On National Security, Obama Eventually Tends to Get it Right

War is different from crime-fighting.  Prisoners of war logically should be treated differently from people accused of crimes.  No battlefield reading of Miranda rights while the gunfire continues.  No presumption of innocence, no standard of “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”

President Obama, to his credit, recognized this reality again yesterday in signing an executive order providing for the resumption of military tribunals and a system of indefinite detention for some of the prisoners housed at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

The executive order recognizes the reality that some Guantanamo Bay detainees will remain in U.S. custody for many years, if not for life. The new system allows them the prospect of successfully arguing in the future that they should be released because they do not pose a threat.

No mention in the order or in Obama’s statement about the ill-fated promise to close Gitmo within a year of becoming president.  I’m opposed to just about everything the Obama is doing domestically, but on national security matters, he tends to end up in the right place, despite some initial missteps.

I just finished reading Bob Woodward’s Obama’s Wars on my Kindle.  The downside of the Kindle is that I now do not have a hardbound copy of the book to display next to my copies of Woodward’s four books on the Bush administration.  But as with the Bush books, or three of them anyway, I came out of the book feeling better about the President than I did when I started reading.

I criticized the President for announcing a drawdown date at the same time he announced the much-needed escalation of the war in Afghanistan.  But the book makes it clear that although electoral politics certainly played a role, the primary purpose was to put pressure on the Karzai government to step up its efforts to take responsibility for the country’s security.  And the administration immediately began to make clear that July 2011 would be an inflection point, not a withdrawal date.

I’m opposed to pretty much everything Obama is doing domestically, but on national security issues he tends to eventually get it right, despite some initial missteps.

(Note: I’ve added Obama’s Wars to my Amazon widget in the right-hand column. If you order that or any book after clicking into Amazon through my widget, I supposedly get a tiny cut of the action.  I’m just sayin’.)

How is the KSM Trial Like a Garbage Barge?

Remember the Mobro 4000?  I didn’t recall it by that name, but I certainly remember the garbage barge that in 1987 traveled up and down the Atlantic seaboard, from Long Island to Belize and back, looking for a place to unload 3,100 tons of garbage.

The bizarre 16-week journey started with local outcry in North Carolina over plans to burn the New York garbage in a pilot methane-production program, and the story quickly became a running joke.   [Hi Mom!  I seem to remember you were tickled by it at the time.]

After the initial rejection, no state or country on the East Coast would let the barge unload.  I don’t recall ever hearing that there was anything particularly toxic about the contents, but the barge had become so notorious that nobody wanted to take any chances.  Eventually the garbage went back to Long Island for disposal there.

This came to mind when I heard that New York City officials had come to their senses and begun lobbying the federal government to abandon plans to try 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others in civilian court in lower Manhattan.  Certain adjectives seem to connect with certain blog topics in my mind, and I find that I’ve referred to this as an “indefensible decision” not once, not twice, but three times.

My first and longest post on the topic said it was intended as another Bush-bashing ploy, and that it could not be understood as a principled decision because the administration still plans to try other terrorists as enemy combatants.  I’m glad that it looks like the trial won’t be held in lower Manhattan, but the point is that there should not be a civilian trial at all

A grandstanding mayor in upstate New York promptly suggested holding the trial at the air force base in Newburgh.  (Other local officials fell all over each other denouncing the idea.)  I can’t find a link, but I heard on the radio that some other politician said it should be held in Obama’s home town of Chicago.

I envision the planned KSM trial now traipsing from one venue to another, turned away at every stop.  It would be poetic justice if KSM and his fellow terrorists, like the wandering garbage barge, end up right back where they started — in this case, Guantanamo.  The Gitmo option is still available, now that the president has abandoned his self-imposed deadline to close the facility in his first year.

Oh, That Nigerian Terrorist… Oopsie-Doopsie!

Testicle Toaster

Abdulmutallab: The face of evil?

So the latest terrorist is being interrogated, but why should we believe anything he says?  His pants literally were on fire!

We can laugh because the terrorist botched the job, but it could have been very unfunny.  And while I’ve always been skeptical of the idea that intelligence agencies “should have known” about 9/11 in advance, this time it does seem like some pretty obvious dots went unconnected.

CBS News has learned that as early as August of 2009 the Central Intelligence Agency was picking up information on a person of interest dubbed “The Nigerian,” suspected of meeting with “terrorist elements” in Yemen.

Sources tell CBS News “The Nigerian” has now turned out to be Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. But that connection was not made when Abudulmutallab’s father went to the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria three months later, on November 19, 2009. It was then he expressed deep concerns to a CIA officer about his son’s ties to extremists in Yemen, a hotbed of al Qaeda activity.

Obama can’t blame the Bush Administration for this one.

After days of downplaying the incident, Obama today acknowledged that “A systemic failure has occurred, and I consider that totally unacceptable.”

“What already is apparent is that there was a mix of human and systemic failures that contributed to this potential catastrophic breach of security,” Obama said. “We need to learn from this episode and act quickly to fix the flaws in our system because our security is at stake and lives are at stake.”

Well, yes.  You might also want to rethink the idea of repatriating terrorists from Gitmo to Yemen and Saudi Arabia.  And hey, that even gives you an opportunity to blame Bush!


Gitmo, Politics and Unintended Consequences

gitmo resized

The good people of Thomson, Illinois, are eager for the jobs that would be created if the Obama administration moves some of the prisoners held at Guantanamo to the Thomson Correctional Center.

To pre-empt security concerns, the feds say the underutilized facility “will be enhanced to exceed perimeter security standards at the nation’s only ’supermax’ prison in Florence, Colorado, where there has never been an escape or external attack.”

But the detainees themselves seem to want to stay put in Gitmo.  And who can blame them?

The 221 remaining inmates [at Gitmo] receive between four and 20 hours outdoor recreation in the Caribbean sun and anything from weekly to almost unlimited access to DVDs and receive three newspapers (USA Today, plus one Egyptian and one Saudi Arabian title) twice a week. Every bed has an arrow pointing towards Mecca and every cell a prayer rug. …

The detainees’ diet is exclusively Middle Eastern and halal, in observance of regional and religious sensitivities. Dates, olive oil and honey are provided daily and pita bread is baked on the premises. They drink the same bottled water as the prison’s staff and have the same access as other prisoners to 16,000 books and 1,600 magazines held at the library. …

At the low security Camp 4, detainees could be seen sitting in the yard chatting and hanging up their laundry. A new gravel football field was recently completed.[If they were moved to the supermax facility in] Florence, Colorado, prisoners would also spend 22 ½ hours a day in a 9ft by 9ft cell with the only natural light coming from a skylight outside.

Exercise would be limited to an hour and a half indoors five days a week and they would have minimal contact with others.

gitmo-Camp4rec copySo in pursuit of the political and diplomatic benefits of closing the hated Guantanamo — albeit more slowly than promised — the administration appears prepared to subject the detainees to much harsher conditions.

While I savor the irony, I’m not particularly opposed to transferring the detainees to Illinois.  I’m sure they can be housed securely there, and realistically, the closure of Gitmo is inevitable.  A much more serious security concern is the administration’s indefensible plan to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and some (but not all) of the other detainees in criminal court.

(Gitmo photos from the Defense Department)


Politics Outweighs Principle in Ordering a Civilian Trial for KSM

Wanted: Impartial Jurors

Wanted: Impartial Jurors

The Obama administration’s announcement that it would transfer the 9/11 mastermind and four of his accomplices to New York City for a criminal trial can only be understood as yet another cynical ploy to mollify the Left by focusing on the alleged misdeeds of the Bush administration.

It certainly can’t be understood as a principled decision.  The administration intends to continue on the path of holding military commissions for other captured jihadists.  I know of no way to articulate a principled reason for bringing some but not all terrorists into the criminal justice system.

Much has been written about the folly of giving all of the rights of an accused American citizen to a captured enemy combatant.  Andrew C. McCarthy, who prosecuted the first World Trade Center bombers, sums it up as well as anyone today in an article posted on National Review.  Excerpts:

As experienced defense lawyers well know, when there is no mystery about whether the defendants have committed the charged offenses, and when there is controversy attendant to the government’s investigative tactics, the standard defense strategy is to put the government on trial.

That is, Pres. Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, experienced litigators, fully realize that in civilian court, the Qaeda quintet can and will demand discovery of mountains of government intelligence. They will demand disclosures about investigative tactics; the methods and sources by which intelligence has been obtained; the witnesses from the intelligence community, the military, and law enforcement who interrogated witnesses, conducted searches, secretly intercepted enemy communications, and employed other investigative techniques. They will attempt to compel testimony from officials who formulated U.S. counterterrorism strategy, in addition to U.S. and foreign intelligence officers. As civilian “defendants,” these war criminals will put Bush-era counterterrorism tactics under the brightest public spotlight in American legal history.

