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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Republicans Clumsily Try to Resurrect "Democrats are weak on terrorism"

When Holder announced, last November, his decision to try Mohammed and his co-conspirators in a federal courthouse, he predicted that it would be “the trial of the century.” It had taken him months to arrive at the best way to bring Mohammed to justice. By the time he became Attorney General, the Bush Administration had moved Mohammed—whom the C.I.A. took into custody seven years ago, in Pakistan—from a black-site prison to Guantánamo. His prosecution was complicated by the fact that C.I.A. interrogators had subjected him to torture, including at least a hundred and eighty-three sessions of waterboarding.

There is no evidence suggesting that military commissions would be tougher on suspected terrorists than criminal courts would. Of the three cases adjudicated at Guantánamo, one defendant received a life sentence after boycotting his own trial; another served only six months, in addition to the time he had already served at the detention camp; the third struck a plea bargain and received just nine months. The latter two defendants—Salim Hamdan, a Yemeni who worked as Osama bin Laden’s driver, and David Hicks, an Australian who attended an Al Qaeda training camp—are now at liberty in their home countries, having been released while Bush was still in office.

It’s impossible to know how these same cases would have fared in the civilian system. But the case of John Walker Lindh, the so-called American Taliban, offers a comparison between the two systems, as it closely parallels the case of Yaser Hamdi, a Saudi-American who was captured in the same place (Afghanistan) and at the same time (2001). Lindh, who pleaded guilty in a criminal court, is now serving twenty years in prison. Hamdi, who was declared an enemy combatant, was held in military detention, without charge; in 2004, after a court challenge, he was freed, and is now in Saudi Arabia.

Michael Mukasey, who was Holder’s predecessor as Attorney General, has suggested that the military system is better at making terrorists talk. Last month, in the Wall Street Journal, he argued, “Had Abdulmutallab been turned over immediately to interrogators intent on gathering intelligence, valuable facts could have been gathered and perhaps acted upon.” But the conventional court system has proved surprisingly effective at extracting intelligence. Dozens of suspected terrorists in the criminal system have coöperated with the government, usually in exchange for leniency in sentencing. The government is currently receiving valuable information from David C. Headley, who was indicted last December, in Chicago, for his involvement in terrorism conspiracies in India and Denmark. And, last week, the Justice Department confirmed that Abdulmutallab was now coöperating with the F.B.I. A department official noted, “He has an incentive to talk in the criminal-justice system, which the other system doesn’t offer.” The key to gaining Abdulmutallab’s coöperation was the F.B.I.’s ability to enlist his family in getting him to talk. Holder asked me, “Would that father have gone to American authorities if he knew his son might be whisked away to a black site”—a secret prison set up in a foreign country—“and subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques? You are much more likely to get people coöperating with us if their belief is that we are acting in a way that is consistent with American values.”

President Obama was at one time a professor of constitutional law at the University of Chicago, but to suggest that he regards counterterrorism as a "mere" legal matter, or that he's gun-shy as commander-in-chief, is preposterous.

Obama, after all, has nearly tripled the number of U.S. troops sent to Afghanistan. He has approved nearly twice as many CIA airstrikes against Taliban targets in Pakistan during his first year of office as President Bush did in his final year (65 vs. 36), killing more than twice as many militants in the process (571 vs. 268).  He has sent military trainers to help the Yemeni government fight al-Qaida insurgents. He has continued to boost the military budget. He has maintained the Bush administration's secret surveillance programs (despite protests from many Democrats). And Palin seems to have forgotten the time, last April, when Obama authorized SEAL sharpshooters to kill the three armed pirates who'd hijacked the merchant ship Maersk Alabama off the coast of Somalia. (The amnesia seems to have afflicted many Republicans, including some who lauded the president at the time.)

As for the underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who nearly blew up a passenger plane on Christmas Day, yes, Obama took three days to comment on the incident—though, as many have since noted, Bush took six days to say anything about the shoe bomber, Richard Reid (and no Democrat made an issue of his reticence).  Reading Abdulmutallab his Miranda rights may have seemed a stretch (Obama the law professor!), but it turns out Reid was read his rights, too. More to the point, in neither case did the suspect use the occasion to clam up. As Richard Clarke, the former White House counterterrorism chief under Presidents Clinton and Bush, has noted, Abdulmutallab briefly went quiet because the FBI agents read him his rights while he was under sedation, but after he woke up, he resumed talking quite freely.

Palin's words (which she read with a venom unbecoming to one who, by her own admission, hadn't thought a whit about foreign affairs until 18 months ago) are not merely false. They're dangerous.

The Washington Independent’s Spencer Ackerman talks with Rachel Maddow about the falsehoods and lies by some Republicans clumsily attempting to resurrect “Democrats are weak on terrorism” talking point.

Now, Brennen says that Kit Bond, McConnell, Benard, and Hoekstra were told that Abdulmutallab was in FBI custody and they should have known that he received his miranda rights.  Kit Bond interview with Chuck Todd – discusses the Obama administration’s handling of terror suspects as well as his call for counter terrorism official John Brennan to resign.

Morning Joe discusses rights of suspected terrorists with Chris Hayes.


The Huffington Post’s Lawrence O’Donnell reacts to his conversation with Marc Thiessen on Morning Joe about the former Bush speechwriter’s delusion that President Barack Obama is inviting another terror attack to occur in the U.S.  http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/35366677#35374845

NBC’s Richard Engel explains what the capture of the Taliban’s top military chief means for the fight against Osama bin Laden.  http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/35366677#35428528

David Brooks, Rachel Maddow, Harold Ford Jr., and Aaron Schock discuss the Obama administration’s handling of terror suspects with NBC’s David Gregory on “Meet the Press.” 

Sarah Palin's Storm at the Tea Party - Why haven't responsible Republicans spoken out against her? 
By Fred Kaplan - http://www.slate.com/id/2244062/
The cost of partisanship on national security - http://voices.washingtonpost.com/shortstack/2010/02/the_cost_of_partisanship_on_na.html?wpisrc=nl_pmpolitics

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