Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

May 3, 2012

Reading over two terrorists shoulders

Filed under: Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on May 3, 2012

The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point has released 17 of the documents retrieved from the compound in Abbottabad where Osama bin Laden was killed.  In addition to English translations and the original Arabic versions  –  posted online today at 9:00 AM EST — the CTC has issued a short report contextualizing the documents.

See: Last Year at Abbottabad.

While you’re at the CTC site scan their other publications.  Good stuff.

Many HLSWatch readers will also be interested in a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs staff report on the radicalization of Zac Chesser.  Please access: A Case Study in Online Islamist Radicalization and Its Meaning for the Threat of Homegrown Terrorism.

In July 2010 I posted a piece entitled: Could you or I have talked Zac Chesser out of violent extremism? Arnold Bogis (not yet a fellow poster) and I had a quick exchange on the question.  In the Senate report there is  a tantalizing reference to Chesser almost being talked back from the edge.

Each set of resources offers fascinating insights into terrorist realities.

I recently discovered a cache of letters I had written (rough drafts) and received (in reply) from the early 1980s.  I came away wondering about the vagaries of memory and the often fluid nature of what purports to be real.

It’s a tad intimidating to think how these posts and comments may be read thirty years from now.  If we’re lucky these bytes may prove even more fragile than the thin airmail paper I found in a long forgotten file.   Based on all three examples, humility ages more gracefully than its opposite.

March 22, 2012

Attribution error, actor-observer bias, correspondence bias, and counter-terrorism

Filed under: Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on March 22, 2012

Why did US Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales apparently massacre sixteen Afghan villagers, including nine children?

Why did 17 year-old T.J. Lane by all accounts kill three and wound three other Chandon High School classmates he may have barely known?

Why did someone, probably Mohammed Merah, dismount  from his scooter, chase an eight-year old girl into a  school courtyard, grab her hair, and shoot her point-blank in the face?  One of four he killed that day.

Why do I — perhaps you too — bring rather different predispositions to each of these events?

One Washington state neighbor said of Sergeant Bales,  ”A good guy got put in the wrong place at the wrong time.”  Financial troubles, family troubles, brain-injury and more have been offered as possible explanations.

“We are all shocked and horrified by the actions of T.J.,” his aunt, Heather Lane, said in an email posted online Tuesday by The News-Herald in Willoughby (OH).  ”We wish we could offer some answers concerning this horrific act. We have none.”

According to The Telegraph, Mohammed Merah “told police he was acting in revenge at Israel for killing Palestinian children and at France for having troops in Afghanistan.”

The more we self-identify with the perpetrator the more we are inclined to empathize —  even excuse — his actions.   If we recognize ourselves or something we value in the act or actor we are ready to consider context as a contributing factor.  We may speak softly of justice with mercy.

The more an accused murderer — or other miscreant — looks, sounds, or behaves unlike us the more we perceive purposeful evil emerging from the very otherness — racial, ethnic, religious, political, or whatever — that differentiates us from them.  We may speak gravely of avenging justice.

This differentiated  judgment depends on the proposition that I am good.

We may admit, “I make the occasional mistake.”  I have  unintentionally hurt others. I can be careless, distracted, sometimes self-absorbed.  I have been forced to make some tough choices.  But certainly none of this undoes my essential good-ness.  What I value…  the way I engage reality… my essential worldview is good and true and beautiful.

Someone with different values, understandings, or worldview is therefore bad, false, and ugly proportional to their deviation from me.

Whatever else happened with Bob, T.J. and Mohammed, this self-justifying logic had a role in the sub-strata of murderous motivation.  For an awful hour or more the “other” — man, woman, or child — became little more than a troubling antithesis to be removed to make way for more truth, more goodness, more beauty as defined by Bob, T.J., or Mohammed.

I feel this way more often than I like to admit, sometimes regarding comments to this blog.  When another’s take on an important aspect of reality (important to me) differs fundamentally from my own it is tempting to push the “trash” button conveniently placed beneath each comment.  It is especially tempting because I have a trash button and they (you) don’t.

Pulling the digital kill trigger may seem to pale in comparison to murder. But the ethical distance is not huge.  Either I recognize and honor the dignity of the other — especially the irritating, annoying, even frightening other — or I don’t.

In a highly mobile and digitally networked world we increasingly encounter otherness.  How we choose to engage the other calls for something far beyond the tourist’s easy tolerance.

Based on what little we know of Merah, it is tempting to dismiss him as heartlessly as he dispatched seven victims.  In doing so I reinforce my own differentiation, my own claim to being good.  Assuming Merah’s murders are confirmed, he deserves to be condemned.   Am I willing to hold myself equally accountable?

I am unlikely to commit murder.  But when I do not listen carefully or purposefully ignore or fail to notice — even worse, if I twist the other’s intention in a self-interested way — I propagate a virus of violation.

The proposition I am good is a deception.   Often I am not good.  Usually my understanding and actions are flawed.

I recognize myself in Bob Bales and T.J. Lane and Mohammed Merah.   We share the same narrow wire and are in relationship… whether we like it or not.

March 12, 2012

Holder v. New York Times on Due Process

Filed under: Legal Issues,Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on March 12, 2012

Last week HLSWatch reprinted Attorney General Eric Holder’s speech at Northwestern University’s School of Law.  In those remarks the Attorney General noted:

Some have argued that the President is required to get permission from a federal court before taking action against a United States citizen who is a senior operational leader of al Qaeda or associated forces.   This is simply not accurate.   “Due process” and “judicial process” are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security.   The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process.

The lead editorial in yesterday’s (Sunday’s) New York Times maintains that judicial review is essential to the executive’s purposeful use of lethal force against a citizen.

Mr. Holder argued in his speech that judicial process and due process guaranteed by the Constitution “are not one and the same.” This is a straw man. The judiciary has the power to say what the Constitution means and make sure the elected branches apply it properly. The executive acting in secret as the police, prosecutor, jury, judge and executioner is the antithesis of due process.

The administration should seek a court’s approval before killing an American citizen, except in the sort of “hot pursuit” that justifies the police shooting of an ordinary suspect…

The complete editorial is available at: The Power to Kill.

February 23, 2012

Jeh Johnson on the belligerent citizen

Filed under: Legal Issues,Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on February 23, 2012

The DOD General Counsel spoke at Yale on Wednesday evening.   According to CNN:

The targeted killing of those suspected of engaging in terrorist activities against the United States, including American citizens, is justified and legal, according to the Defense Department’s chief lawyer.

Pentagon general counsel Jeh Johnson is the first government lawyer to officially weigh in on the legal justification for killing a U.S. citizen since American born Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki was killed by a CIA missile fired from an unmanned aerial vehicle last September.

In comments Wednesday night during a speech at Yale University, Johnson made no mention by name of al-Awlaki or the classified CIA drone program.

“Belligerents who also happen to be U.S. citizens do not enjoy immunity where non-citizen belligerents are valid military objectives,” Johnson said.

Benjamin Wittes at the Lawfare blog provides a transcript of Mr. Johnson’s prepared remarks.

