Monday, January 11, 2010

Obama Taking Partisan Fire on National Security

     The good will from President Obama’s inauguration lasted only as long as it took him to reaffirm his campaign pledge to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp on his second full day in the White House. One year out, national security law remains a political battlefield, with Republicans and conservatives mounting partisan attacks grounded more in ideology than in evidence or reason.
     The GOP critique depicts Obama as a feckless chief executive more interested in legal niceties than counterterrorism. Exhibit No. 1 is the decision to prosecute Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the foiled Christmas Day bomber on Northwest flight 253, in federal court instead of before a military commission.
     The criticism comes from such Bush administration alumni as former vice president Dick Cheney and White House political guru Karl Rove as well as sitting GOP officeholders. “We must treat these terrorists as what they are — not common criminals, but enemy combatants in a war,” said Sen. Christopher (Kit) Bond, the Missouri Republican and ranking member on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
     One former Bush administration official, however, is OK with the decision: Robert Gates, secretary of defense in Bush’s last two years in office and held over in the post by Obama. Gates was reportedly consulted in advance of the Justice Department’s decision to prosecute Abdulmutallab and raised no objection.
     The Republican critics appear blind to the poor record of the military commission system created up by the Bush administration _ either in intelligence-gathering or terrorist-prosecuting _ as well as its use of civilian courts to prosecute many suspected terrorists. Most specifically, in a case virtually identical to Abdulmutallab’s, the Bush administration prosecuted shoe bomber Richard Reid in federal court after his failed attack on a Boston-bound flight in December 2001.
     Reid was indicted on eight terrorism-related counts in January 2002, pleaded guilty in October, and was sentenced to a life prison term that he is now serving in a maximum security prison within the United States. When reminded of this recent history, Republican critics can say only that the Bush administration made a mistake.
     Attorney General Eric Holder says that Abdulmutallab similarly faces a possible life sentence if convicted under the six-count indictment that the government obtained on Jan. 6. Apart from any possible sentence, however, the Republican critics say that the administration has given up valuable leverage in obtaining useful intelligence from Abdulmutallab by vesting him with the legal rights of the criminal justice system _ including the right to a lawyer _ instead of the diminished procedural protections of the military commission system.
     As the New York Times reporter Charlie Savage has pointed out, however, Abdulmutallab has the right to counsel in the military commission system under Supreme Court rulings that rejected the Bush administration’s efforts to bar federal court scrutiny of the system. In addition, the GOP critics disregard the likelihood that a defense lawyer will encourage, not discourage, Abdulmutallab to provide information to the government in the hope of getting some favorable consideration as the prosecution proceeds.
     In any event, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says the government did obtain “useable, actionable intelligence” before Abdulmutallab decided to stop talking once he was provided counsel. There is no public record from Reid’s case eight years ago that the Bush administration turned him before putting him into the criminal justice system.
     Abdulmutallab’s training in an al Qaeda camp in Yemen opens a second target for Republican critics: Obama’s now deferred promise to close Guantanamo within a year. Yemenis comprise nearly half of the 200 or so detainees still held at Guantanamo. Some of the Yemenis already released have been returned to their home countries, including one who is now said to be the head of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Inconveniently for the GOP critics, he was released on Bush’s watch, not Obama’s.
     Obama, who had already been working to strengthen Yemen’s scrutiny of ex-Guantanamo detainees, promptly put a hold on any more releases to Yemen. Obama also quickly demanded and then released a review of how Abdulmutallab came to board a U.S.-bound flight, with explosives, despite the warning that U.S. diplomatic and intelligence personnel received from Abdulmutallab’s father, a respected Nigerian banker.
     The report disclosed “human” and “systemic” failures ranging from a misspelling of Abdulmutallab’s name to a delay in sending a cable about the interviews with his father. The mistakes occurred down in the federal bureaucracy, but Obama personally assumed responsibility for them. By contrast, Bush was slow to acknowledge any Oval Office oversight in failing to pick up on pre-9/11 warnings from the intelligence community of a possible attack from al Qaeda.
     Politics, it is often said, stops at the water’s edge. The adage is perhaps honored more in the breach than in the observance, and thus it has been for Obama’s first year in office. Still, even seasoned political observers may cringe at the degree of partisanship from Republicans toward a Democratic administration that has Abdulmutallab locked up and a crash program under way to plug the holes in the airline security system that allowed him to board flight 253 in the first place.

1 comment:

  1. We don’t need profiling to identify Individuals like the Christmas-Day Bomber!

    Virtually all media outlets are discussing whether we should be profiling all Arab Muslims; I will in the one-page explain why we don’t need profiling. Over 15 years ago, we at the Center for Aggression Management developed an easily-applied, measurable and culturally-neutral body language and behavior indicators exhibited by people who intend to perpetrate a terrorist act. This unique methodology utilizes proven research from the fields of psychology, medicine and law enforcement which, when joined together, identify clear, easily-used physiologically-based characteristics of individuals who are about to engage in terrorist activities in time to prevent their Moment of Commitment.

    The Problem
    Since the foiled terrorist attack by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian national on Northwest Flight 253 to Detroit, the President has repeatedly stated that there has been a systemic failure as he reiterates his commitment to fill this gap in our security. This incident, like the Fort Hood shooting, exemplifies why our government must apply every valid preventative approach to identify a potential terrorist.

    The myriad methods to identify a terrorist, whether “no-fly list,” “explosive and weapons detection,” mental illness based approaches, “profiling” or “deception detection” - all continue to fail us. Furthermore, the development of deception detection training at Boston Logan Airport demonstrated that the Israeli methods of interrogation will not work in the United States.

    All media outlets are discussing the need for profiling of Muslim Arabs, but profiling does not work for the following three reasons:

    1. In practice, ethnic profiling tells us that within a certain group of people there is a higher probability for a terrorist; it does not tell us who the next terrorist is!

    2. Ethnic profiling is contrary to the value our society places on diversity and freedom from discrimination based on racial, ethnic, religious, age and/or gender based criteria. If we use profiling it will diminish our position among the majority of affected citizens who support us as a beacon of freedom and liberty.

    3. By narrowing our field of vision, profiling can lead to the consequence of letting terrorists go undetected, because the terrorist may not be part of any known “profile worthy” group – e.g., the Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh

    The Solution
    Our unique methodology for screening passengers can easily discern (independently of race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, age, and gender) the defining characteristics of human beings who are about to engage in terrorist acts.

    The question is when will our government use true “hostile intent” through the “continuum of aggressive behavior” to identify potential terrorists? Only when observers focus specifically on “aggressive behavior” do the objective and culturally neutral signs of “aggression” clearly stand out, providing the opportunity to prevent these violent encounters. This method will not only make all citizens safer, but will also pass the inevitable test of legal defensibility given probable action by the ACLU.

    As our Government analyzes what went wrong regarding Abdulmatallab’s entrance into the United States, you can be assured that Al Qaeda is also analyzing how their plans went wrong. Who do you think will figure it out first . . . ?

    Visit our blog at where we discuss the shooting at Fort Hood and the attempted terrorist act on Flight 253.