Archive for the ‘al qaeda’ Category

Terrorism is an act of war by an enemy organized along military lines.  Bush, for all his faults, always understood this and embraced the use of a military strategy and a military disposition of al Qaeda.  Indeed, his only fault in this regard was his deference to Supreme Court interference in his prosecution of this military strategy; he should have told them to pound sand.

Now we have the first major acquittal of the Obama civilian terror trials:  one of the perpetrators of the African embassy bombings, Ahmed whatever-the-heck, has been let go with nearly a complete acquittal.  Obama and his AG Eric Holder, recall, made a big show of the importance of civilian trials during the campaign.  They even tried to have Khalid Sheik Mohammad tried in NYC to show their good faith, until a major public outcry.  This obsession with due process for al Qaeda was a main concern of the far left for many years during the Bush years.  Indeed, it was this particular concern of a vocal sliver of the Democratic Party’s pseudo-educated elite that did much to cost them the election in 2004, and it is this continued obsession–along with other hobby horses like police brutality or gay marriage–that cost them more recently. 

Terrorists do not deserve civilian trials; the rules of civilian trials are inadequate to the problem, as the problems of war are far grander than ordinary crimes. Just as  scope of harm is much greater, the risks of mistaken findings of guilt are, frankly, much smaller, as they’re almost exclusively borne by non-Americans. In other words, they are not borne by anyone deserving of protection under our Constitution or in the community of interest that makes up our country.  These two reasons:  higher stakes and victims less deserving of procedural justice are what define war, as war is a violent conflict of two communities where procedure may consist of a fleeting glimpse of the shape of a helmet or enemy rifle to define who lives or dies. 

The legal arguments in favor of civilian trials are weak, and I’ve discussed them at length elsewhere.  But the practical consequences should have been obvious after the first WTC bombing trial of the Blind Sheik, where the use of signals intelligence technology to track al Qaeda’s satellite phones led to their disuse.  Lord knows what other leaks will come from this method; more important, this method is focused less on retribution and gathering of intelligence than a military tribunal and detention regime.  And today we see the fruits of such excessive and slavish devotion to procedural justice for an extremely dangerous and committed group of terrorists.

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It’s been remarkable to see Obama progress from silence, to clinical discussion of the “alleged terror suspect,” to passing the blame for this incident onto nameless, faceless forces and procedures.  It’s true, there probably are many failures of procedure, imagination, and courage in the events that led up to the Christmas terror attack in which a Nigerian terrorist, revealed as such to the CIA by his own father, boarded a plane and was thwarted only by providence and a passenger that leaped across the middle row to subdue him.

Does this guy ever realize that he’s not on the outside looking in, “speaking truth to power?”  The people in charge of these procedures are his people and ultimately him.  The persistence of these policies is a consequence of his own lack of leadership.  And these failures are a product of the continued schizophrenic attempt to fight terrorism while assuaging the tender feelings of the prickly Muslim community–a high wire act that Obama himself performed by advising us all not to jump to conclusions in the case of Major Nidal Hasan’s mass murder last month.

This guy is a terrible leader, stumbling, weak, a bit lazy, alienated, confused, and devoid of any sense of personal responsibility for the most important job he has as president: protecting the lives of the American people from its enemies.

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I suspect that Eric Holder and company are putting KSM, Ramzi bin Alsheebh, and the other high level al Qaeda folks in federal court for a few reasons.  First, it’s a way of repudiating Bush’s controversial classification of high level al Qaeda people as an illegal military organization.  Second, it shows a naive faith in the justice system that does not address the real problems with ordinary civil trials for terrorists, i.e., the requirements of Miranda warnings for someone as high level as Osama bin Laden or the revelation of intelligence-gathering techniques as happened in the first World Trade Center trial of Ramzi Yousef.  Three, it shows someone who has not really thought through a controversial decision, which is a sign of a guy making decisions in an echo chamber.  Of course, this last bit is not that surprising.  Various high level DOJ folks spent much of the last eight years representing al Qaeda’s biggest dirtbags and getting them habeas review and other assorted offensive gestures, which rendered the benefits of the military tribunal system less robust than they would otherwise be.

I really don’t understand this way of thinking.  There are criminals, sometimes very bad people but also fellow citizens, and they deserve a robust defense.  They deserve this because they’re proxies for all of us potentially, who may wind up through mistake, bad luck, or the like an innocent person in the dock, criminally accused.  But al Qaeda detainees are foreigners, bad people, mass murderers, and delared enemies of the United States.   As enemies they’ve always been treated differently.  You don’t blow up the house of an accused criminal, but you do blow up an al Qaeda member’s house overseas, and you don’t worry too much about his wife and children who may be at home. It’s a different more flexible set of rules where the fears of domestic overreach have little application, not least because these are foreigners and enemies.  We’re not going to do this to fellow citizens.  There is little danger of any normal American being on the wrong end of this system.

Obama’s a lawyer, and this privileging of the domestic legal system over well-established principles of military justice is part and parcel of the broader contempt liberals have shown for the military since the Vietnam War, exemplified, not least, by their mass expulsion of ROTC from Ivy League campuses, and the mass desertion from military service by those who attend elite schools.

This is an atrocious and indefensible decision, and Holder’s defense of it shows the slipshod way that it was enacted and is now being defended.  Watching him squirm, however, gives me newfound respect for Lindsay Graham.

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It’s extremely worrisome that only eight years after 9/11, a Jordanian illegal immigrant and a relatively recent Afghan immigrant that looks like this are even in the country.  Equally worrisome is the problem posed by Caucasian, native-born converts to Islam such as the angry ex-prisoner arrested in Illinois.

There is no doubt these are bad people.  In a more self-confident society, they’d be interrogated, tried, and hanged within a month.  But I do wonder if the two arrests involving FBI informants that also functioned as co-conspirators is the best use of FBI resources, as was the case of the Illinois and Dallas arrests.  There are no doubt many hateful, anti-American Muslims within our borders.  But many are lifelong seethers and trash-talkers who lack the resources, brainpower, and discipline to actually harm anyone.  They’re as dangerous as “attempted murderers” who cast spells and poke voodoo dolls.

When the FBI builds and provides a bomb to someone like this, it may be propelling a person that is in practical terms a low threat into a resource-draining inmate.  I may be wrong; the wherewithal and ability of the accused may be higher.  It’s hard to tell from this vantage point.  But one notable facts suggests they were just angry losers:  in both Dallas and Illinois, the conspiracy and the provision of disarmed bombs involved the work of FBI agents and informants.  We also know the FBI and all government agencies are fairly risk adverse.  It’s not clear they would triage potential suspects based on likelihood of success.  Let me be clear that I am only concerned about this as a matter of resource allocation; there is certainly no injustice or standing to complain on the part of the would-be Muslim terrorists themselves.

On the other hand, the New York arrests of Zazi shows a much more worrisome situation, where the accused terrorist was buying bomb-making supplies independently. I am glad that he and his confederates have been found out, before they could maim and kill.  One wonders if we would have drawn lessons from their success.  The El Al Airlines massacre in Los Angeles, the DC Sniper (involving a convert and immigrant), and the shoe bomber plot have all gone down the memory hole, as has the Lackawama Six.   Foiled or failed efforts make little impression.  Even the 9/11 attacks have been converted into a saccharine tragedy and time for national service as opposed to a wake up call that certain bad people believing a certain religion hate out guts.

Have we all been so brainwashed to forget that America was able to have limos driven and food served and other menial jobs perforemd before Muslim immigration began in the last two or three decades.  It’s not like these are essential or particularly valuable residents.  Their continued presence is a sign of national weakness and paralysis brought on by multiculturalist liberalism.  No one thought, for example, that commitment to American values required large scale Japanese and German immigration during World War II.  We knew then that saboteurs and double agents would exist in any such groups and that the risk of disloyalty and danger to national security was simply too high, even if some–perhaps a majority–of those coming would be peace-loving and loyal folks who did not like and did not fit in with the authoritarian regimes they were fleeing.

These arrests all reveal something missing from our strategic approach to terrorism.  We continue to ignore the “formal cause” of Islamic Terrorism which is a belief in Islam.  And recognizing this would make it plain that we need to (a) close our borders to Muslims, (b) remove all Muslims we can legally remove now, such as non-citizens, and (c) limit proselytizing activities of Muslims in American prisons, the military, and anywhere else where these groups can be limited  But it’s simply anathema to the liberalism and the ersatz spirituality of guys like Bush and Obama to consider that the very content of someone else’s religion might be the problem and that the Muslim terrorists might be those who understand and act upon that religion in the most sincere way.

Concerned and looking for answers, I read a lot about Islam after 9/11. Like modern Christianity, it is a varied thing with various viewpoints. But some of those viewpoints are more persuasive, rooted in the text, and made with logical and historical rigor.  I concluded the terrorists and extremists were acting on the basis of an understanding of Islam that rang the most true, that seemed to manifest its historical and textual spirit most sincerely.  All of this is another way of saying that the best Muslims are the worst people, and our only hope for decency among them is the extent to which they disregard or modify their religion’s teachings.

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The whole thing is out. I’m plowing through its uninspired “bureacratese” now.  Initial impressions:

One, it takes for granted that we have to create something without historical precedent:  a well-governed Afghanistan.

Two, it says we should forge better relationships with the people, but understates the details of that people:  that it is fiercely tribal, Muslim, illiterate, and hostile to outsiders.  In other words, it treats Afghans like every other group of people on Earth, when in fact this is a multinational country with unique local features that render any COIN strategy unlikely to succeed.

Three, it supports creation of a viable Afghan army as a central prong in the strategy, while ignoring the perrennially unviable Afghan state which it would serve, and the tribal factors that make that impediment unlikely to change anytime soon.

Four, other than the coincidence that Osama bin Laden is in the region, there’s no justification for this strategy in Afghanistan while we adopt a more remote, raid-based, “kinetic” strategy in places like Somalia and Yemen.