 

Seeing Syria

Filed under: International HLS,Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on February 23, 2012

Screenshot of inteview with a reporter in Homs who has since been killed

Today both the New York Times and USA Today give above-the-fold attention to Syria:

Ghastly Images Flow From Shattered Syrian City (New York Times)

Activists ensure that the world sees Syria’s bloodbath (USA Today)

Each newspaper is also running related stories.

This week, for the first time, I perceive American media is beginning to give the situation in Syria the attention it deserves.  If and how this might influence American public opinion and policy is yet to be seen.

Beginning last May I have made regular references to Syria in this blog.  At first I was restrained.  This is a homeland security blog, after all. Since September I have been less and less restrained.  For the last few weeks I have been preachy and insistent.  Some have complained.

Last week Arnold Bogis asked the obvious question, “What would you have the U.S. do?” (See last two comments in the linked chain for his question and my answer.) A short version of my answer:  We should at least pay attention.  We dare not fail-to-notice the murder of thousands.

Finally our media has begun to notice.  As a result, I will again adopt a more restrained approach to referencing Syria at HLSWatch.

Arnold did not follow-up on my answer, but he could have — quite fairly — asked again, “But what would you have us do?”

I do not have an adequate response.  Some self-righteous bluster would, probably, make me feel better.   But that would help no one else, certainly not those being bombarded in Homs.

It is helpful that more will now see what is happening.  I hope wiser, perhaps braver men and women will find an effective way to really help.

February 18, 2012

Syria on Saturday

Filed under: International HLS,Radicalization,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on February 18, 2012

Earlier today several thousand residents of Damascus participated in a funeral procession as an act of defiance aimed at the Assad regime. As of 0600 (Eastern) there are several breaking news stories of mourners being killed. According to the Associated Press:

Syrian troops have fired on mourners taking part in a massive funeral procession in the capital… Several people were wounded by gunfire in the Damascus neighborhood of Mazzeh. Tear gas was also fired on the Saturday procession mourning three people killed by security forces following protests in the area a day earlier. An eyewitness who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals said the procession numbered around 15,000.

Thursday the United Nations General Assembly voted to condemn human rights violations by Syrian authorities. The resolution was passed with 137 nations in favor, 12 against, and 17 abstentions.

According to a UN statement:

The Assembly called on Syria to abide by its obligations under international law, and demanded that the Government, in line with the 2 November 2011 Action Plan of the League of Arab States, and its decisions of 22 January and 12 February 2012, without delay, stop all violence and protect its people, release all those detained during the unrest, withdraw all armed forces from cities and towns, guarantee peaceful demonstrations and allow unhindered access for Arab League monitors and international media.

The language of the resolution closely mirrored that of a text vetoed by China and the Russian Federation in the Security Council two weeks earlier…

By other terms of the text adopted today, the Assembly expressed its full support for the Arab League’s decision to facilitate a Syrian-led political transition to a democratic, pluralistic political system, including through a “serious political dialogue between the [Syrian Government] and the whole spectrum of the Syrian opposition”. Reaffirming its strong commitment to Syria’s sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity, it further reaffirmed that all Member States “should refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State”.

Perhaps in response to the United Nations action, on Friday Syrian forces seemed to step up their action. According to The Daily Star (Lebanon):

Syrian troops intensively shelled rebel-held neighborhoods in the restive central city of Homs Friday and killed at least five people, activists said… Activist groups said tens of thousands of protesters poured into the streets after Friday prayers from Daraa in the south to Aleppo and Idlib in the north and Deir el-Zour in the east to areas around the capital Damascus. The Local Coordination Committees said security forces opened fire on some protests.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald (Australia), “Syria has become a magnet for foreign fighters, with al-Qaeda aligned jihadists streaming across the border from Iraq and rebel soldiers from the Libyan city of Misrata crossing in from Turkey…”

In testimony on Thursday to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, said, “We believe that Al Qaeda in Iraq is extending its reach into Syria.”

During a British-French summit held in Paris on Friday there was considerable nostalgia for the entente cordiale that contributed so much to toppling Qaddafi. But Prime Minister Cameron and President Sarkozy were also clear on preconditions to any military intervention in Syria. According to The Guardian, “Cameron said the situation in Syria was “appalling” and said the government was “butchering and murdering its own people”. He said that Syria was different to Libya in three ways: in Libya the west had a UN resolution, the Arab League was calling for action, and the opposition represented the whole country, he said.”

From The Telegraph’s report on the Paris summit:

They did not rule out joint military action in Syria but said the current circumstances were not right. “The main obstacles are not to do with such and such country’s attitude at the UN,” Mr Sarkozy said. “The fact is we cannot bring about a revolution without the Syrian people. We cannot bring this about if the Syrian opposition does not unite and organise to help us help them.”

There is increasing international discussion of a “protected zone” in Northwest Syria to incubate a more unified opposition. Many are pointing to Idlib province immediately adjacent to Turkey. The Free Syrian Army has had more freedom of movement in Idlib than in most other venues.

But Turkey — essential to the survival of any such enclave — has made it clear it prefers what it calls a “Mediterranean corridor.” According to the Sabah newspaper (Turkey):

Foreign Affairs Minister Davutolu has already relayed his concerns to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Ankara is in favor of a humanitarian aid corridor being established via the Mediterranean and suggests that instead of designating a route through Turkey, the British base in Cyprus be used for this purpose.

In this morning’s edition of Hurriyet (Turkey) Illan Tanir writes,

One of the biggest obstacles preventing the international community from giving a decisive outside push to overthrow Bashar al-Assad is its inability to see a viable, unified alternative for the post-Assad period… The U.S. in particular has played a significant role in attempting to unify the Syrian opposition, by conditioning their recognition of the SNC as the legitimate government of Syria on providing more assurances towards minority groups. The U.S. has been engaged in facilitating talks to unify the Syrian opposition since before the SNC’s formation, and it was the main organizer of the talks between the SNC and KNC last month. The U.S. appears to be the only power with interest in pulling this off in a non-sectarian manner, as especially Qatar and Saudi Arabia, in one way or another, have interests in supporting Sunni Islamist groups.

On February 24 Tunisia will host a meeting of the “Friends of Syria”. Much will depend on how effective these friends are in convincing the various Syrian enemies of Assad to be friends with each other.

February 13, 2012

Syria on Monday

Filed under: International HLS,Radicalization,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on February 13, 2012

Earlier today the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights made a report to the General Assembly regarding the situation in Syria.  Below is a small bit from the start of the report.  Please access the link for her full comments.

The violent Government crackdown on peaceful protests demanding freedom, dignity and social justice in Syria has continued unabated for eleven months now. While no exact figures can be provided due to our lack of access to the country, credible reports indicate that Syrian security forces killed well above 5,400 people last year, including civilians as well as military personnel who refused to shoot civilians.

Due to extreme difficulties in substantiating the events on the ground, it has become almost impossible for my Office to update the death toll in the past two months. However, we are certain that the number of dead and injured continues to rise every day. Tens of thousands, including children, have been arrested, with more than 18,000 reportedly still arbitrarily held in detention. Thousands more are reported missing. 25,000 people are estimated to have sought refuge in neighbouring and other countries. And more than 70,000 are estimated to have been internally displaced.

While the protests have remained largely peaceful, reports of armed attacks by anti-government fighters against Syrian forces have increased, also with consequences on civilians. According to the Government, some 2000 military and security personnel have been killed.

I am particularly appalled by the ongoing onslaught on Homs. Since 3 February, in further escalation of its assault, the Government has used tanks, mortars, rockets and artillery to pummel the city of Homs. According to credible accounts, the Syrian army has shelled densely populated neighborhoods of Homs in what appears to be an indiscriminate attack on civilian areas. More than 300 people have reportedly been killed in the city since the start of this assault ten days ago. The majority of them were victims of the shelling.

The full report is available from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

–+–

Even as Syrian artillery continued to fire into residential areas of Homs and other cities, there was a noticeable lack of enthusiasm for the Arab League’s proposal to deploy UN peacekeepers.   Initial reactions by the United States, United Kingdom and Russia all noted that “peacekeepers” require peace as a precondition.

February 12, 2012

Syria on Sunday

Filed under: International HLS,Radicalization,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on February 12, 2012

Emerging from consultations in Cairo on Sunday, the Arab League is calling for a joint Arab-UN peacekeeping mission to end the 11-month conflict in Syria.

In a resolution seen by the BBC but not yet officially released, the Arab League scrapped its observer team, suspended last month, and said it was ending all diplomatic co-operation with Syria.

Damascus “categorically rejected” the resolution, a Syrian envoy said.

The League’s moves come a week after a UN Security Council resolution on Syria was vetoed by Russia and China.

The BBC’s Jeremy Bowen in Cairo says the resolution contains the toughest language on Syria by the Arab League so far and makes it much more likely that the issue will return to the Security Council.

Continue reading the BBC story

UPDATE (1435 Eastern):

An English text of the resolution is available at the Arab League website, but the site is unstable and pages are not fully loading.  I expect this is due to significant demand.  Worth checking later this evening.

MONDAY UPDATE:

The English text has disappeared.  The original Arabic text is available at: http://arableagueonline.org/wps/wcm/connect/dbd065804a2433d984769c526698d42c/7446.pdf?MOD=AJPERES

Following is the best English language summary  I have found of the Arab League resolution:

At the conclusion of its meeting in Cairo, the Council issued Resolution No. 7446 on the “follow-up developments of the situation in Syria,” which  rejected and condemned the continued killings and violence in Syria and the continued retention of the military option, which is contrary to the obligations set forth in the resolutions of the Council of the League of Arab States and the Arab Plan of Action. (Palin note: The reference to the “military option”  is ambiguous and I don’t have the Arabic to confidently clarify.)

The Council of the League of Arab States calls on the United Nations Security Council for a resolution to form an Arab peace-keeping forces jointly with the UN to oversee the implementation of a ceasefire. It was also decided to stop all forms of cooperation with the diplomatic representatives of the Syrian regime in each member state and in international bodies and conferences.

The Ministers of Foreign Affairs agreed to end the monitoring mission of the Arab League, due to problems under the protocol signed between the Syrian government and the Secretariat of the League, and drew the call to the Secretary-General to name a special envoy to pursue the political process proposed in the framework of the Arab initiative.

The Council welcomed the offer of the Tunisian Republic to host the Conference of Friends of Syria to be held on 24.02.2012, and decided to open channels of communication with the Syrian opposition and provide all forms of political and material support to it. The Council also call on the Syrian opposition to unite and engage in serious dialogue to advance its coherence and effectiveness prior to the Tunis conference.

The resolution emphasized the validity of the economic boycott with the Syrian regime, except those directly affecting the Syrian citizens in accordance with the decisions of the Council of the League on this issue.

February 11, 2012

Syria on Saturday

Filed under: Radicalization,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on February 11, 2012

Robert Ford, the US Ambassador to Syria has posted to the embassy’s Facebook page satellite photos of Syrian armor and artillery.  The Ambassador claims, “the regime is using it to pound civilian apartment buildings and homes from a distance.”  (The US embassy in Syria has evacuated Damascus.)

According to The Guardian: ”The indiscriminate shelling is killing mostly civilians,” said Fawaz Tello, an Egyptian-based member of the opposition Syrian National Council. ”Assad cannot push his troops into street fighting … so he is content with shelling Homs to bits until civilian losses pressure the Free Syrian Army to withdraw and regime troops can enter these neighbourhoods without taking any serious losses,” Tello added.

Al Jazeera has launched a live blog featuring several videos claiming to show events unfolding inside Syria.

According to The Daily Star (Lebanon), “Shock waves from the Syrian uprising reached new levels in Lebanon Friday as armed clashes rocked the northern city of Tripoli and rattled the country. Gunfire and rocket propelled-grenades were exchanged between the pre-dominantly Alawite Tripoli neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen and mainly Sunni district Bab al-Tabbaneh.”

Monday the United Nations General Assembly will receive a report on the situation in Syria.  This weekend Saudi Arabia is pushing a resolution for General Assembly consideration.  According to the BBC, the draft “ ”fully supports” the Arab League peace plan published last month, which called on Mr Assad to hand over power to his vice-president, and make way for the rapid formation of a national unity government including the opposition. While calling for an end to the violence by all sides, it lays blame primarily on the Syrian authorities, which are strongly condemned for “continued widespread and systematic violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms”.

In a speech at George Washington University (Washington DC) on Thursday, the Turkish Foreign Minister insisted, “Will we wait and see after [last week’s] Russian and Chinese veto [on a U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria]? No, never. As Turkey, we will not simply watch a massacre taking place in our region even if everybody remains silent and indifferent.”

Nihat Ali Özcan explains in the Hurriyet Daily News (Turkey),  “The way to decrease civilian casualties and establish lasting peace is through accelerating regime change. But this does not seem possible without military support “from outside.” Even though there are some desertions from the military at the moment, instigating a disciplined and effective struggle and achieving success in a short time does not seem possible. In that case, who would provide help and how? The U.S. does not want to engage in this. The U.K. and France are not keen. The Arab League seems a little unsure and rocky. It is true that Turkey is in everybody’s mind. So here is the question: How and under what conditions could Turkey intervene in Syria?

“It seems the Turkish government’s position regarding intervention in Syria “has come to a specific maturity” thanks to the hard work of the U.S., U.K. and some Arab countries. Erdoan, Gül, Davutolu and Arnç keep signaling this. Thoughts like “Muslims [Sunni, of course] are being killed” or “the al-Assad regime is cooperating with the PKK” are useful arguments for preparing the Turkish public for an intervention. Despite all those efforts, the Turkish public still does not seem entirely ready for the intervention idea.”

The Syrian situation is principally a matter of US foreign policy.  But the perceived role of the United States vis-a-vis Syria could — almost certainly will — morph into a homeland security issue.

