Archive for the ‘War On Terror’ Category

Crime and Punishment

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

This past Saturday, the Washington Post ran an editorial titled “Christmas Day negligence”. It began reasonably enough:

UMAR FAROUK Abdulmutallab was nabbed in Detroit on board Northwest Flight 253 after trying unsuccessfully to ignite explosives sewn into his underwear. The Obama administration had three options: It could charge him in federal court. It could detain him as an enemy belligerent. Or it could hold him for prolonged questioning and later indict him, ensuring that nothing Mr. Abdulmutallab said during questioning was used against him in court.

It is now clear that the administration did not give serious thought to anything but Door No. 1. This was myopic, irresponsible and potentially dangerous.

Whether to charge terrorism suspects or hold and interrogate them is a judgment call.

And then this

We originally supported the administration’s decision in the Abdulmutallab case, assuming that it had been made after due consideration. But the decision to try Mr. Abdulmutallab turns out to have resulted not from a deliberative process but as a knee-jerk default to a crime-and-punishment model.

Well, I have to say that I am surprised at the Post editorial board’s surprise. I mean, this seems like a lot of ass covering to me. What does the editorial board think is meant when critics speak of a pre-9/11 mindset? What does the board make of Obama’s renaming of the War on Terror to ‘Overseas Contingency Operations’? (And what is the implication of “overseas”, anyway? What about the homeland?) What about the decision to try terrorists in federal court, in New York City of all places? What does the board think of the administration’s response – when presented with assertions that waterboarding has led to significant actionable intelligence – that we might have gotten the same intelligence through other means.

Where is the “deliberation” in these policies instituted by the Obama administration? To me, these all smack of a “crime-and-punishment model”. They all seem to be “knee-jerk” policies designed to appease a certain constituency.

Sure, as the Post states, “whether to charge terrorism suspects or hold and interrogate them is a judgment call” in the sense that the President must exercise his prerogative (and you have to hope that he exercises sound judgment). But just because judgment may be applied when arriving at a conclusion does not necessarily mean that good judgment is applied.


Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

Well, Amsterdam has decided to beef up airport security due to the actions of the paardenlul known as the Fruit of the Boom bomber.

Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport began using new body-scanning machines at security checkpoints on Tuesday, the first major airport to use the technology to find metals and explosives hidden under clothing.

Other similar stories indicate that this new policy is just for those traveling to the United States.

Upon hearing this, my initial reaction was verdomme. I mean, do they have to scan everybody that travels to the United States? Jeetje! On the other hand, this will make it more difficult for jihadists to hide bomb making materials behind their klootzak.

Can’t they scan only those that are a little bit suspicious? For example, those who pay for tickets with cash, who check no luggage, who are on terror watch lists, who post on message boards about how lonely they are (maybe a little neuken would be in order for AbdulMutallab) and whose father alerted the CIA and numerous other security agencies of suspected radicalization. Or would that be…profiling? I guess it would.

I’m just fed up. The only thing left to say on this subject, and it hardly needs to be said, is potverdriedubbeltjesa!

Fruit of the Boom

Monday, December 28th, 2009

Let me see if I get this straight. The father of Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab – a former government minister who went on to head the First Bank of Nigeria – contacted the U.S. embassy in Nigeria six weeks ago to report his fear that his son had become radicalized. Based on this information, Umar Farouk was placed on a terror watch list but not on a no-fly list. And he was permitted to board a flight even after paying with cash and checking no baggage on the international flight.

Wow. I’m afraid that someone, and perhaps several people, are going to have to be shitcanned over this obvious f-up. The fear is that Obama and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano are going to focus more on how explosives were permitted on board the aircraft (in Umar Farouk’s shorts) and less on why he was permitted on the plane in the first place.

Citations of Success

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

Well, today President Obama continued his campaign against his old foe, George W. Bush. We now learn that Obama is Open to Probe, Prosecutions of Top Officials Over Interrogations. He claims that releasing the memos will make the US safer, although it is difficult to see how the release does not embolden the enemy.

