredo") should never have been appointed to positions of such prominence that his stupidity and incompetence would inevitably become notorious. In this sense he is not a casualty of the War on Terror™. He is a casualty of George W. Bush, whose own incompetence blinds him to the incompetence of others.