February 8, 2012

Real-time coverage of Syrian situation

Filed under: International HLS,Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on February 8, 2012

Map is reposted from BBC

Emboldened by Saturday’s non-decision by the United Nation’s Security Council some perceive the Syrian government is ready to do “whatever it takes” to shut-down further protests, especially in the hot-house of Homs.

The question now being asked in many world capitals is whether intervention is prudent or even possible if the Syrian government undertakes an all-out massacre.

Just in case you want to know more, both The Telegraph and The Guardian are blogging real time coverage.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/9064047/Syria-uprising-live.html

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/middle-east-live/2012/feb/08/syria-assad-siege-homs-live

THURSDAY MORNING UPDATE

The Telegraph’s Alex Spillius has spoken to a US State Department official who warns the international community may be forced to “militarise” the crisis. (The story is near the top of Thursday’s “Most Viewed.”)

He writes:

The official from the State Department told The Daily Telegraph that while the White House wants to exhaust all its diplomatic options, the debate in Washington has shifted away from diplomacy and towards more robust action since Russia and China blocked a United Nations resolution condemning Syria.

While I don’t know what Mr. Spillius was told in the hallway, here’s what the State Department spokesman said at Wednesday’s regular State Department briefing:

QUESTION: Are you able to tell us whether or not the Pentagon is part of this conversation on the U.S. side?

MS. NULAND: We often have asked the Pentagon to use its assets in certain circumstances, both consensual circumstances and more difficult circumstances, but I really don’t want to speculate on exactly how this might be moved. But as we’ve said repeatedly, we are not looking for military options, if that’s what you’re getting at, in Syria.

For further background on why military intervention is unlikely see a post by Scott Clement in The Cable:

Don’t Count on a Syria Intervention: In the end, Americans just aren’t interested in getting involved in promoting democracy overseas.”

February 5, 2012

Evil is as evil does

Filed under: Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on February 5, 2012

The photo was taken southwest of Homs, the center of Syrian anti-government protests, by Alessio Romenzi for AFP/Getty.

We are told at least 200 — and perhaps more than 300 — have been killed in Syria this weekend.   According to the United Nations, more than 5000 have been killed since protests began last March.

Saturday Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that “Condemns all violence, irrespective of where it comes from, and in this regard demands that all parties in Syria, including armed groups, immediately stop all violence or reprisals, including attacks against State institutions.”

Passage of the resolution would not have stopped the violence, but it would have, at least, acknowledged it as exceeding acceptable limits, threatening wider violence, and as being incoherent with international values.

Instead the violence has been defended and encouraged.

The Teutonic roots of the word “evil” suggest overreaching, exceeding acceptable limits, seeking what is beyond a legitimate boundary.

I have contributed to evil when I have over-reached in judging the innocence of my motivation and the evil of others’ motivation.

There are several Hebrew words translated as evil.  One of the more common is ra’a meaning to break into pieces, shatter, divide.

I have contributed to evil when I have decided to exclude and condemn another, rejecting my relationship with the other.

Classical Greek uses kako or caco.  While admittedly ambivalent, there is the implication that evil emerges from inconsistency or incoherence with essential purpose.

I have contributed to evil — become evil — when I have failed to love, to honor, and respect another.

In view of my own capacity for evil, I am reluctant to call out another.

But perhaps it takes one to know one.

At the very least I should not look away.  Whether the source is myself or another, I ought not avoid acknowledging reality and naming it as clearly as possible.   In confronting the evil of another, my own capacity for the same may well be a source of strength, even wisdom.

MONDAY UPDATE:

According to The Telegraph:

Up to 50 people have died this morning during the attacks, a senior member of the Syrian National Council said…

“What is happening is horrible, it’s beyond belief,” said Omar Shaker, an activist in Homs. The sound of gunfire and loud explosions could be heard in the background as he spoke.

“There is a large number of martyrs,” he said. “It is the first time we are undergoing attacks of such intensity.”

Shaker said activists were transporting the wounded to the city’s mosques. Some reports said medical centres were being shelled.

“There is nowhere to take shelter, nowhere to hide,” he said. “We are running short of medical supplies and we are only able to provide basic treatment to the injured.”

Arab satellite television stations broadcast live footage from Homs this morning as the bombs went off during the call to prayer.

The BBC has gotten a reporter into Homs.   He writes:

It was a quiet night until just after dawn, when we started hearing mortars falling – about one every 30 seconds. Some heavy artillery has also been used.

Some people have now got out onto their balconies to shout, “God is great!” We also had quite a lot of small-arms fire from rebels fighters. That is a pretty futile gesture. It is Kalashnikovs against big guns.

Most people have been getting inside, hiding in the stairwells to put as much concrete between them and the street as possible.

There are several Syria-related stories at Deutsche Welle.   Most DW attention is focusing on policy options rather than the situation on the ground.

The most extensive English-language coverage of the situation in Syria is by Al-Jazeera.   It is, however, worth remembering that the royal family of Qatar is the principal sponsor of the network and is a vocal opponent of the Assad regime in Syria.

If you want, the Syrian Arab News Agency will give you the regime’s angle on reality (or the opposite).

January 21, 2012

More inter-religious violence in Nigeria

Filed under: Radicalization,Risk Assessment,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on January 21, 2012

Map was developed by Spiegel Online. See a collection of BBC maps of Nigeria examining wealth, health, ethnicity, literacy, and known oil deposits.

 

People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad (Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad), better known by its Hausa name Boko Haram, has claimed responsibility for another set of coordinated attacks in Northern Nigeria occurring late afternoon Friday.

According to Al-Jazeera:

A series of bombings and attacks claimed by the radical Islamist group Boko Haram has left at least 120 dead and many more injured in northern Nigeria’s largest city, witnesses and the Red Cross have said.

“Many agencies are involved in the evacuation of corpses from the streets,” a Nigerian Red Cross spokesman said on Saturday, under condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak publicly, following Friday night’s attacks.

“From our tally, we have 121 so far,” he said.

Other death tolls are higher. Maude Gwadabe, a journalist in Kano, told Al Jazeera by phone that he had seen at least 140 dead bodies.

Gwadabe said the disparity was due to confusion in the aftermath of Friday’s attacks and that victims had been taken to different hospitals, homes and treatment clinics.

“At least 140 people died. The Red Cross and Nigerian emergency services have collected the victims and brought them to one hospital [Murtala Central Hospital], and indeed, hospital officials say 140 people were killed,” Gwadabe said.

In a statement released on Friday, Boko Haram claimed responsibilty for the attacks and said the blasts were revenge for the recent arrests of its members in Kano.

(Note: The death toll reported by Al-Jazeera is much higher than that currently — 10:00AM Eastern — being reported by Reuters or AFP.  As I read reports originating in Nigeria my current assessment is that Al-Jazeera is closer to accurate. NEW: BBC is confirming at least 120 deaths. SUNDAY UPDATE: The Nation (Nigeria) newspaper is reporting 162 fatalities.  LATE SUNDAY: Reuters is reporting “at least 178 deaths.”)

On Thursday — between attacks on Wednesday and yesterday — an op-ed in the Vanguard, a leading Nigerian newspaper, argued:

Now let us take a critical look at the present scenario: Boko Haram is bombing almost everywhere in Nigeria: churches, United Nations Building, Police Headquarters, etc. Members of the sect are Muslims.

None of them is a Christian, and they make audacious statements which no sane individual should utter. Consider some of them: “Western Education is Sin”; “Christians should leave the North within three days else they will be eliminated”; “there will be no respite unless and until Nigeria becomes an Islamic state”, etc.

But as distasteful as the posture of the Boko Haram sect is, it seems not to have occurred to the Southern Christians that there is a grand agenda to extinguish the Southerners from the entity called Nigeria. It has not occurred to them that they should close ranks, forge a common front and fight the mother of all battles for their survival.

On Wednesday, according to the Anglican Church of Nigeria website, the Primate of Nigeria responded to a letter received from the Archbishop of Canterbury:

Primate Okoh stated that all hands are on deck, the National assembly is concerned, the president is having sleepless nights and the Church is already facing serious temptation even though the Church does not initiate hostility. The head of the Anglican Church said the intense attack of Boko Haram is really tempting the Christians whether to continue to maintain peace, always turning the other cheek ,or fight back to find their safety.

He therefore made a passionate appeal to leaders in the country who can reach out to Boko Haram to dissuade them from dastardly acts of killing innocent Christian’s souls, asking them to dialogue with government if they have any axe to grind with her and leave the Church alone.

He said the attempt to drag Nigerians into militancy is something Nigerians must resist.

Roughly 20 million Nigerians are in communion with the Anglican Church, out of a total population of approximately 140 million.   Most demographers indicate that 50 percent of Nigerians are Muslim, 48 percent are Christian.

As outlined previously, the emergence of — or widely-held perception of — an explicit inter-religious war in Nigeria would likely have significant ramifications well beyond Nigeria.

SUNDAY UPDATE:

According to AFP: Gunmen overnight raided a northern Nigerian town with a history of sectarian violence and killed at least nine people, a traditional leader said Sunday.

“We are going round the town checking. So far we have nine people dead and 12 wounded,” Bukata Zhyadi, a traditional ruler of the mainly Christian Sayawa ethnic group, told AFP.

He blamed the attack in Tafawa Balewa in Bauchi state on the Muslim Hausa-Fulani ethnic group.

He said the attackers hurled home-made hand grenades into houses while people were sleeping and shot at those trying to escape.

“Some were shot while trying to escape and some died as a result of the explosives,” he told AFP by phone.

Tafawa Balewa is located along the so-called middle belt between Nigeria’s mainly Muslim north and predominately Christian south.

BREAKING NEWS AS OF 6AM (EASTERN)

According to Reuters: Explosions struck two churches in the northern Nigerian city of Bauchi on Sunday, witnesses said, destroying one of them completely, although there were no immediate reports of casualties.

According to Vanguard: Two days after Boko Haram’s coordinated attack in Kano that left over 162 people dead, the radical Islamic sect is currently attacking Bauchi town and its environs. (See map above for location.)

According to reports, explosions were said to have rocked near IBB square, Jahun area and near a railway line in Bauchi township.

A  police station in Tafawa Balewa local government area and another military checkpoint was attacked at Marar Rabar Liman Katagun.   Vanguard cannot ascertain the number of casulties in the attacks.

PLEASE SEE COMMENTS FOR ADDITIONAL UPDATES AND RELATED INFORMATION

January 19, 2012

Behavioral indicators of terrorism

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Radicalization,State and Local HLS,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on January 19, 2012

Wednesday the White House hosted a meeting of 46 senior federal, state and local law enforcement officials.

According to the Associated Press, “The Obama administration is providing senior state and local police officials with its analysis of homegrown terrorism incidents, including common signs law enforcement can use to identify violent extremists… The analysis was conducted by the Homeland Security Department, the FBI and the National Counterterrorism Center.”

I was not at the meeting.  But following is an overview of what I am told was briefed.

An interagency team and process examined several cases of Homegrown Violent Extremists (HVEs) that emerged between 2008-2010.  I was not given the precise number of cases, but I have seen reports of  sixty-two cases being considered.  Based on this sample four major “mobilizing patterns” were identified:

Contact with individuals tied to terrorist organizations is one of two indicators that appeared most often in the case studies. This finding is consistent with earlier assessments—based on past cases of domestic and transnational terrorism—that exposure to an extremist with established ties to a terrorist group can be a useful indicator of a radicalized person moving toward violence. More than 90 percent of the subjects examined either communicated directly or had some type of contact with connected extremists as part of their mobilization to violence.

Indicators of ideological commitment also appear frequently in HVE reporting. One of these behaviors—”watching or sharing jihadist videos”—was the second of the two most prevalent indicators noted in the study. Ideological commitment behaviors were observable but at times only in a virtual environment. More than 90 percent of the cases involved HVEs who either watched or shared extremist videos or other propaganda. Just under 90 percent involved HVEs pursuing religious instruction from a person or institution associated with extremist causes.Roughly 80 percent of the cases reflected an individual’s acceptance or approval of violence or martyrdom operations or an intent to engage in them.

Travel or attempted travel in pursuit of a violent agenda was a recurring factor in the HVE cases, also supporting earlier assessments of the importance of foreign travel for violent extremists. Almost 90 percent of  subjects traveled to places with a significant extremist population or to a foreign location explicitly to pursue violence.

Seeking weapons or weapons related training was a common behavior. This more tactically focused aspect of attack planning also entailed online research to acquire technical capabilities, select targets, and plan logistics. Almost 80 percent of subjects pursued weapons training, paramilitary exercises, or the acquisition of related equipment as partof their mobilization. More than half also conducted Internet research to plan their attacks.

According to my sources the law enforcement officials were, “cautioned against adopting a checklist-like mentality incountering the HVE threat. Simplistically interpreting any single indicator as a confirmation of mobilization probably will lead to ineffective and counterproductive efforts to identify and defeat Homegrown Violent Extremists.”

About 5PM Eastern on Wednesday Eileen Sullivan filed an AP story after talking with participants: SEE IT HERE.

While the law enforcement leaders were at the White House, a House Intelligence subcommittee was hearing testimony suggesting big changes in the purpose and role of the DHS intelligence function. According to prepared testimony to me delivered by Philip Mudd,

The growth of our expectations of domestic security, and the evolution of threats away from traditional state actors toward non-state entities — drug cartels, organized crime, and terrorism are prominent examples — suggest that the DHS intelligence mission should be threat agnostic. Though the impetus for creating this new agency, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, was clearly terrorism based, the kinds of tools now deployed, from border security to cyber protection, are equally critical in fights against emerging adversaries. The DHS enterprise is more complex than other agencies responsible for America’s security, and itsintelligence mission is correspondingly multifaceted. Its intelligence missions range from providing homeland security-specific intelligence at the federal level; integrating intelligence vertically through DHS elements; and working with state/local/private sector partners to draw their intelligence capabilities into a national picture and provide them with information.

The testimony, based largely on a recently completed study and set of recommendations from the Aspen Homeland Security Group , especially emphasizes the DHS comparative advantage in working with state, local, and private sector entities in the non-classified domain.

In contrast to intelligence agencies that have responsibilities for more traditional areas of national security, DHS’s mandate should allow for collection, dissemination, and analytic work that is focused on more specific homeward-focused areas. First, the intelligence mission could be directed toward areas where DHS has inherent strengths and unique value (e.g., where its personnel and data are centered) that overlap with its legislative mandate. Second, this mission direction should emphasize areas that are not served by other agencies, particularly state/local partners whose needs are not a primary focus for any other federal agency. In all these domains, public and private, DHS customers will require information with limited classification; in contrast to most other federal intelligence entities, DHS should focus on products that start at lower classification levels, especially unclassified and FOUO, and that can be disseminated by means almost unknown in the federal intelligence community (phone trees, Blackberries, etc.).

There is an obvious tension between an intelligence function that is “threat-agnostic” and one that emerges from “where its personnel and data are centered.”  This could, however, be a very healthy tension if a threat-agnostic — capabilities-based — approach to engaging the risk environment can be effectively used to decide where personnel are focused and data is gathered.

January 13, 2012

Nigeria and Egypt: two flashpoints, two alternate paths, two prospects for the next decade and beyond

Filed under: International HLS,Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on January 13, 2012

Aftermath of Christmas Day attack on St. Theresa’s Church near Abuja, Nigeria

On December 25 an attack on a Christian church in Nigeria killed 37,  related attacks since have killed another thirty-four and potentially more. Credit has been claimed by Boko Haram, an organization calling for the expulsion of Christians and the expansion of Islamic sharia law in Northern Nigeria. (Boko Haram can be translated as “Western education is a sin.”)

On December 28 the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) released a statement including:

Having reviewed the pattern trend and frequency with which these terror crimes occur, it fits into the profile of Islamic Jihad over the years on the Christian community, which are properly contextualised. It is considered as a declaration of war on Christians and Nigeria as an entity.

The Christian community has found the responses of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs and other Islamic bodies on this matter to be unacceptable and an abdication of their responsibilities over their extremist members. It is on record that most religious, traditional and political leaders in the North have not come out openly to condemn the extremist activities of Boko Haram. We hold them responsible for what is happening, because they have not taken concrete steps to check the excesses of their members.

The Christian community is fast losing confidence in government’s ability to protect our rights to religious liberties and life. The consensus is that the Christian community nationwide would be left with no other option than to respond appropriately if there are any further attacks on our members, churches and properties.

Sectarian conflict is not new to Nigeria. In the past the Christian “response” has included attacks on Muslims. But Bako Haram has increased the stakes by launching what appears to be a sustained and organized anti-Christian campaign that also targets Muslims who reject  Boko Haram.

According to the BBC several Islamic leaders who have criticized previous attacks by Boko Haram have been assassinated.  Still, last week  Alhaji Muhammad Garba, a Muslim political leader from Northern Nigeria, said, “Boko Haram is not recognised by genuine Muslims… Why should such a group be asking Muslims to bomb churches and fight Christians? It is wrong for any group to wage war against other faith. Such people are not true believers of God.”

Boko Haram is seen by some as part of a much wider movement.  According to the Daily Telegraph, Boko Haram “is believed to be morphing into a new pan-African jihadist franchise, forging links with both al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb, which operates in the vast Sahara region north of Nigeria, and al-Shebab in Somalia.”

In September the General who leads U.S. Africa Command told the Associated Press that the three movements pose a “significant threat” not only in the areas in which they operate but also to the United States.

Those three organizations have very explicitly and publicly voiced an intent to target Westerners and the U.S. specifically,” Gen Carter Ham said. “I have questions about their ability to do so; I have no question about their intent to do so, and that to me is very worrying… So if left unaddressed, you could have a [terrorist] network that ranges from East Africa through the center” and into the Sahel, an area of north-central Africa south of the Sahara desert, Ham said. To varying degrees, these groups are affiliated with or inspired by al-Qaida’s central organization in Pakistan.

The Nigerian President has declared a State of Emergency in four northern States and mobilized military forces to take action against Boko Haram.  According to Radio France, “Hundreds of people fled their homes in Potsikum, north-east Nigeria, Saturday following all-night gun battles between Islamists and the security forces… Residents of the Dogo Tehbo and Dogo Nini areas fled their homes Saturday, telling reporters they feared that soldiers would attack their homes, as they have been accused of doing in Maidiguiri.”

–+–

An Egyptian woman joins other Muslims as “human shields” for celebration of Coptic Christmas mass

Christmas was welcomed on a different date — and with a different tone — in strife-torn Egypt.

Coptic Christians celebrated the birth of Jesus on January 7.  According to Al-Ahram:

Egypt’s majority Muslim population stuck to its word. What had been a promise of solidarity to the weary Coptic community, was honoured, when thousands of Muslims showed up at Coptic Christmas eve mass services in churches around the country and at candle light vigils held outside. (see photo gallery) From the well-known to the unknown, Muslims had offered their bodies as “human shields” for last night’s mass, making a pledge to collectively fight the threat of Islamic militants and towards an Egypt free from sectarian strife.

According to The Guardian:

At the start of the festive celebrations in Egypt, prominent figures from across the political spectrum, including leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and members of the ruling military council, attended Friday night mass at Cairo’s main Coptic cathedral.

The Coptic pope, Shenouda III, commended their presence and appealed for national unity for “the sake of Egypt”.

He said: “For the first time in the history of the cathedral, it is packed with all types of Islamist leaders in Egypt. They all agree … on the stability of this country, and in loving it and working for it, and to work with the Copts as one hand for the sake of Egypt.”

The call for unity follows an escalation in violence against the Christian minority, an estimated 10% of Egypt’s 85 million people, over the past year.

In October at least 25 Christians were killed by Egyptian military and para-military forces. Violence against Christians in Egypt has escalated since the opening of the Arab Spring.

–+–

There are advocates of violence in Egypt.  There are many voices for reconciliation in Nigeria.  Which alternative will emerge stronger is not clear.  Some level of sectarian violence will persist.

In any case, near-term prospects for Muslim-Christian conflict in Nigeria and Egypt — and in much of northeast Africa, central Asia, southern Philippines, and in many pockets of urban Europe — are trending higher.  Dozens, likely hundreds, will be killed in an effort to preserve someone’s narcissistic sense of God. So-called Muslims will specifically target Christians.  So-called Christians will specifically target Muslims.

This is a different dynamic than has marked the last decade.

Al-Qaeda has mostly been trying to reform Islam.  AQ has used “Crusaders” as an anvil against which to sharpen its sword of intra-Islamic transformation.  The Taliban are mostly religiously motivated Pashtuns who are most concerned about preserving communal values.  Wahhabis are principally concerned about purity of Islamic practice.  The Shia clerical establishment can be preoccupied with differentiation from Sunnis, a mind-set mirrored by Wahhabis.