Much has been made of the memos, the Justice Department, and specifically the Office of Legal Counsel. One might get the impression that the memos were written by summer interns, in crayon, on a single sheet of paper, that say something like “Torture is okay”. But what are called “memos” by the media are lengthy legal arguments. For example, the four “secret memos” released on April 16 are, respectively, 18, 46, 20, and 40 pages in length. The memos contain footnotes, case citations, and all the legalese that is expected by a profession with a nice hourly rate. For example, see the memo of May 30, 2005. Included is this brief passage

The “waterboard”, which is the most intense of the CIA interrogation techniques, is subject to additional limits. It may be used on a High Value Detainee only if the CIA has “credible intelligence that a terrorist act is imminent”, “substantial and credible indicators that the subject has actionable intelligence that can prevent, disrupt, or delay this attack”, “and [o]ther interrogation methods have failed to elicit this information [or] CIA has clear indications that other…methods are unlikely to elicit this information within the perceived time limit for prevent the attack.

Sounds reasonable to me. More than reasonable, really. Also in today’s Washington Post is an opinion piece by Marc A. Thiessen that make the case that The CIA’s Questioning Worked (contrary to popular belief). Thiessen points out that the memo of May 30, 2005 cites many instances where attacks were thwarted, including a planned attack on the tallest building in Los Angeles and the capture of Khalid Sheik Mohammed (mastermind of 9-11 and murder of Daniel Pearl). Thiessen complains that even more citations of successes have been redacted in the memo. For example, a large redacted portion begins

We discuss only a small fraction of the important intelligence CIA interrogators have obtained from KSM.

I look forward to the full disclosure of the lives saved and plots foiled that are attributed to the harsh interrogations. I suspect that Obama will rue the day that he caved to the loony left on this issue.

Keep Paying the Water Bill

Monday, April 20th, 2009

The catharsis continues with the Obama administration’s release of a Bush-era memo revealing that two Al Qaeda leaders had been waterboarded 266 times.

CIA interrogators used waterboarding at least 266 times on two top al Qaeda suspects, according to a Bush-era Justice Department memo released by the Obama administration.

The controversial technique that simulates drowning — and which President Obama calls torture — was used at least 83 times in August 2002 on suspected al Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah, according to the memo.

Interrogators also waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed 183 times in March 2003. Mohammed is believed to be the mastermind behind the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.

For those clamoring for investigations and trials of evil-doers, this is like catnip. But this story reminds me of the macabre joke about a person found dead with dozens of fatal stab wounds and, after the investigation, the death is ruled a suicide. I mean, 183 times? That’s a lot of “severe pain or suffering”. Or maybe it is not. I’m thinking that these large number of incidents actually militate against torture, unless the waterboarding was carried out for purely sadistic pleasure. Maybe Khalid Sheikh Mohammed can share with us his thoughts on whether his interrogators were extracting sadistic pleasure. Mohammed surely understands the concept, what with his murder of journalist Daniel Pearl.

I don’t know. The enhanced interrogation techniques, including the enhanced insect technique, don’t seem so bad to me. We are, after all, trying to extract information from psychopaths that participate in a neural net of jihadist murderers. I say, keep paying the water bill.

Terrorists To The Bone

Monday, March 16th, 2009

In last Wednesday’s Washington PostMilitary Judge’s Release of Pleading by 9/11 Defendants Draws Criticism tells of reaction to a military judge’s decision to release statements by Guantanamo detainees.

The decision by a military judge at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to order the release yesterday of a pleading by defendants accused of planning the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks was criticized by defense counsel and civil liberties groups, who said the judge was defying President Obama’s executive order to halt all military commissions.

Defense Department officials defended the judge’s order to release the six-page filing from Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four co-defendants, saying that it was in compliance with Obama’s order.

Shortly after taking office, Obama wrote that “all proceedings of military commissions to which charges have been referred but in which no judgment has been rendered . . . are halted” pending a government review of the cases of all detainees.

Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey D. Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman, said: “The military judge’s order authorizing release of the 9/11 co-conspirator filing does not constitute a ‘proceeding.’  …

But Michael Berrigan, deputy chief defense counsel in the Office of Military Commissions, said the Pentagon’s understanding of “proceeding” is flawed.”Look up the definition of ‘proceeding’ in Black’s Law,” he said, referring to the standard legal dictionary. “Hopefully, Obama’s people will see what’s going on.”

Sounds like a cat fight, to me. Since I am no lawyer, I have no way of telling what is a proceeding and what is not.

But the really important take away from this episode is not whether the judge was out of line, or whether it was a proceeding, or what Obama ordered. What I care about is what was stated by the detainees.

