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“Cleaning Up The Last Bush/Cheney Mess”: There Is Almost Never A Way To Do So That Pleases Everyone

One of the sad realities of the Obama presidency is that he and his administration have had to spend so much of their time cleaning up messes that were left by Bush and Cheney. I won’t try to capture all of them, but two wars in the Middle East, an economy careening towards a second Great Depression and exploding federal deficits are the three big ones. When President Obama titled his 2015 State of the Union Address “Turning the Page,” a lot of what he was saying is that his administration was finally ready to move on from most of that.

But one intransigent mess lingers on…the prison Bush/Cheney built in Guantanamo, Cuba. President Obama is determined to close Gitmo before his term ends and the White House has been clear that they are drafting a plan to do so.

This week right wing media sites have gone a bit berserk over the fact that two more detainees have been released. The first was the man who was reported to be Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard.

The former detainee, Abdul Rahman Shalabi, 39, is from Saudi Arabia, and he was one of 32 Middle Eastern men who were captured by the Pakistani military along the Afghanistan border in December 2001 and turned over to the United States. He was among the first batch of detainees taken to the prison when it opened at the American naval station in Cuba on Jan. 11, 2002.

Second was the last of several British residents and citizens who have been held at Gitmo.

The Obama administration has notified Congress of its intent to send Shaker Aamer, a suspected al-Qaeda plotter held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for more than 13 years, back to Britain, yielding to a lengthy campaign to secure the British resident’s release, officials said Friday.

For a status update on where things stand with closing Gitmo, the New York Times has some helpful graphs. Of the 771 detainees who have been held there, 657 have been released and 114 remain. Of the 53 who have been cleared for release but are still there, 43 are from Yemen. The Obama administration has been reluctant to repatriate detainees to Yemen due to the chaos that currently exists in that country. Ten detainees have either been convicted or await trial. Finally, as a testament to how badly the Bush/Cheney administration handled all this, the remaining 51 have been recommended for indefinite detention without a trail – mostly due to the fact that evidence has been tainted by their treatment (read: torture).

In December of last year, Pope Francis offered to help the Obama administration in their efforts to close Gitmo. This is very likely one of the topics he and the President discussed in their one-on-one meeting this week. I would assume that the Vatican might be most helpful in working with countries to provide alternatives for the 53 who have been cleared for release. No matter how controversial plans for that might be, you can be sure that whatever President Obama proposes to do with the remaining detainees (10 convicted/awaiting trail and 51 to be indefinitely detained), there will be howls from both sides of the political spectrum. The left will suggest that they shouldn’t be held at all and the right will complain because President Obama’s likely solution will be to move them to a maximum security prison(s) in the United States.

I will simply say that one of the problems that is endemic to cleaning up your predecessors messes is that there is almost never a way to do so that pleases everyone. Nothing more ably demonstrates that than Gitmo. Perhaps the one thing that everyone can agree with is that President Obama deserves some credit for his determination to not leave this one to the next president.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, September 27, 2015

September 30, 2015 Posted by | Bush-Cheney Administration, Congress, GITMO | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Conservatives Outraged Over Prosecution Of Terror Suspect In Criminal Court

A decidedly unremarkable event by past standards occurred yesterday. The U.S. government brought criminal terrorism charges in a New York City courtroom against a Somali man captured in the Gulf of Aden. This is the first prosecution in criminal court to happen during the Obama administration, but such cases have been a common and extremely successful feature of U.S. policy that passed without notice for decades. This move, however, has provoked the now-typical reaction from conservatives who reflexively oppose every Obama administration action as a radical departure from U.S. norms that threatens the security of the nation. That’s ridiculous, and these conservatives risk U.S. security by pushing to remove a very powerful weapon against terrorists.

Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame was reportedly seized in April onboard a ship in the Gulf of Aden between Somalia and Yemen. He is charged with conspiracy and providing material support to terrorist groups—in this case the Somali-based al-Shabaab and the Yemeni-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP.

The Obama administration revealed that Warsame was held on a U.S. Navy ship for two months and interrogated by the High-Value Interrogation Group, the team drawn from numerous frontline U.S. government agencies established by the Obama administration specifically to question suspected high-ranking terrorists. This produced significant information outlining a deeper connection between al-Shabaab and AQAP than previously known. U.S. officials reportedly discussed all options for Warsame’s future and unanimously decided on criminal prosecution.

Warsame’s trial in New York City is like many previous instances when individuals were seized abroad and brought to the United States to face terrorism charges in criminal court. The most recent similar case dates from the Bush administration, when Afia Siddique was detained in Afghanistan by U.S. troops in 2008 for attempting to shoot U.S. military personnel. She was quickly brought to New York,  convicted, and sentenced to 86 years in prison. During the Clinton administration, Mir Aimal Kasi stood outside CIA headquarters in Virginia in 1995 and murdered two CIA employees as they drove into work. He was captured in Pakistan in 1997 and brought to Virginia for trial, convicted of murder, and executed in 2002.

Neither of these cases or the others like them produced negative responses from conservatives. Once the Obama administration did it, however, conservatives were outraged.

Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said that “Congress has spoken clearly multiple times … of the perils of bringing terrorists onto U.S. soil.”

What perils? There has never been a terrorist attack related to the trial or incarceration of terrorists in the United States.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said, “A foreign national who fought on behalf of al Shabaab in Somali—and who was captured by our military overseas—should be tried in a military commission, not a federal civilian court in New York or anywhere else in our country.”

Forcing all prosecutions of suspected terrorists into military commissions has political appeal because it sounds tougher than using criminal courts. But let’s look closer at that military commission option.

First off, Warsame has been charged only with conspiracy and military support for terrorism. Those offenses are available in military commissions but neither has ever been considered a war crime. For that reason, the Department of Justice believes that convictions on those offenses in military commissions are susceptible to being overturned on appeal.

Further, the extremely short record of military-commissions cases based on conspiracy or material support reveals that those convicted receive short sentences and are quickly transferred back to their home countries and released. The most famous of these cases was that of Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden’s driver, who was sentenced to only five additional months in custody. The Bush administration sent him home to Yemen soon after.

U.S. criminal courts, on the other hand, have an excellent record at convicting terrorists. In a case analogous to Hamdan’s, Ali Asad Chandia was convicted in 2006 of providing material support for terrorism for driving a member of Lashkar-e-Taibi from Washington National Airport to spots around the D.C. area. His sentence was 15 years. So bin Laden’s driver got five months from a military commission but driving an unknown member of a lesser-known terrorist group resulted in a 15-year sentence in a criminal court.

Since the 9/11 attacks, U.S. criminal courts have locked up more than 200 individuals on terrorism charges while military-commissions convictions can be counted on one hand.

American presidents of both parties have relied on criminal courts for decades because they are extremely effective at convicting suspected terrorists and have an excellent record of producing reliable and actionable intelligence information. Today’s conservatives are trying to deny the U.S. government this valuable tool because they are more interested in using political weapons against President Barack Obama than counterterrorism weapons against America’s enemies.

 

By: Ken Gude, Managing Director of the National Security and International Policy Program, Center for American Progress, July 6, 2011

July 6, 2011 Posted by | 911, Congress, Conservatives, Foreign Policy, GOP, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Justice Department, National Security, Neo-Cons, Politics, President Obama, Republicans, Right Wing, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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