SOCIAL VOX

My thoughts on the world around me

Ex-Gitmo Detainee Joins al-Qaeda in Yemen

Said Ali Al-Shihri, a Saudi man who spent six years in the Guantanamo Bay prison, is now the No. 2 of the Yemen branch of al-Qaeda. Following President Barack Obama’s executive order to close down the Cuban prison within a year, this news only underscores the complexity of the issue.

Several experts have said that the detainees fall into three categories:

1. Those who can be tried in a U.S. court;

2. Those who can be returned to their home country, or a third country, and be tried there; and

3. Some detainees who cannot be tried in the U.S. or returned to their home or third country (the most difficult category)

Given the difficulty in resolving this issue, it’s no surprise that the Democrats and Republicans have conflicting views on yesterday’s executive order.

Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), who heads the House Homeland Security subcommittee on intelligence, said that Guantanamo prison should still be closed in spite of today’s report:

What it tells me is that President Obama has to proceed extremely carefully. But there is really no justification and there was no justification for disappearing people in a place that was located offshore of America so it was outside the reach of U.S. law[.]

Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI), the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, criticized the executive order as it was “very short on specifics.” He went on to say that former Guantanamo detainees are “back on the battlefield. They are attacking American troops.”

Closing the prison is symbolic and essential to our foreign policy objectives. The prison had become a propaganda tool for insurgents throughout the Middle East. Obama also seems to be keenly aware that it will not be easy to adjudicate each and every one of these cases. Some prisoners are very dangerous, but the extent of the evidence against them is razor thin.

Giving himself a year to handle this issue was a prudent move. Obama will have to proceed cautiously, and be aware that what is at stake is allowing more people like Al-Shihri to take to the battlefield against American soldiers.

That would be an unforgivable mistake.

January 23, 2009 Posted by | Barack Obama, Foreign Policy, Law, Obama's First 100 Days, Politics, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Redeploying Troops Into Afghanistan a No-Brainer, Right?

Barack Obama has noted that among his foreign policy objectives, he plans on gradually withdrawing troops from Iraq and redeploying them into Afghanistan. Like the Guantánamo Bay prison, the war in Iraq is a legacy he would prefer for President George W. Bush to savor alone.

With no WMD’s or terrorist training sites, Iraq does not currently pose a national security threat to the United States. In Afghanistan, however, the Taliban grows in both strength and boldness, and al-Qaeda continues to lurk along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

So redeploying the troops into Afghanistan is a no-brainer, right?

Not according to Bob Herbert, a New York Times op-ed columnist. In a recent column, Mr. Herbert argues that the time for a prolonged war in Afghanistan has come and gone:

In an analysis in The Times last month, Michael Gordon noted that “Afghanistan presents a unique set of problems: a rural-based insurgency, an enemy sanctuary in neighboring Pakistan, the chronic weakness of the Afghan government, a thriving narcotics trade, poorly developed infrastructure, and forbidding terrain.”

The U.S. military is worn out from years of warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan. The troops are stressed from multiple deployments. Equipment is in disrepair. Budgets are beyond strained. Sending thousands of additional men and women (some to die, some to be horribly wounded) on a fool’s errand in the rural, mountainous guerrilla paradise of Afghanistan would be madness.

The time to go all out in Afghanistan was in the immediate aftermath of the 2001 terror attacks. That time has passed.

Mr. Herbert contends that the prudent move would be to withdraw the troops and live to fight another day:

With no personal military background and a reputation as a liberal, President-elect Obama may feel he has to demonstrate his toughness, and that Afghanistan is the place to do it. What would really show toughness would be an assertion by Mr. Obama as commander in chief that the era of mindless military misadventures is over…

In his article for Newsweek, Mr. [Andrew] Bacevich said: “The chief effect of military operations in Afghanistan so far has been to push radical Islamists across the Pakistani border. As a result, efforts to stabilize Afghanistan are contributing to the destabilization of Pakistan, with potentially devastating implications.