  1. [The detainees] called the charges against them “badges of honor, which we carry with pride.”
  2. “Your intelligence apparatus, with all its abilities, human and logistical, had failed to discover our military attack plans before the blessed 11 September operation”.
  3. “We are terrorists to the bone.”

Thank you very much. There was some serious doubt creeping into my mind. No wonder Obama is having a little difficulty in deciding what to do with these dregs, and no wonder foreign countries aren’t lining up to receive them.

Britain Acknowledges Participation in Rendition

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

A recent article in the Washington PostBritain Acknowledges 2 Detainees Are in U.S. Prison in Afghanistan, tells

The British government, after years of denying it had any role in the U.S. policy of “extraordinary rendition,” acknowledged yesterday that two prisoners its military forces turned over to U.S. custody in Iraq five years ago were subsequently sent to a U.S. prison in Afghanistan.

In a statement to Parliament, Defense Secretary John Hutton apologized for what he said was “inaccurate information . . . given to the House by my department” on previous occasions. The transfer, he said, was unknown to his predecessor and came to his attention only in December during an internal investigation in response to parliamentary questions.

Hutton said that the rendition involving two Pakistani men, who have been in custody at Bagram air base in Afghanistan since 2004, violated a U.S.-British memorandum of understanding specifying that “no person captured with assistance” from British forces “will be removed from the territory of Iraq without prior consultation.”

The Pentagon quickly took responsibility for the lapse. “There was a level of formal coordination that should have taken place with respect to a transfer of this nature,” spokesman Bryan Whitman said. “Unfortunately, that did not occur in this case. It was an error.”

I have a little difficulty in interpreting just what Britain is acknowledging. The article UK concedes involvement in rendition in Deutsche Welle makes things a little bit more explicit

Britain’s government has for the first time admitted direct involvement in the controversial US program of extraordinary rendition. Defence Secretary John Hutton told lawmakers that two men, captured in Iraq in 2004, were handed over to US agents who moved them to Afghanistan. Hutton said the men were members of a Pakistani terrorist organisation and that the US told Britain at the time that it lacked the necessary linguists in Iraq to interrogate the men. The minister acknowledged that the admission contradicted earlier government assurances that no prisoners had been handed over for transfer to third countries and apologised for the error. Human rights groups and some lawmakers have demanded a complete government inquiry into the transfer of prisoners. Previous concerns have focussed on the remote British outpost of Diego Garcia to detain and interrogate terrorism suspects.

This article states concerns that Diego Garcia, which is British dependent territory, was used “to detain and interrogate terrorism suspects”, as if Diego Garcia was a destination for CIA extraordinary renditions. According to this article in the Middle East Times, there were concerns over refueling of CIA flights at Diego Garcia

Foreign Secretary David Miliband last year admitted that two rendition flights landed on British territory in 2002, when US planes refuelled on the British dependent territory of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.

Rendition, interrogation, refueling? Diego Garcia may be all of the above.

Getting back to the British acknowledgement, it seems likely that Britain was informed that the detainees would be transferred from Iraq at the time that they were turned over. Did Britain knowingly turn detainees over to the CIA? The articles are a little bit vague, because they use terms like “US custody” and “US agents”, almost as if they are trying to avoid using a simpler, more common term (or acronym).

I’m not troubled when the US takes Pakistanis captured on the battlefield in Iraq to Afghanistan. In fact, I would not be troubled if they took them to Diego Garcia. But recently, we have learned that holier-than-thou countries have both participated in detainee transfers and have been observers and participants in interrogations. The next time the bed-wetters take to the streets of a European capital to protest the United States – for interrogation techniques, GTMO, and rendition – some introspection will be in order. For, lacking such introspection, our proper response should be STFU.

Witch Hunt My Arse!

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

An article In this past Friday’s Washington PostInterviews Of Terror Suspects Challenged, tells us a little something about the scope of international participation at Guantanamo. According to the article

The U.S. military has allowed intelligence and law enforcement agents from at least 18 countries to interrogate Guantanamo inmates since the detention center opened in 2002, according to the Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York-based group that provides legal representation to many Guantanamo prisoners.

According to the group, interrogators from Tunisia, Libya, China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Jordan verbally threatened citizens of their countries held at Guantanamo, warning them that they would be abused at home if they didn’t cooperate. Other countries that have sent interrogators to Guantanamo include Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Spain and Morocco, the center says.