This is exactly what President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder know will happen. And because it is unnecessary to have this civilian trial at all, one must conclude that this is exactly what Obama and Holder want to see happen.

From indictment to trial, the civilian case against the 9/11 terrorists will be a years-long seminar, enabling al-Qaeda and its jihadist allies to learn much of what we know and, more important, the methods and sources by which we come to know it. But that is not the half of it. By moving the case to civilian court, the president and his attorney general have laid the groundwork for an unprecedented surrender of our national-defense secrets directly to our most committed enemies.

Waging war is not like fighting crime.  If you are a civilian police officer and you see an unidentified person lurking where nobody should be, you ask to see ID.  If you are a soldier in a battle zone, you shoot.  The rules are different because they have to be different.

Several months ago, author Robert Wright declared that if we cannot convict terrorists in court — for example, if evidence is tainted because of the way it was gathered — we should set them free.  He specifically included Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.  Wright is a principled liberal whom I met as an undergraduate, and whose intellect I respect.  But this is folly.

What is the government going to do if the case against KSM is thrown out of court?  Tell him, “here’s 100 bucks for cab fare out of the city — good luck”?

87 More Days Until Obama Breaks His Guantanamo Pledge

gitmo_delta-resizedIt’s been evident for some time that January 23, 2010, will arrive without the fulfillment of President Obama’s first executive order, to close the Guantanamo detention center within one year of the (January 22, 2009) signing.  This week brings further reminders of why breaking that pledge will be the better part of valor.  Many of the Gitmo detainees are Very Bad People, and there’s no good option for relocating them.

FDD Update, the indispensable newsletter of the indispensable Foundation for Defense of Democracies, each week offers a breadcrumb trail to the best writing on the misnamed Global War on Terror.  This week, FDD President Cliff May points to these Gitmo highlights:

In the ruling Joscelyn describes, a judge applied a “beyond-a-reasonable-doubt” standard in finding that Khaled al Mutairi could not be held as an enemy combatant.  Unfortunately, it was not a jury trial — because a jury might well have found that the government proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Let us connect the dots on al Mutairi: (1) He left for Afghanistan shortly after September 11 without making any plans for a return trip; (2) He used a known al Qaeda/al Wafa smuggling route to get into Afghanistan; (3) He carried $15,000 in cash with him and admittedly gave at least some of this money to al Wafa–which, again, is a known al Qaeda front–to an al Wafa representative in Kabul; (4) He spent well more than a month in the Taliban’s Afghanistan and could not offer any valid explanation for what he was doing during that time; (5) He fled towards the Tora Bora Mountains in a manner that is entirely consistent with al Qaeda and Taliban members, according to the court; (6) His “non-possession” of his passport is consistent with “al Qaeda’s standard operating procedures”; (7) His contact information appeared on multiple rosters of “captured fighters,” including one that was kept by a senior al Qaeda terrorist; (8) His passport information appeared on multiple “passport lists” maintained by al Qaeda; and (9) Kuwaiti security claims that al Mutairi was a “hardcore extremist” affiliated with al Qaeda before he ever went to Afghanistan in the first place.

Now, if you think that the above indicates that al Mutairi “more likely than not became part of Taliban and al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan” (a phrase used by Judge Kollar-Kotelly in a previous habeas ruling), then you share the opinion held by the U.S. military and intelligence officials who detained him.

But the judge did not see it that way.

The Miami Herald reported that al Mutairi will not immediately be released, but rather will be placed in “a Kuwaiti rehabilitation center at the emirate designed to help men jailed for years as jihadists reenter society in the oil-rich emirate.”  Good luck with that — al Shihri went through a similar program in Saudi Arabia.

At least al Mutairi will be released on the other side of the world from America, because Kuwait was willing to repatriate him.  But think about this: most Gitmo detainees will have to be held within the United States if Gitmo is closed, because other countries want nothing to do with them.  In a post-Gitmo era, enemy combatants released by misguided judges will have to be released on our own soil if their homelands will not take them.

Obama’s National Security Policy Looks Like Bush’s Third Term. Thank Goodness.