“No country poses a greater potential threat to U.S. national security — today and for the foreseeable future — than Pakistan. To risk the stability of that nuclear-armed state in the vain hope of salvaging Afghanistan would be a terrible mistake.”

Making matters worse, the troops’ negative morale is being overlooked. According to a Yahoo! News article published last month, over 540 active-duty soldiers in the Army have committed suicide since 2003. Redeploying soldiers, sometimes on their 4th or even 5th tour of duty, cannot be the most sensible option right now.

Mr. Obama, there are two things you need to focus on: the economy and on bringing the troops home. Having waged war for seven years, our soldiers now need for us to rally around them. Bring them home, get them psychiatric help, and allow them to decompress.

If the troops are redeployed, Mr. Obama will owe the country an explanation. As Mr. Herbert notes:

He will owe that to the public because he will own the conflict at that point. It will be Barack Obama’s war.

January 18, 2009 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

America, Be Not Afraid to Look Behind You

Appearing in a New York Times op-ed column, Slate Magazine’s Dahlia Lithwick says Americans would rather turn the page than prosecute top Bush officials for war crimes and other atrocities. The crux of her argument is that this hope of “rebooting” the government, of preferring to recover, is not found in the language of law. There is no legal justification for not investigating or prosecuting senior officials who have authorized torture and warrant-less surveillance.

Americans want to focus on the brighter future that hopefully lies ahead, not dwell on our dark past. As Ms. Lithwick notes, however, that would be a mistake:

Nobody is looking for a series of public floggings. The blueprints for government accountability look nothing like witch hunts. They look like legal processes that have served us for centuries. And, as the Armed Services Committee report makes clear, we already know an enormous amount about what happened to take us down the road to torture and eavesdropping. The military has commissioned at least three investigative reports about the descent into abusive interrogation. Michael Ratner, the president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, has compiled what he believes to be sufficient evidence to try senior Bush administration officials for war crimes…

It’s not a witch hunt simply because political actors are under investigation. The process of investigating and prosecuting crimes makes up the bricks and mortar of our prosecutorial system. We don’t immunize drug dealers, pickpockets or car thieves because holding them to account is uncomfortable, difficult or divisive. We don’t protest that “it’s all behind us now” when a bank robber is brought to trial.

And America tends to survive the ugliness of public reckonings, from Nixon to Whitewater to the impeachment hearings, because for all our cheerful optimism, Americans fundamentally understand that nobody should be above the law. As the chief prosecutor for the United States at the Nuremberg trials, Robert Jackson, warned: “Law shall not stop with the punishment of petty crimes by little people. It must also reach men who possess themselves of great power.”

At the Senate confirmation hearing, Eric Holder said that “waterboarding is torture.” Is Holder and the Obama administration prepared to bring these people to justice? Can the American people stomach the potentially difficult process? We must all remember that, as Mr. Holder said at his confirmation hearing, “no one is above the law.” To not investigate or prosecute these officials to the full extent of the law is to establish a dangerous precedent.

There is no immunity for war crimes, even when allegedly done for the sake of national security.

January 15, 2009 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Law, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

All Eyes on Holder

Since the days of Alberto Gonzales, the Department of Justice, and particularly the Office of the Attorney General, has tainted, to say the very least, the United States judicial process. In the Bush years, torture and CIA black sites have become somewhat synonymous with the war on terror.

That’s why today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Eric Holder’s nomination for US Attorney General is so significant. Immediately, Holder’s responses established a position, both a legal and a philosophical one.

These were Chairman Leahy’s first two questions, and Holder’s answers to them:

Is waterboarding torture?

“Waterboarding is torture.”

Can the commander-in-chief override a law, in the name of national security, to allow this form of torture?

“No one is above the law.”

Hopefully this is the beginning of the cleansing process. Hopefully we will reconstruct our image as a nation of laws.

Mr. Holder, our eyes are on you.

January 15, 2009 Posted by | Law, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment