Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Former Military Officers Call for Gitmo Closure

Yesterday a group of retired military officers demanded the close of the prison at Guantanamo Bay and called for the remaining detainees to be transferred to the U.S. where they would be taken into the criminal justice system. The officers believe that the continuance of the prison at Gitmo gives terrorist organizations a valuable propaganda tool with which to attack the U.S.'s credibility and recruit more members. They believe that all of the detainees should be tried and they adamantly oppose any system which would allow indefinite detention without charges being brought.

Amen to that. Well... kinda. It's pretty clear to those who read this blog that I am opposed to continuing a detention system at Gitmo and I believe that the U.S. needs to exhaust all efforts to bring those detainees to trial. Unfortunately, I also believe that a good number of the remaining detainees cannot be brought to trial with any real chance of actually obtaining a conviction. I also believe it to be a possibility that more than a handful of those who can't be brought to trial are extremely dangerous. I don't want to see those detainees released. That being said I'm also unsure how we can legitimately continue to hold them.

Here is how I see this playing out once they are introduced into the U.S. criminal justice system, as the officers urge. We will have to move expeditiously to charge them with a crime and bring them to trial because it would be their constitutional right. If we lack the evidence to do so we will have to release them. Not only would they be released, but i assume that they would be released here in the U.S. Now the government could try to construct some sort of system where we can administratively detain them without bringing charges against them (Israel has a system like this). However, any such system would be incredibly controversial and may draw the same ire that Gitmo does. In addition, I think that if the government tried to apply an administrative detention system to those detainees it could run up against an ex post facto problem.

This post is really just speculation. I haven't done extensive research regarding the ramifications of any of these potential decisions, but I think that they are legitimate concerns.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Uighurs and Nukes


That's right. Kiyemba is back baby... well for a short time at least. If you'll remember the Supreme Court put their decision on whether to hear the case on hold over the summer. I believed the reason for this was to give the government more time to resettle the Uighur detainees and therefore avoid hearing the case, and it looks like I was right... mostly. SCOTUSblog reported yesterday that the Pacific island of Palau has agreed to accept 12 of the 13 Uighur detainees that remain at Gitmo. Six of the twelve have already agreed to the transfer and discussions are ongoing with the other six. It's important to note that three of the potential transferees are not technically petitioners in the case, but have expressed an interest to be included. The remaining detainee that has not been offered transfer is a petitioner in the case. This means that if a suitable country for resettlement of this detainee is not found the Court could still hear the case without the entire matter being moot.

I can't for the life of me figure out why Palau will only agree to 12 of the 13. You figure that if you can negotiate to get 12 transferred to Palau then you could convince them to take the 13th and just be done with the matter. I'm not sure if the 13th (Arkin Mahmud) is more dangerous than the others or what, but keeping this potentially huge case alive because of one person is not something that the government could possibly want. Time is running out to get these transfers completed because the Court will hold a private conference next Tuesday to decide whether or not it will hear the matter. I think that they will agree to hear it unless there is some way they can delay that decision again. If the Court can't delay any longer the government is under the gun to get this matter resolved before it will have to engage in a very serious battle before the Court.

Nukes in Iran

Mahmoud is really stirring things up again. In a not entirely surprising story it was revealed that Iran has been constructing yet another uranium enrichment facility this time around the city of Qom. This is yet another big step in Iran's journey toward possessing nuclear weapons. The U.S., Britain, and France have known about the facility for years but just recently alerted teh IAEA. All three called for stiff sanctions against Iran if it did not back off of its accelerating journey towards nuclear weapons. Iran, of course, claims that its nuclear ambitions are purely for civilian purposes.

This news dampens the mood following the historic U.N. agreement to scale back nuclear weapons around the world in an effort to stem the threat of nuclear terrorism.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Obama Will Not Seek Further Legislative Power to Continue Detention

The New York Times reports that the Obama administration will not try to pass further legislation to justify/clarify standards for detention of terrorist suspects. They say that current legislation is basis enough for the government's detention power. They are going to use the current legislation as a basis to hold up to 50 current detainees indefinitely because they are deemed to dangerous to release yet cannot be brought to trial for various reasons. The government says that it will use the current habeas system to review the detention of those that they will detain further.

The article does not say what the specific legislative basis for detention is but I assume they are referring to the Authorization for Use Of Military Force ("AUMF") that was passed on the heels of September 11th. While I believe that we can't simply let terrorists go I also believe that we need more specific and targeted legislation to legitimize the detention system. The AUMF is too broad to base detention powers on. The AUMF gives the President power that is essentially unilimited in time. If we base detention powers on that ground then we are allowing the Executive to detain people forever without any truly defined system by which to manage those detainees. The article says that part of the reason for this move is that any legislation on this subject is likely to be met with a great deal of resistance from Congress and I realize that, but from a purely ideological standpoint it makes me uncomfortable that we can just hold people without trial and without any kind of set procedures to deal with those particular people.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Petraeus on Counterterrorism/insurgency

General David Petraeus gave a speech in London last night outlining the challenges in of the fight in Afghanistan, and the necessity of meeting those challenges. I think that this quote gets at a very central issue in a concise and clever way:

"But the core of any counterinsurgency strategy must focus on the fact that the decisive terrain is the human terrain, not the high ground or the river crossing."