George W. Obama at the National Archives yesterday (AP)

George W. Obama at the National Archives yesterday (AP)

Krauthammer today:

The genius of democracy is that the rotation of power forces the opposition to come to its senses when it takes over. When the new guys, brought to power by popular will, then adopt the policies of the old guys, a national consensus is forged and a new legitimacy established.

Exactly right.  I fear that Obama is busily making a mess of the economy — or rather, more of a mess.  But on national security, it becomes clearer every day that despite Obama’s persistent sniping at his predecessor, we’ve essentially re-elected George Bush, and I for one am grateful.

After starting by retaining Bush’s Secretary of Defense, Obama has begun a surge in Afghanistan, adopted Bush’s timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, authorized repeated Predator drone strikes on al Qaeda targets in Pakistan, affirmed the use of military commissions, and yesterday acknowledged that some terrorists will have to be held indefinitely even though it will not be possible to prosecute them successfully.


President Obama and former Vice President Cheney weren’t so much a study in contrast today as a portrait of harmony. Both men agree that the Bush administration’s anti-terrorist policies were largely correct. Cheney signaled his acceptance of this view by vigorously defending those policies. Obama signaled it by largely adopting those same policies and emitting a fog of words to cover up the fact. (See this defense of Obama for a run-down of all the continuities.)

Obama’s fellow Democrats are helping to save him from his ill-advised promise to close Guantanamo within a year — the Senate vote eliminating funding for the closure was 90-6.  On the torture issue, Obama is trying to reclaim the moral high ground for America, and as long as he continues aggressively prosecuting the war, I largely wish him well.  It will give him a means of staking out a genuine policy difference, it may gain us some goodwill abroad, and if a time comes when we once again have a Khalid Sheikh Mohammad in custody smirking that “soon you will know” about imminent terror attacks, I strongly suspect that somebody will find a technique and a justification for doing what needs to be done.

I caught snatches of Obama’s speech yesterday on the radio, and I remember thinking that if I closed my eyes, I could imagine these words coming out of Bush’s mouth:

In the midst of all these challenges, however, my single most important responsibility as President is to keep the American people safe. That is the first thing that I think about when I wake up in the morning. It is the last thing that I think about when I go to sleep at night.

This responsibility is only magnified in an era when an extremist ideology threatens our people, and technology gives a handful of terrorists the potential to do us great harm. We are less than eight years removed from the deadliest attack on American soil in our history. We know that al Qaeda is actively planning to attack us again. We know that this threat will be with us for a long time, and that we must use all elements of our power to defeat it.

Of course he quickly slipped back into campaign mode and blamed every problem on the Bush Administration.  But that will get old quickly, even among his supporters.  Meanwhile, look to his deeds, not just his words.

On January 23, 2010, There Will Still Be Detainees at Guantanamo

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Jon Stewart is an openly partisan Democrat, and sometimes I find that annoying. But he also is a really, really funny man. And to his credit, he doesn’t shy away from tweaking people on his own side of the aisle when he catches them in hypocrisy.

President Obama’s first executive order, signed January 22, was to close the detention facility at Guantanamo “as soon as practicable, and no later than 1 year from the date of this order.”  I wish I had posted what I remember thinking at the time, which was that I’m absolutely confident that on January 23, 2010, there will still be detainees at Guantanamo.

The problem, of course, is that at least some of the Gitmo detainees are extremely dangerous terrorists. Our friends the Europeans are sounding more cooperative now than in the early days after Obama’s announcement, when they tripped all over each other in a NIMBY race.  But so far Europe has shown more talk than action:

European leaders have praised President Obama’s promise to close the military prison at Guantanamo in Cuba by January, but they have been slow to respond to his pleas for help in emptying the detention center. Since Obama took office 100 days ago, Britain has received one prisoner and France has promised to take another, but no other European country has made any firm commitments.

Yesterday I noticed via TigerHawk that Obama’s fellow Democrats are no more willing than the Europeans to play host to terrorists — even terrorists behind bars.   Stewart’s 5:47 video from last night, above, starts out looking like he’s pointing mostly to Republicans as obstructionists, but at the end — after the brain-eating zombie — he shows what happened to the Democrats who literally stood behind Obama as he signed the order.

Honeymoon-Over Watch: Obama Treasury Secretary Draws Scrutiny on Taxes

Joe owed a hell of a lot less tax than Timothy Geithner.

(Instalanche! Welcome Instapundit readers, and readers from TigerHawk and Living al Dente.)