I know, there is a big debate going right now over whether there was any good intelligence obtained from detainees. So, the takeaway is that Tunisia, Libya, China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Jordan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Spain and Morocco – and at least six more countries – all felt that it was worthwhile sending interrogators to GTMO. Why? Because the perceived benefits outweighed the costs. And aren’t many of these countries the same bed-wetters that have blasted the United States for torture? Pot, meet kettle.

Surely, France would not participate in interrogations. I mean, France would never be so base as to commit torture or violate human rights, would they. Opps, sorry. Quel horror! I forgot about the Algerian War of Independence. Never mind.

According to Finnish diplomat and the U.N. special investigator for human rights Martin Scheinin

…foreign agents visiting Guantanamo or secret U.S. jails overseas committed “an internationally wrongful act” even if they merely observed interrogations.

“They were acting in breach of their legal obligations in regard to the prohibition on torture and arbitrary detention,” Scheinin, who is also a law professor at the European University Institute in Florence, said in a telephone interview.

Later in the article, Scheinin is quoted

“We have had a witch hunt for alleged terrorists for the past 7 1/2 years,” he said. “Now I think the witch hunt is over and it is time for the law to step in.”

Scheinin does not appear to have any axe to grind, does he? “Alleged terrorists”? Let’s see, according to this, a total of 218 detainees were from Afghanistan, and 8 were from Iraq (!). The other 70% were from 50 other countries. The leading contributors behind Afghanistan are Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Pakistan, Algeria, China, Morocco, Libya, Kuwait, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Sudan, Syria, and Russia. All of these countries contributed more detainees than Iraq. Are any of these countries known for terrorism or islamic jihadists? What might the citizens of these countries been doing when they were rounded up? Selling Girl Scout cookies?

The United Kingdom has the same number of citizens in GTMO as Iraq. Why might Britain be interested in supplying questions and interrogating the UK detainees? Does Scheinin not recall July 7, 2005? Come on Martin, I don’t expect you bed-wetters to remember 9/11, but isn’t London part of Europe? I’d expect you to remember that. Maybe you are too busy conducting your own witch hunt?

Human Terrain Systems

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

For several years now, the US Army has been embedding small “Human Terrain Teams” at the brigade/regiment level. Each Human Terrain Team comprises two anthropologists and three military personnel. According to the Wikipedia article on Human Terrain System (HTS)

[the team] includes a team leader who advises the commander and represents the population at unit planning, a research manager, a cultural anthropolgist/sociologist who conducts ethnographic/social science research, another social scientist who conducts research and runs focus groups with the locals, and an analyst/debreifer from coalition elements. The teams are fully integrated into unit staffs, providing advice on how to interact productively with the local population and represent the “human terrain” in planning, preparation, execution and assessment of operations.

Not surprisingly, anthropologists are aghast. For example, according to the Wikipedia article

HTS is controversial amongst professional anthropologists, many of whom perceive it as an attempt to “weaponize” anthropology.

The American Anthropological Association has published a statement opposing the Human Terrain System.  They denounced the program in October 2007, concerned it could lead to compromise of ethics, disgrace to anthropology as an academic discipline, and the endangerment of research subjects. Some academics denounce the program as “mercenary anthropology” that exploits social science for political gain, fearing HTS could cause all anthropologists to be viewed as intelligence-gatherers for the US military.

Well, we surely wouldn’t want to use knowledge to our advantage during international struggles, would we?  And this knowledge couldn’t be used in ways to actually reduce the likelihood that innocent civilians are killed or injured, could it? This may be proof, if any were needed, that anthropology is not, in fact, science (or at least nothing like a pure science). Practitioners of science would never object to pragmatic application.

In the first week of this year, Paula Loyd died of injuries suffered in Afghanistan at the hands of Abdul Salam while serving on a Human Terrain Team. The circumstances of her injuries, and the immediate aftermath, have led to an interesting, but little publicized, debate.

According to the Boston Globe’s Anthropologist’s war death reverberates

Paula Loyd, a Wellesley-educated researcher, began interviewing villagers about the price of cooking fuel – a key indicator of whether insurgents had hijacked supply lines.