I love that quote. Traditional combat operations are necessary to get a foothold, but the real battle that needs to be won is stabilizing the region that you are in so that the local population is not reliant on, or in fear of, terrorist organizations.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

More Action in Somalia

U.S. Special Forces soldiers killed a top Al Qaeda lieutenant in Somalia on Monday. The AQ leader was Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan who was behind the 2002 bombing of an Israeli hotel in Kenya, an unsuccessful attempt to shoot down a commercial airliner in Kenya with surface to air missiles, and is suspected to have involvement in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Africa. According to reports a team of special forces soldiers in four military helicopters assaulted two vehicles, one of which carried Nabhan, in broad daylight while Nabhan was trying to move from one location to another. The military decided to launch the attack when it did because Nabhan was not in the vicinity of civilians at the time.

This story is evidence of two things. First, that Somalia is becoming increasingly more prevalent in the War on Terror. Maybe it has been prevalent for a long time and it is just now coming to light, but the recent struggles for power over the country and now the killing of a major AQ figure in the country leads me to believe that AQ and its affiliates see an advantage in trying to operate out of Somalia. Second, it seems that the U.S. is also starting to focus on Somalia and maybe attempt to preempt terrorists from grabbing a real foothold in the country. This is a pretty brazen attack given that it is in broad daylight and right in the middle of a sovereign nation. Granted Somalia in its current state is barely a nation, you won't see U.S. military helicopters carrying special forces soldiers fly into the middle of London or Paris to take out a terrorist, but it seems to be a strong sign that we are stepping up our efforts to disrupt AQ in areas other than Pakistan and Afghanistan. I hope that we continue to focus some resources on Somalia because it will pay dividends towards stabilizing that country and making it harder for terrorists to operate there.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

U.S. Creates Review System for Detainees at Bagram

It may not be ideal, but it seems to be a significant step forward. The new process for reviewing the bases of prisoners' detention at Bagram military base in Afghanistan will involve what are being called "Detainee Review Boards." There is an existing system at Bagram that allegedly allows a prisoner to challenge his detention but does not allow for the presentation of evidence or for the prisoner to review the evidence against him. The new system will place a U.S. military official who is not a lawyer with a prisoner. That official will be in charge of representing that prisoner's interests and will be able to call witnesses and present "reasonably available" evidence. Something missing from the Washington Post article is what the standard for continued detention or release will be, but that may not be determined yet. The process will be used to determine which detainees will be released, turned over to Afghan authorities, or held in U.S. custody longer. Those held in U.S. custody will have the basis for their detention reviewed at six month intervals. This six month interval is similar to the system of administrative detention used in Israel.

This is a big step forward. Even human rights groups say this is a significant improvement to the current system. Those groups also say that it is not enough because the detainees still don't have access to legal counsel. I agree that access to legal counsel is a hallmark of fairness, but we aren't dealing with a civilian situation here. When it comes to Gitmo it is much easier to allow for legal counsel because the detainees are held at a military base that isn't in an active theater of war. Bagram is right in the middle of a war torn country where the military is struggling to assert its control. Allowing for legal counsel and traditional legal processes is simply impractical. A full fledged review system similar to the one that exists for Gitmo would use up a great deal of resources, both administrative and security related, in Bagram. The military needs to focus its resources on gaining control of Afghanistan. I like this proposed system. It is not the most protective of detainee rights at Bagram, but I believe it is the most we can do in a practical sense.

Monday, September 7, 2009

British Terrorists Convicted of 2006 Plot

Remember the scare a few years ago when a they arrested some British guys who they said were going to try to blow up airplanes with liquid explosives? If you don't then let's just say that you have them to thank for getting all but the smallest amount of liquids banned from flights. It's why you have to be sure not to take your brand new $75 bottle of Gucci cologne through airport security lest it end up in the massive collection of various items that TSA employees are undoubtedly amassing. Anyways, the point is that three of the plotters were found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder today in British court.

This story got me thinking about how we've gotten away from thinking about terrorist attacks against America. No doubt life has changed since September 11th with massive reorganization of government, tighter security at airports, arenas, etc., and a general sense that terrorism can be a real threat to this country. While all that has happened I feel like the potential for another massive attack is not something people think about anymore. If the liquid explosive plot would have succeeded completely it would have resulted in the destruction of multiple commercial airlines in mid-air over the Atlantic and left 1500 innocent people dead. That kind of attack would have created panic on an absolutely massive scale, and dealt a struggling airline industry a blow that it might not have recovered from. It's unsettling to think that such a small group can inflict so much damage. Luckily cooperation between U.S. and British intelligence resulted in the discovery of the plot, but it is a reminder of how vulnerable we are. It's easy to get distracted by the wars in Iraq and Aghanistan, and more recently the economic downturn, but that doesn't mean that terrorist groups don 't still mean the U.S. harm. There are still a good number of targets that terrorists can strike with relative ease that they haven't yet. Examples of such targets that come to my mind are so called "soft targets" such as arenas, malls, and various forms of public transportation. These attacks would probably be less dramatic than September 11th, but could be carried out with more frequency. They would also create a different kind of fear than September 11th because they would be aimed more at the basis of people's everyday lives.

I'm not trying to be the voice of doom here because I do think that we are safer now than we were on September 11th. I also think that it is a good thing that we don't live our daily lives in fear of another attack. This story just made me think about how we can lose focus on a real threat in the absence of a recent attack.