Finally, the report does not address an important strategic puzzle:  the more effective we are in Afghanistan, the more we will drive al Qaeda into the ungoverned and unreachable hinterlands of Pakistan, where they will be able to organize, arm, and train anti-Western cadres, and where there is very little we can do about it.  In other words, the report does not consider that it might be preferable for al Qaeda to assemble on Afghan turf rather than be dispersed or assemble on that of nuclear-armed Pakistan.

UPDATE:  Jennifer Rubin notes that Obama’s talk of “working through” the Afghan strategy contradicts his own commitment to a basic nation-building strategy and his direction to McChrystal to prepare a troop recommendation on that basis back in April of this year.  Now, there’s nothing wrong with re-thinking a strategy, particularly in war.  But all of the structural problems with Afghanistan were self-evident, and should have been especially so to Obama, as that campaign’s problems are similar to those of our campaign in Iraq, which Obama criticized so forcefully for the last five years.

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I can’t tell exactly why Obama is seeking to prosecute the CIA officers involved in interrogating al Qaeda suspects. I can’t think this plays too well in Peoria, and the man is very political (if a bit tone deaf). It’s possible Holder is on a rampage, and Obama doesn’t want World War III within his cabinet.  It’s possible the Democrats are all collectively blind to how this appears to a post-9/11 America.  And it’s also possible that Obama is a true believer, a child of the post-Nixon Seventies, who thinks that this will redeem America in its own eyes and the eyes of the world.

My own opinions on the merits have been stated at length before; I think this prosecution is ill advised, even if some of the actions were in violation of the law.  This is a poor use of prosecutorial discretion in my opinion, and the liberals are not engaging squarely with the tradeoffs involved with treating the al Qaeda detainees to the full panoply of legal protections afforded POWs and ordinary criminal defendants, including freedom from coercive interrogations.  The links are below:

On the lunacy of demonstrating “water boarding” on oneself as proof of its evil.

On the Democrats’ generally soft-on-terror policies.

On the preferability of pardons rather than formal torture policies.

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I followed closely and also defended most of the administration’s actions on military tribunals and detention of unlawful enemy combatants. The victory of the administration in convicting Osama bin Laden’s drive, Salim Hamden, has proven a Phyrrhic one. The military tribunals process has been drawn out and subject to repeated smack downs by the judiciary. This end result contradicts their initial purpose which was to be swift, harsh, and devoid of intelligence leaks that would occur in a civilian trial. It has simply taken too long for this process to get underway. Further, the administration’s public relations have been as hackneyed as usual, insofar as most of the GITMO detentions are preventative rather than punitive in nature, and the initial characerization of GITMO’s denziens as the “worst of the worst” has been shown to be a gross exagerration.

The biggest obstacle to the administration’s designs has been a predictable but hitherto overlooked one: the culture of the American military combined with their role in sentencing. Military men the world over have often found war crimes trials unseemly, overly political, and arbitrary in who is punished, released, or overlooked altogether. Ideologically charged civilians in the DOJ would likely be more harsh and consistent in their dispatch of al Qaeda’s foot-soldiers on the familiar RICO theory of “enterprise liability” coupled with the military offense of belonging to an irregular and illegal organization. Under the UCMJ, the court martial panel decides on the sentence for the accused, in contrast to judicial sentencing in civilian courts. It is strange that mandatory sentences and the application of sentencing by a civilian judge has not been imported into the tribunals regime, as in this particular the military practice is decidedly more pro-defendant.

The old “law of war” rules that lawful combatants must be in uniform, bearing arms openly, and attached to a state actor has been undermined by a century of irregular wars of national liberation. From Vietnam to Somalia, our military is quite simply used to fighting such “irregulars” and does not find that behavior, without more, to be a serious offense. Americans in general are also unlikely to subject individuals to group liability for the actions of others. It appears the military panel here distinguished pure terrorists from mere fellow travellers. The al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan, in contrast to the 9-11 hijackers, were primarily involved in a conventional war with the Northern Alliance and were in the country by voluntary arrangement with the Taliban regime. It is natural that being executed or punished harshly for this offense and little more would be anathema to the average American soldier, who is unusually willing to look sympathetically on a man “fighting for his country” or, in this case, a sincerely acknowledged cause. The rhetoric of critics who predicted summary convictions in kangaroo courts should be revisited too, as Hamdan’s sentence was only 5 and half years.

The military’s light punishment of Hamdan has undermined the strategic purpose of the military tribunals. If that strategic purpose of swift and harsh punishment for mere membership in al Qaeda is truly worth pursuing (and I think it is), the administration should not allow misplaced sympathies based on the prejudices of professional soldiers to get in its way. For starters, sentencing should be made more regular and put in the hands of judges restricted by some reasonable guidelines or statutory minimums. As it stands, the worst of both worlds has been achieved by the administration’s military tribunal process: the light punishments of a civilian justice system coupled with unorthodox procedural protections that have drawn sustained criticism from all over the world.

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