As part of a new military program that uses social scientists to improve the troops’ understanding of the local population, Loyd began interviewing a gregarious stranger who approached her with a jug of cooking fuel in his hands. He talked for 15 minutes, thanking her profusely in English. But just as her guards motioned it was time to leave, he lit his jug on fire and engulfed the 36-year-old Loyd in flames.

Minutes later, her fellow researcher shot and killed the man, adding a violent coda to a case that has already increased debate about the worsening conditions in Afghanistan and the military’s attempt to use social science to cure insurgency.

The “fellow researcher” is Don Michael Ayala of New Orleans. According to reports, after setting Ms. Loyd on fire, Salam ran about 50 years toward Ayala, a contractor. Salam was subdued by Ayala using plastic restraints. A short time later, another member of the team approached Ayala and reported the nature and extent of Ms. Loyd’s injuries. Ayala then shot Salam in the head. Ayala has pleaded guilty to second degree murder. He is scheduled for sentencing on May 8th in federal court in Alexandria Virginia.

One line of debate takes up the extent to which Salam’s treatment of Loyd reflects Afghan men’s treatment of women, generally. Was Loyd being treated the way other women in Afghanistan are treated, or was she treated the way any member of an occupying force would be treated? For thoughtful discussion from an anthropologists point of view, see Max Forte’s Open Anthropology. Look for posts tagged with “Paula Loyd”. However, this article in the Seoul Times describes Loyd’s experience as

a fate that all too often befalls Afghani women who show signs of independence—an insult to many Afghani males.

So there is at least some question as to the true motivation of Salam and the lessons pertaining to Afghan society that one may draw from the attack.

One recurring theme in Forte’s blog is that if you think that Salam received sufficient due process and paid for his actions, the same would be true if you switched Salam with Loyd. Loyd was the occupying force, after all. If you find this of interest, please see Forte’s extensive writing.

This leads to another line of debate, which addresses the question of which character most adequately serves as a metaphor for the entire Afghanistan War.

  • Is it an enraged Salam, who lashes out, perhaps at a moment of insanity, at the occupier?
  • Is it Loyd, who represents naivete and the lost opportunity to connect with Afghan civilians?
  • Or is it Ayala, who administers sure and swift justice against enemies of the United States?

Which is it?

Ayala and Loyd

Ayala and Loyd

GTMO Narrative Meets Reality

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

In today’s Washington Post, there is a letter to the editor from Helen Schietinger of Washington.

Regarding the Feb. 16 front-page story “4 Cases Illustrate Guantanamo Quandaries”:

The most glaring Guantanamo quandary involves President Obama’s not immediately putting an end to the abuses by U.S. personnel that led to worldwide outrage about the prison in the first place. According to defense lawyers visiting the base, nothing is different about treatment of prisoners under the new administration, and the weeks are going by.

For example, according to the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), Mohammed Khan Tumani, who was detained seven years ago at age 17 and has been cleared for release, is being kept in solitary confinement. Because he recently attempted suicide and appears to have deteriorated mentally, the CCR has requested an emergency psychiatric evaluation and an improvement in his conditions of detention, but the government has not responded. Other prisoners report that he bangs his head against the wall and smears his cell with excrement.

Instead of appointing human rights investigators or the International Committee of the Red Cross or the Justice Department to investigate prison conditions, President Obama assigned Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, head of the agency responsible for the alleged abuses, to see what’s happening and report to him in 30 days.

What do you suppose that report, due next week, will say about the treatment of prisoners? And what will the president do then? Where’s the change, Mr. President?

I wonder if Ms. Schietinger’s pique is bumping against a reality. By calling for “immediately putting an end to the abuses by U.S. personnel that led to worldwide outrage…” she suggests that the detainees at GTMO are subject to constant abuses even today. This is the left’s narrative of GTMO. I suspect, but cannot prove, that the conditions of GTMO are actually quite good. From the perspective of food, TV, exercise, cleanliness, worship, medical care, and freedom from gang and sexual violence, I suspect that GTMO is actually one of the best incarceration facilities in the world.

Does it dawn on Ms. Schietinger that maybe the reason why Obama has not put an immediate end to horrible, terrible abuses is that, in fact, there are no horrible, terrible abuses? Yes, it is true that the detainees are still detained. Yes, detainees have not been charged as though they were in violation of criminal statute. But, after all, the article that motivated Ms. Schietinger to write spoke of quandaries. Maybe there really are such things as quandaries.

Are Quandaries Real?

Are Quandaries Real?