Monday in his remarks to the Vatican diplomatic corps Pope Benedict XVI specifically called out his concern for violence against Christians in Nigeria and elsewhere.  On January 2, Open Doors — “serving persecuted Christians worldwide” — announced, “Islamic-majority countries top 2o12 watch list.” There is increasing concern, clamor and sympathy for Christians under attack.

Accusations of Christian attacks on Muslims are as abundant.  Tuesday a Muslim mosque and school in mostly-Christian southern Nigeria was attacked.  At least five were killed.

–+–

I do not have a neatly packaged policy prescription.  I doubt anything the United States government can do will have more than glancing influence. Not adding fuel to the fire would be helpful. Containing or resolving the conflict depends mostly on those people of good will standing athwart the sectarian fault lines.

As important as US policy is probably the behavior of Americans who identify with those on one side or the other of the fault lines.

This is complicated enough that I feel justified drawing on another’s complicated diagnosis.   Here’s how Martin Buber describes our embrace of self and otherness and its implications.

The It-world hangs together in space and time.

The You-world does not hang together in space and time.

The individual You must become an It when the event of relation has run its course.

The individual It can become a You by entering into the event of relation.

These are the two basic privileges of the It-world. They induce man to consider the It-world as the world in which one has to live and also can live comfortably — and that even offers us all sorts of stimulations and excitements, activities and knowledge. In this firm and wholesome chronicle the You-moments appear as queer lyric-dramatic episodes. Their spell may be seductive, but they pull us dangerously to extremes, loosening the well-tried structure, leaving behind more doubt than satisfaction, shaking up our security — altogether uncanny, altogether indispensable. Since one must after all return into “the world,” why not stay in it in the first place? Why not call to order that which confronts us and send it home into objectivity? And when one cannot get around saying You, perhaps to one’s father, wife, companion — why not say You and mean It? After all, producing the sound “You” with one’s vocal cords does not by any means entail speaking the uncanny basic word. Even whispering an amorous You with one’s soul is hardly dangerous as long as in all seriousness one means nothing but experiencing and using.

One cannot live in the pure present: it would consume us if care were not taken that it is overcome quickly and thoroughly. But in pure past one can live; in fact, only there can a life be arranged. One only has to fill every moment with experiencing and using, and it ceases to burn.

And in all the seriousness of truth, listen: without It a human being cannot live. But whoever lives only with that is not human.

(Martin Buber, Ich und Du, as translated by Walter Thompson)

For anything resembling our current It-world to truly hold together, Christians and Muslims (and others as well) will need to more often relate as You’s rather than It’s.

There is also a simpler — and even less likely — solution.  Another Buber quote suggests the way: “The atheist staring from his attic window is often nearer to God than the believer caught up in his own false image of God.”

January 2, 2012

NDAA is law: President’s statement

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Legal Issues,Radicalization — by Philip J. Palin on January 2, 2012

In prior posts I have argued against several provisions of the the National Defense Authorization Act.  On New Year’s Eve, the President signed the legislation.  It is now law.

I am not concerned — have never been concerned — about the immediate implications of the law.  I am deeply concerned regarding how it may be applied at some future date.  I am saddened by what overwhelming, bipartisan passage of the law seems to say regarding Congressional commitment to the foundations of freedom extending at least to the Magna Carta.  That the executive has chosen to accept the gift of additional power is not surprising, this is the innate tendency of the executive.  That the legislature has enthusiastically authorized such extraordinary power is profoundly troubling.  The current executive promises to exercise restraint. In a future crisis, how may a less reluctant executive choose to exercise this power?

Following is a statement by the President on his decision.

–+–

Today I have signed into law H.R. 1540, the “National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012.” I have signed the Act chiefly because it authorizes funding for the defense of the United States and its interests abroad, crucial services for service members and their families, and vital national security programs that must be renewed. In hundreds of separate sections totaling over 500 pages, the Act also contains critical Administration initiatives to control the spiraling health care costs of the Department of Defense (DoD), to develop counterterrorism initiatives abroad, to build the security capacity of key partners, to modernize the force, and to boost the efficiency and effectiveness of military operations worldwide.

The fact that I support this bill as a whole does not mean I agree with everything in it. In particular, I have signed this bill despite having serious reservations with certain provisions that regulate the detention, interrogation, and prosecution of suspected terrorists. Over the last several years, my Administration has developed an effective, sustainable framework for the detention, interrogation and trial of suspected terrorists that allows us to maximize both our ability to collect intelligence and to incapacitate dangerous individuals in rapidly developing situations, and the results we have achieved are undeniable. Our success against al-Qa’ida and its affiliates and adherents has derived in significant measure from providing our counterterrorism professionals with the clarity and flexibility they need to adapt to changing circumstances and to utilize whichever authorities best protect the American people, and our accomplishments have respected the values that make our country an example for the world.

Against that record of success, some in Congress continue to insist upon restricting the options available to our counterterrorism professionals and interfering with the very operations that have kept us safe. My Administration has consistently opposed such measures. Ultimately, I decided to sign this bill not only because of the critically important services it provides for our forces and their families and the national security programs it authorizes, but also because the Congress revised provisions that otherwise would have jeopardized the safety, security, and liberty of the American people. Moving forward, my Administration will interpret and implement the provisions described below in a manner that best preserves the flexibility on which our safety depends and upholds the values on which this country was founded.

Section 1021 affirms the executive branch’s authority to detain persons covered by the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) (Public Law 107-40; 50 U.S.C. 1541 note). This section breaks no new ground and is unnecessary. The authority it describes was included in the 2001 AUMF, as recognized by the Supreme Court and confirmed through lower court decisions since then. Two critical limitations in section 1021 confirm that it solely codifies established authorities. First, under section 1021(d), the bill does not “limit or expand the authority of the President or the scope of the Authorization for Use of Military Force.” Second, under section 1021(e), the bill may not be construed to affect any “existing law or authorities relating to the detention of United States citizens, lawful resident aliens of the United States, or any other persons who are captured or arrested in the United States.” My Administration strongly supported the inclusion of these limitations in order to make clear beyond doubt that the legislation does nothing more than confirm authorities that the Federal courts have recognized as lawful under the 2001 AUMF. Moreover, I want to clarify that my Administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens. Indeed, I believe that doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a Nation. My Administration will interpret section 1021 in a manner that ensures that any detention it authorizes complies with the Constitution, the laws of war, and all other applicable law.

Section 1022 seeks to require military custody for a narrow category of non-citizen detainees who are “captured in the course of hostilities authorized by the Authorization for Use of Military Force.” This section is ill-conceived and will do nothing to improve the security of the United States. The executive branch already has the authority to detain in military custody those members of al-Qa’ida who are captured in the course of hostilities authorized by the AUMF, and as Commander in Chief I have directed the military to do so where appropriate. I reject any approach that would mandate military custody where law enforcement provides the best method of incapacitating a terrorist threat. While section 1022 is unnecessary and has the potential to create uncertainty, I have signed the bill because I believe that this section can be interpreted and applied in a manner that avoids undue harm to our current operations.

I have concluded that section 1022 provides the minimally acceptable amount of flexibility to protect national security. Specifically, I have signed this bill on the understanding that section 1022 provides the executive branch with broad authority to determine how best to implement it, and with the full and unencumbered ability to waive any military custody requirement, including the option of waiving appropriate categories of cases when doing so is in the national security interests of the United States. As my Administration has made clear, the only responsible way to combat the threat al-Qa’ida poses is to remain relentlessly practical, guided by the factual and legal complexities of each case and the relative strengths and weaknesses of each system. Otherwise, investigations could be compromised, our authorities to hold dangerous individuals could be jeopardized, and intelligence could be lost. I will not tolerate that result, and under no circumstances will my Administration accept or adhere to a rigid across-the-board requirement for military detention. I will therefore interpret and implement section 1022 in the manner that best preserves the same flexible approach that has served us so well for the past 3 years and that protects the ability of law enforcement professionals to obtain the evidence and cooperation they need to protect the Nation.

My Administration will design the implementation procedures authorized by section 1022(c) to provide the maximum measure of flexibility and clarity to our counterterrorism professionals permissible under law. And I will exercise all of my constitutional authorities as Chief Executive and Commander in Chief if those procedures fall short, including but not limited to seeking the revision or repeal of provisions should they prove to be unworkable.

Sections 1023-1025 needlessly interfere with the executive branch’s processes for reviewing the status of detainees. Going forward, consistent with congressional intent as detailed in the Conference Report, my Administration will interpret section 1024 as granting the Secretary of Defense broad discretion to determine what detainee status determinations in Afghanistan are subject to the requirements of this section.

Sections 1026-1028 continue unwise funding restrictions that curtail options available to the executive branch. Section 1027 renews the bar against using appropriated funds for fiscal year 2012 to transfer Guantanamo detainees into the United States for any purpose. I continue to oppose this provision, which intrudes upon critical executive branch authority to determine when and where to prosecute Guantanamo detainees, based on the facts and the circumstances of each case and our national security interests. For decades, Republican and Democratic administrations have successfully prosecuted hundreds of terrorists in Federal court. Those prosecutions are a legitimate, effective, and powerful tool in our efforts to protect the Nation. Removing that tool from the executive branch does not serve our national security. Moreover, this intrusion would, under certain circumstances, violate constitutional separation of powers principles.

Section 1028 modifies but fundamentally maintains unwarranted restrictions on the executive branch’s authority to transfer detainees to a foreign country. This hinders the executive’s ability to carry out its military, national security, and foreign relations activities and like section 1027, would, under certain circumstances, violate constitutional separation of powers principles. The executive branch must have the flexibility to act swiftly in conducting negotiations with foreign countries regarding the circumstances of detainee transfers. In the event that the statutory restrictions in sections 1027 and 1028 operate in a manner that violates constitutional separation of powers principles, my Administration will interpret them to avoid the constitutional conflict.

Section 1029 requires that the Attorney General consult with the Director of National Intelligence and Secretary of Defense prior to filing criminal charges against or seeking an indictment of certain individuals. I sign this based on the understanding that apart from detainees held by the military outside of the United States under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, the provision applies only to those individuals who have been determined to be covered persons under section 1022 before the Justice Department files charges or seeks an indictment. Notwithstanding that limitation, this provision represents an intrusion into the functions and prerogatives of the Department of Justice and offends the longstanding legal tradition that decisions regarding criminal prosecutions should be vested with the Attorney General free from outside interference. Moreover, section 1029 could impede flexibility and hinder exigent operational judgments in a manner that damages our security. My Administration will interpret and implement section 1029 in a manner that preserves the operational flexibility of our counterterrorism and law enforcement professionals, limits delays in the investigative process, ensures that critical executive branch functions are not inhibited, and preserves the integrity and independence of the Department of Justice.

Other provisions in this bill above could interfere with my constitutional foreign affairs powers. Section 1244 requires the President to submit a report to the Congress 60 days prior to sharing any U.S. classified ballistic missile defense information with Russia. Section 1244 further specifies that this report include a detailed description of the classified information to be provided. While my Administration intends to keep the Congress fully informed of the status of U.S. efforts to cooperate with the Russian Federation on ballistic missile defense, my Administration will also interpret and implement section 1244 in a manner that does not interfere with the President’s constitutional authority to conduct foreign affairs and avoids the undue disclosure of sensitive diplomatic communications. Other sections pose similar problems. Sections 1231, 1240, 1241, and 1242 could be read to require the disclosure of sensitive diplomatic communications and national security secrets; and sections 1235, 1242, and 1245 would interfere with my constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations by directing the Executive to take certain positions in negotiations or discussions with foreign governments. Like section 1244, should any application of these provisions conflict with my constitutional authorities, I will treat the provisions as non-binding.

My Administration has worked tirelessly to reform or remove the provisions described above in order to facilitate the enactment of this vital legislation, but certain provisions remain concerning. My Administration will aggressively seek to mitigate those concerns through the design of implementation procedures and other authorities available to me as Chief Executive and Commander in Chief, will oppose any attempt to extend or expand them in the future, and will seek the repeal of any provisions that undermine the policies and values that have guided my Administration throughout my time in office.

BARACK OBAMA
THE WHITE HOUSE,
December 31, 2011.

 

December 1, 2011

Against Al-Qaeda: Where bipartisanship finds an uneasy home

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on December 1, 2011

The following is quoted verbatim from page A-22 of the New York edition of the November 30 New York Times.  I do not have time for further comment, but felt it was too easy to miss and too important not to call out.  See more at the Times.

By a vote of 61 to 37, the Senate turned back an effort to strip a major military bill of a set of disputed provisions affecting the handling of terrorism cases. While the legislation still has several steps to go, the vote makes it likely that Congress will eventually send to President Obama’s desk a bill that contains detainee-related provisions his national-security team has said are unacceptable.

The most disputed provision would require the government to place into military custody any suspected member of Al Qaeda or one of its allies connected to a plot against the United States or its allies. The provision would exempt American citizens, but would otherwise extend to arrests on United States soil. The executive branch could issue a waiver and keep such a prisoner in the civilian system.

A related provision would create a federal statute saying the government has the legal authority to keep people suspected of terrorism in military custody, indefinitely and without trial. It contains no exception for American citizens. It is intended to bolster the authorization to use military force against the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which lawmakers enacted a decade ago…

Among Republican senators, there was nearly unanimous support for keeping the detainee provisions in the bill: 44 Republicans voted for them, while two — Mark Kirk of Illinois and Rand Paul of Kentucky — voted to remove them. By contrast, members of the Democratic caucus were deeply divided: 35 wanted to strip the detainee provisions from the bill, but 17 voted to keep them in it.

A previous post on the issue is available here.

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