And at least four more years to go. via « Obama and Terror: A Four-Year Scandal Commentary Magazine.
(Written by) Michael B. Mukasey, a lawyer in private practice in New York and former federal judge, was the attorney general of the United States from November 2007 to January 2009.
From the outset, the Obama administration’s handling of the most sensitive secrets of the war on terror has been worrisome. In April 2009, the Justice Department released previously classified memoranda that described the standards of the CIA’s interrogation program, thereby making known to our enemies the limits of what they might face if captured. The release also demoralized those within the intelligence agency who were told they could no longer rely on the memoranda—and would, therefore, be judged by a standard different from the one in place when they acted.
Two years later, following the killing of Osama bin Laden, revelations about the intelligence recovered in the raid on his Pakistan compound rendered much of that intelligence useless, because terrorists found out what we had learned. A few months after that, administration officials confirmed to the media that the United States had been involved along with Israel in implanting a computer virus in Iranian nuclear-enrichment centrifuges that caused physical damage, thereby justifying by our own professed standards any retaliation Iran might undertake. And, most recently, newspaper reports have disclosed planning for retaliatory operations against the terrorists who murdered our ambassador to Libya and military and other personnel present in our consulate in Benghazi.
The recklessness with which the Obama administration has allowed these precious and deadly secrets to be revealed in the light of day—and in all cases for political reasons, to buff the president’s image—is a little-covered national scandal. And it is on display throughout the text of Daniel Klaidman’s Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 304 pages). There are several details in this book that Klaidman, a veteran Newsweek correspondent, could only have uncovered from leaks of classified information at the highest levels. At least two revelations have the potential to do real damage. Some of the details Klaidman reveals about the nature of the evidence gathered at Guantanamo Bay—gleaned from what was, until this book was published, secret surveillance of detainees—are bound to complicate prosecution of suspected terrorists who were held there, including 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who also personally beheaded (“with my sacred right hand”) the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002.
The other revelation involves foreign policy. We are told that a plan to release Yemeni prisoners from Guantanamo to the Saudis so that they could be put into the intermittently effective Saudi deprogramming regimen for al-Qaeda associates came undone when the Yemeni president affronted the Saudi king by suggesting Yemen was doing the monarch a favor in allowing the kingdom to take those Yemenis. This mildly titillating story may well make it more difficult for the United States to conduct diplomacy in a part of the world where it is not helpful to be the source of gossip that embarrasses those in power.
But leaving aside the sloppy handling of such sensitive information, the public has reason to be disturbed by Klaidman’s account of the way the administration made its decisions in the war on terror. For example, Klaidman reports that President Obama is unwilling to use conventional law-of-war detention, which could take terrorist combatants off the battlefield for the duration of the conflict. Because this is not a conventional war, we can’t predict when or how it will end and therefore detention could be indefinite—indeed, even perpetual. The possibility that a system of ongoing review might be put in place to assure at least that no prisoner is held beyond a time when he presents any realistic danger seems either not to have occurred to anyone, or to have been rejected as too similar to what was in place under George W. Bush.
Harsh political reality thus far has prevented Obama from releasing prisoners at Guantanamo, notwithstanding his pledge to close that facility, indeed his order that it be closed—because they are simply too dangerous to release. He has determined that henceforth no new prisoners will be brought to Guantanamo and the only prisoners who remain there will be the legacy of his predecessor. Klaidman portrays the president as far more concerned with the imagined excesses of the war on terror than with the consequences of another attack. And he fears his possible successors as well. Discussing the possible use of detention power, Obama has supposedly said: “You never know who is going to be president four years from now. I have to think about how Mitt Romney would use that power.”
The options now in place for dealing with terrorists who obey no laws of war is that they will be either killed by remotely piloted drones or captured and tried and thereby treated better than lawful combatants who obey the laws of war. So the administration that wears its concern for human rights on the sleeve of its military has defaulted to kill rather than capture. The introduction of drone technology was the achievement of then Defense Secretary Robert Gates, initially motivated in part by budgetary constraints; however, the technology was not as developed nor its use as widespread during the Bush administration as it has become during Obama’s tenure. Thus, drones do not bear the dreaded Bush trademark. An administration that seeks at all costs to avoid being identified with its predecessor—even to the point of substituting the terms “unlawful enemy combatant,” used in legal literature for about a century, for “unprivileged enemy belligerent” and “foreign contingency operation” for “war”—feels comfortable, unlike its predecessor, having lethal force as its default enforcement method.
The president’s take on Islamism emerges as a fabric of platitudes: Obama’s “cosmopolitan background…gave him a more visceral feel [than his predecessor had] for how much of the world lived—and how they viewed America.” He had traveled abroad to visit his relatives and spent three weeks in Karachi, “a sprawling, congested city throbbing with sectarian strife.” “These experiences helped shape Obama’s belief that what most people around the world desired was adequate food, shelter, and security—lives of dignity, free of the daily humiliations of poverty and ignorance. They were the basis for a coherent set of views about the roots of Islamic rage and the underlying conditions that breed Islamic extremism—the economic despair, the social and political dysfunction that lead young men to become terrorists.” As portrayed here, the president does not seem to have factored into his “coherent set of views” that Osama bin Laden was a millionaire many times over; or that Mohammed Atta, the lead operative in the September 11 attacks, was an upper-middle-class university student, as were other participants in that atrocity; or that those who plotted in 2007 to blow up the Glasgow airport were physicians, as is Bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri; or that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to detonate himself and his fellow passengers aboard an airplane over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, was the son of a Nigerian cabinet minister; or that those implicated in plots in the UK are principally those born there who had no connection to a city “throbbing with sectarian strife.”
Nor does the book contain any hint that the president may have considered the possibility that “Islamic rage” and “Islamic extremism” may have some connection to Islam.
President Obama is not the only actor in Klaidman’s book. There was, it seems, a struggle for the soul of his presidency between what Klaidman calls the “Tammany Hall” element, led principally by White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and representing the forces of political expediency, and “the Aspen Institute” element, led by State Department legal adviser and former Yale Law School dean Harold Koh, representing the forces of high-minded idealism.
Koh is shown wielding influence that far outstrips his rank because President Obama values his academic heft in pushing the debate leftward. He is described as having “an enormous intellect” and a background congenial to the president, a “former constitutional law professor himself.”
Much more, continue reading it at Commentary Magazine.
And for those who weren’t around four years ago, remember that Harold Koh is one of Obama’s top legal appointees who stated Sharia law could appy in U.S. courts.