There’s already plenty of opposition to Obama in the right-wing fever swamps of the Internets, of course. (I would link that sentence to Ann Coulter’s site, but she’s such a cartoon character, I don’t want my vast audience to give her any traffic. That’ll fix her.)

But eventually, even mainstream media outlets will turn their guns on the man who, in the eternal formulation of insider Washington, will become known as “this President.” No matter how much the media was in the tank for Obama during the campaign, no matter how enthusiastic they were in celebrating the coming of BAM-A-LOT, eventually Obama and his Administration will make missteps that even the most liberal papers cannot ignore.

We’re not there yet, but there are early signs. In the current dust-up over Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s tax problems, even the left-wing Seattle Post-Intelligencer editorial page has admitted there is a double standard. “We can only imagine what we would have said had Geithner been a Bush appointee,” the paper editorialized. As if worried that the Obama Fan Club might revoke the paper’s decoder ring, the editorial quickly added: “Should this news derail the nomination? Probably not.” (Hat tip: Taranto)

As it happens, I agree that the news should “probably not” derail the nomination. The position is critically important, and Geithner seems to have done an outstanding job coping with the financial crisis as President of the NY Federal Reserve. But Taranto points out that Geithner actually accepted reimbursement from his employer for self-employment taxes that he did not pay, which if true makes it seem more serious than a mere mistake.

The starkest irony in this is the difference between the journalistic soft shoe over the tax problems of the man nominated as head tax collector, compared with the instant feeding frenzy that erupted during the campaign over minor tax issues when an ordinary citizen posed a challenging question to The One.

The difference now, of course, is that journalists no longer have to worry that Obama might lose the election. Now the natural competitiveness of the news media will begin to overwhelm partisanship, at least until the 2012 race heats up. The honeymoon isn’t over yet, and it certainly won’t end before the Inaugural. But starting next Tuesday (ok maybe Wednesday), when President Obama doesn’t bring the troops home, doesn’t close Guantanamo, doesn’t end the recession, doesn’t deliver national health insurance, doesn’t roll back global warming and make the oceans recede — or at least doesn’t do any of these things as fast as the Left would like — then things like the peccadillos of Tim Geithner will start to get more coverage.

Obama Silver Lining Watch (Gitmo Edition)

“The single best thing about the election of Obama may be that we now have a chance to view the terror threat without the distorting lens of Bush hatred.”

So says Jack Goldsmith, a former assistant attorney general in the Bush Administration, as quoted in a William McGurn column in today’s WSJ. The topic of the column is Guantanamo, and McGurn describes reports that Obama may tread cautiously despite his campaign promise to close the prison camp and move the remaining 250 detainees.

During the campaign, of course, both John McCain and Barack Obama vowed to close Gitmo down. But a President Obama will likely find it easier to do the prudent thing. As a Republican hawk charged by his opponent with representing a third Bush term, Mr. McCain would have been under immense pressure to prove that he wasn’t George W. Bush. And a hasty closing of Guantanamo would have been a high-profile way to do it.

Fortunately, Mr. Obama is under no such pressure. …

Yes, it’s a double standard. But it could turn out to be a good thing for the nation. What the American people need today is a sensible policy that recognizes three facts: that terrorists present a unique challenge to our rules of war; that capturing and holding terrorists is different from capturing and holding criminals or prisoners of war; and that the men and women who set up Guantanamo did so not because they were out to shred the Constitution but because, faced with some very imperfect choices, this was thought to be the best way to protect the American people.

Six weeks from today, Barack Obama becomes commander-in-chief of the global war against Islamic fascism, as well as the active combat theaters in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama won the Democratic nomination on a platform of surrender in the Iraqi theater, but events overtook him — it’s now too late to surrender there, as the war in Iraq has largely been won.

By retaining the Secretary of Defense who oversaw the turnaround in Iraq, Obama has signaled that he will take seriously his duty to protect American interests. Caution on Guantanamo is a similar signal. Sometime in 2009, I fully expect Obama to begin explaining why America’s best interests are served by a stable democracy in Iraq — rather than chaos in the wake of a too-hasty withdrawal. And because the explanation will no longer be coming from the hated Bush, both of America’s major political parties will begin to have a stake in the success of the war effort.

That’s why this McCain voter sees yet another silver lining in Obama’s electoral victory. (Wait a minute… silver lining? Are you calling Obama a “dark raincloud”? Don’t even go there.)