Sunday, March 11, 2012

Cutting the President Slack

We are either in a war against Islamic terrorists or not.   If we are there are two courses of action--kill them or capture them.  Obama seems to prefer the former, which has gotten him in trouble with a few of the principled liberals (whom the press has largely ignored).  But no longer--the Times has weighed in devoid of the standard warm fuzzies.  This curious article is worth exploring.

First, the Times Op-Ed writer applauds Holder for saying the US criminal justice system should be adequate for trying most terrorists.  They failed to mention Holder being part of an Amicus brief supporting Jose Padilla back when Bush classified him an enemy combatant, clearly the same status given to Anwar Awlaqi.  But you can't have it all.  Therein ends the love fest:
A president has the right to order lethal force against conventional enemies during conventional war, or against unconventional enemies in unconventional wars. But when it comes to American citizens, there must be compelling evidence that the threat the citizen poses is imminent and that capturing the citizen is not a realistic option.
There very well may be compelling evidence on Awlaqi, who was hiding with fellow mujidadeen in Yemen (exercising his Yemeni citizenship) on both intent and imminence. More on that in a sec. But first, take a look at the Times colorful way of expressing their outrage that the memo authorizing the hellfire that ended Awlaqi was never provided to the Congress, emphasis added:
It has even refused to acknowledge the existence of a Justice Department memo providing legal justification for killing American citizens, even though that memo has been reported by The Times and others. It is beyond credibility that Mr. Obama ordered the Awlaki killing without getting an opinion from the department’s Office of Legal Counsel. Even President George W. Bush took the trouble to have lawyers in that office cook up a memo justifying torture.
In other words they are saying "even Bushitler provided phoney-baloney justification for his crimes".  That's the kind of writing one might expect to see on a message board, not from the world's greatest newspaper.

Anyway.   What about the memo? Why did Bush fear broadcasting details of the terrorist surveillance program and the black site interrogations to every member of Congress? Leaks, of course. And as we've seen with Obama, he doesn't like leaks.  What are they protecting in the Awlaqi case?  It's gotta be something pretty significant for the president to reach the point to where a house organ would lump him with someone so evil.  Holder says they have the authority to blow away a US citizen if he/she has become an enemy of the state and is hiding in a place where capture is unlikely without large collateral damage and other complications, while being an imminent threat.  At which point..
But he gave no inkling what the evidence was in the Awlaki case, and the administration did not provide a way in which anyone other than the people who gave the order could review whether the standards were met. Mr. Awlaki made tapes for Islamist Web sites that justified armed attacks on the United States by Muslims. But was he just spouting off, or actively plotting or supporting attacks?
Since the Times is speculating let's help them with several possibilities. The first is seminal but in a way conspiratorial. Awlaqi was more than likely involved with at least two of the 9/11 hijackers, both as an Imam in San Diego and Falls Church, Virginia.  At what level, we don't know.  But at the time he was thought of as a 'moderate Muslim', even invited to the Pentagon to speak about Islam after 9/11.  That's embarrassment enough, but considering the controversy surrounding the entry of the two west coast terrorists is it possible Awlaqi was some kind of an asset?

Perish the thought--history shows at least two debacles involving Arabs our government thought were helping us only to have things end badly:  Emad Salem in the first WTC attack and Ali Mohammed before the African Embassy bombings.  Neither have received their fair share of press post 9/11 (probably for fear of a Clintonista revolt). The possibility that Awlaqi was feeding us disinformation as a supposed trusted asset isn't so far-fetched (be careful arbitrarily blaming the government in hindsight since if so it would show they were at least trying to run assets to find the bad guys--we are not going to win them all)?

Aside from embarrassment it's possible to suggest more concrete reasons Holder might not want to release the memo.  It's possible to make a very flimsy connection between Awlaqi and Ali al-Timimi, a George Mason University computational biologist and part Iraqi who was tried and convicted of sedition (yes, here in America).  Then from him it's possible to make a flimsy connection to other areas we won't explore at the moment (that case is now closed, nothing to see).

Finally, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, for whom Awlaqi preached and pontificated for online, seemed to have a penchant for aviation. Of course they are linked to the underwear bomber and the cargo printer cartridge bombs that fortunately didn't explode. But they have also taken credit for the crash of UPS flight 6 from Dubai in September 2010 and Ethiopian 409 that crashed off the coast of Beirut in January 2010. If the findings of those investigations have been made public they certainly haven't made much news.

So, recapping:
Mr. Holder said such operations require high levels of secrecy. That is obvious, but the FISA court operates in secret, and at least Americans are assured that some legal authority not beholden to a particular president or political party is reviewing such operations.
Well, the FISA courts may operate in secret but they weren't secret enough for Bush/Cheney.  Holder seems to be saying all he can say on the matter without saying the truth, which is presumably too scary to say.  That has Bush written all over it.

That leaves the following assumptions.  If we dismiss the conspiratorial stuff above, ie, the possibility that Obama didn't think Congress or Americans could handle the truth about Awlaqi, and if we dismiss the possibility the president has gone rogue and fashions himself as some kind of Rambo figure, we are left with two possible explanations of the 'immediate' nature used to justify the killing:  one, Awlaqi's command of the English language and knowledge of the internet, which posed an imminent threat because it gave him the ability to better understand US targets while talking young jihadi skulls full of mush into attacking them, with confirmation coming from the underwear bomber and major Hasan; or two, Awlaqi was up to something else that involved something quite terrible and had to be stopped (did they ever explain Denver)?  Occam's Razor suggests the former would be enough.  Of course liberals should be joining their libertarian friends to condemn all of this as a government plot to take away more freedoms.  

We'll probably never know for sure.  Even if this New York Times article pressures Holder into releasing the memo it will likely be 50 percent redacted.   But one thing we do know--Obama and Hillary were correct when they scolded the candidates for ignorantly ranting about national security affairs to get elected as both of them once did.  As Obama alluded, being read-in on threats provides a completely different perspective.  Just don't expect an apology to Bush.   

Now, as to Awlaqi's American-born teenaged son, THAT demands a thorough explanation.

No comments: