Commentary Magazine


Topic: Guantanamo prison

Appeasement Won’t Woo Terrorists

Yesterday President Obama declared that in light of the “unsettled situation” in Yemen, he will not be transferring detainees held at Guantanamo Bay to that country. At the same time, Obama declared:

But make no mistake:  We will close Guantanamo prison, which has damaged our national security interests and become a tremendous recruiting tool for al Qaeda.  In fact, that was an explicit rationale for the formation of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

On the surface, that sounds like a persuasive case. Here’s why it’s not.

While the presence of Guantanamo Bay is used as a “recruiting tool” for al-Qaeda, it’s important to understand that, as Charles Krauthammer points out here, al-Qaeda’s grievances against America are almost endless. Like a game of Whack-A-Mole, if we got rid of one grievance, it would be replaced by another, and another, and another. Indeed, if Gitmo were closed, does anyone seriously think that it would satiate the demands of militant jihadists like Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri? Would it make any difference in their war on us – or make it less likely that they could recruit people like the 19 hijackers who carried out the 9/11 attacks?

We are not dealing with rational state-to-state actors with whom we can negotiate reasonable demands; rather, we are dealing with Islamic fanatics who want to cut our throats and watch us bleed and watch us die. Closing Gitmo won’t change that. The roots of their hatred for America go much deeper than that.

It’s worth bearing in mind that in his 1996 fatwa, “Declaration of War Against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places,” bin Laden said the latest indignity against Islam – “one of the worst catastrophes to befall the Muslims since the death of the Prophet” – was the presence of American and coalition troops in Saudi Arabia. And a 1998 fatwa cited grievances against America that included sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq and “serv[ing] the Jews’ petty state [Israel].” At that time, those were the “recruiting tools” for al-Qaeda. New ones emerge whenever it is convenient for al-Qaeda. And of course the attacks on 9/11 came before we were detaining any Islamic terrorists in Guantanamo Bay.

President Obama has convinced himself that closing Guantanamo Bay is of crucial, and perhaps decisive, importance in our war against jihadism. That is self-delusion on a large scale and something we have seen before (witness Obama’s statement during the campaign that meeting with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad without preconditions might well convince the Iranian regime to fundamentally change its behavior). More than that, it means that on some basic level the president still does not understand the true nature of this struggle, of what is driving it, and what will be needed to eventually prevail in it.

If and when Obama finally does get around to closing Guantanamo Bay, he will discover how insignificant an issue it has been for jihadists. Militant Islamists will want to murder us as much then as they do now.

Yesterday President Obama declared that in light of the “unsettled situation” in Yemen, he will not be transferring detainees held at Guantanamo Bay to that country. At the same time, Obama declared:

But make no mistake:  We will close Guantanamo prison, which has damaged our national security interests and become a tremendous recruiting tool for al Qaeda.  In fact, that was an explicit rationale for the formation of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

On the surface, that sounds like a persuasive case. Here’s why it’s not.

While the presence of Guantanamo Bay is used as a “recruiting tool” for al-Qaeda, it’s important to understand that, as Charles Krauthammer points out here, al-Qaeda’s grievances against America are almost endless. Like a game of Whack-A-Mole, if we got rid of one grievance, it would be replaced by another, and another, and another. Indeed, if Gitmo were closed, does anyone seriously think that it would satiate the demands of militant jihadists like Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri? Would it make any difference in their war on us – or make it less likely that they could recruit people like the 19 hijackers who carried out the 9/11 attacks?

We are not dealing with rational state-to-state actors with whom we can negotiate reasonable demands; rather, we are dealing with Islamic fanatics who want to cut our throats and watch us bleed and watch us die. Closing Gitmo won’t change that. The roots of their hatred for America go much deeper than that.

It’s worth bearing in mind that in his 1996 fatwa, “Declaration of War Against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places,” bin Laden said the latest indignity against Islam – “one of the worst catastrophes to befall the Muslims since the death of the Prophet” – was the presence of American and coalition troops in Saudi Arabia. And a 1998 fatwa cited grievances against America that included sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq and “serv[ing] the Jews’ petty state [Israel].” At that time, those were the “recruiting tools” for al-Qaeda. New ones emerge whenever it is convenient for al-Qaeda. And of course the attacks on 9/11 came before we were detaining any Islamic terrorists in Guantanamo Bay.

President Obama has convinced himself that closing Guantanamo Bay is of crucial, and perhaps decisive, importance in our war against jihadism. That is self-delusion on a large scale and something we have seen before (witness Obama’s statement during the campaign that meeting with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad without preconditions might well convince the Iranian regime to fundamentally change its behavior). More than that, it means that on some basic level the president still does not understand the true nature of this struggle, of what is driving it, and what will be needed to eventually prevail in it.

If and when Obama finally does get around to closing Guantanamo Bay, he will discover how insignificant an issue it has been for jihadists. Militant Islamists will want to murder us as much then as they do now.

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Obama Tries Once More

In a few hours, Obama went from not wanting to point fingers to labeling the intelligence community as the root of the Christmas Day bombing fiasco. The New York Times reports:

President Obama said Tuesday that the United States government had sufficient information to uncover the terror plot to bring down an airplane on Christmas Day, but intelligence officials “failed to connect those dots” that would have prevented the young Nigerian man from boarding the plane in Amsterdam.The Obama administration also suspended the transfer of detainees from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay to Yemen because of the deteriorating security situation there and the rising terror threats emanating in the country. Only days before the attempted bombing on Christmas, the United States sent six detainees back to Yemen. “This was not a failure to collect intelligence, it was a failure to integrate and understand the intelligence that we already had,” Mr. Obama said after a two-hour meeting with his national security team at the White House. He added, “We have to do better, we will do better and we have to do it quickly. American lives are on the line.”

But again, Obama’s actions never quite match his rhetoric, even the newer and more improved variety. As the Times dryly notes, “His remarks suggested that he was standing by his top national security officials, including those whose agencies failed to communicate with one another.” And although he won’t for now be repopulating the terrorist ranks in Yemen with any more Guantanamo detainees, he’s still bent on closing that facility. Why? We hear the same recycled campaign lines and the same unproven and increasingly unbelievable talking points:

We will close Guantanamo prison, which has damaged our national security interests and become a tremendous recruiting tool for al Qaeda.  In fact, that was an explicit rationale for the formation of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.  And, as I’ve always said, we will do so — we will close the prison in a manner that keeps the American people safe and secure.

Like health care, he told the base he would get it done, and it’s not coming off the list, now matter how many practical and political barriers remain. And as for his claim that we are shutting it down in a manner that keeps us safe, we know that simply isn’t true. In this instance, we have one or more detainees linked to the plot, and we know, although the Obami have been stingy on disclosure, that we have a significant recidivism problem. And really, how long are we going to buy into the “recruiting tool” argument?  (America’s relationship with Israel is no doubt a tool for jihadist recruitment  so. . .  Well, better not go there.) Any word on a review of the interrogation procedures employed in this instance (with the potential that more dots will be lost when we don’t ask the right questions and get every bit of data we can from one of these terrorists)? Any sign that a multi-year public trial for KSM — the mother of all “recruitment tools” — might be reconsidered? Nope.

One thing is certain: the Obami realize the political peril they are in. The rhetoric becomes more robust and the tone more serious with each day. But until those words are matched by action, the American people have every right to be concerned that the president still has not grasped the nature of our enemy and is reluctant to implement policies commensurate with the risk we face.

In a few hours, Obama went from not wanting to point fingers to labeling the intelligence community as the root of the Christmas Day bombing fiasco. The New York Times reports:

President Obama said Tuesday that the United States government had sufficient information to uncover the terror plot to bring down an airplane on Christmas Day, but intelligence officials “failed to connect those dots” that would have prevented the young Nigerian man from boarding the plane in Amsterdam.The Obama administration also suspended the transfer of detainees from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay to Yemen because of the deteriorating security situation there and the rising terror threats emanating in the country. Only days before the attempted bombing on Christmas, the United States sent six detainees back to Yemen. “This was not a failure to collect intelligence, it was a failure to integrate and understand the intelligence that we already had,” Mr. Obama said after a two-hour meeting with his national security team at the White House. He added, “We have to do better, we will do better and we have to do it quickly. American lives are on the line.”

But again, Obama’s actions never quite match his rhetoric, even the newer and more improved variety. As the Times dryly notes, “His remarks suggested that he was standing by his top national security officials, including those whose agencies failed to communicate with one another.” And although he won’t for now be repopulating the terrorist ranks in Yemen with any more Guantanamo detainees, he’s still bent on closing that facility. Why? We hear the same recycled campaign lines and the same unproven and increasingly unbelievable talking points:

We will close Guantanamo prison, which has damaged our national security interests and become a tremendous recruiting tool for al Qaeda.  In fact, that was an explicit rationale for the formation of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.  And, as I’ve always said, we will do so — we will close the prison in a manner that keeps the American people safe and secure.

Like health care, he told the base he would get it done, and it’s not coming off the list, now matter how many practical and political barriers remain. And as for his claim that we are shutting it down in a manner that keeps us safe, we know that simply isn’t true. In this instance, we have one or more detainees linked to the plot, and we know, although the Obami have been stingy on disclosure, that we have a significant recidivism problem. And really, how long are we going to buy into the “recruiting tool” argument?  (America’s relationship with Israel is no doubt a tool for jihadist recruitment  so. . .  Well, better not go there.) Any word on a review of the interrogation procedures employed in this instance (with the potential that more dots will be lost when we don’t ask the right questions and get every bit of data we can from one of these terrorists)? Any sign that a multi-year public trial for KSM — the mother of all “recruitment tools” — might be reconsidered? Nope.

One thing is certain: the Obami realize the political peril they are in. The rhetoric becomes more robust and the tone more serious with each day. But until those words are matched by action, the American people have every right to be concerned that the president still has not grasped the nature of our enemy and is reluctant to implement policies commensurate with the risk we face.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Cliff May tries to explain satire to the Beagle Blogger. And it doesn’t even involve Sarah Palin.

COMMENTARY contributor Jamie Kirchick, on designating the Christmas Day bomber as a criminal defendant rather than an enemy combatant: “The question of what type of legal status we ought to grant Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab remains a live question with serious implications for the national security of the United States. As the situation now stands, with an untold number of plots in the works, treating this man as a criminal defendant requires us to count upon the discretion and good will of a would-be mass murderer.”

Former CIA Director James Woolsey doesn’t think Flight 253 was “a problem of coordination”: “It was about people within the agencies pulling in their horns. The only person who can turn this around is the president. Not much will change unless he speaks up. He needs to tell people that this is a long struggle against radical Islam and its manifestations.” I hope I am wrong but somehow I don’t think Obama is the one to “smash political correctness upside the head.”

A top-tier GOP contender shows interest in a Blue state senate race: “Republican Rep. Pete King (N.Y.) signaled Monday that he is reconsidering his decision not to run for Senate in 2010 .King said he’s actively looking at a run for statewide office this year after he’d ruled out such a campaign last summer.” If they suspect it will be a wave election, many more well-known challengers may want to jump into races that in ordinary years would be considered out of reach.

Benny Avni explains why “targeted” sanctions on Iran are a dumb idea: “No one in last week’s well-organized pro-regime mass demonstrations carried a sign advocating diplomacy to defuse tensions with America (and anti-government demonstrators aren’t itching for it either). A diplomatic solution exists only in our head. Some (like [John] Kerry) cling to last year’s foolishness, but for others it’s replaced by a new ‘boomerang’ theory: If we sanction the Iranian people too heavily, they ‘will be fooled into thinking we are to blame,’ as an unnamed administration official told the Washington Post. Nonsense, says Israel Radio’s Farsi Service veteran Menashe Amir, whose broadcasts are often cited by Iranian media as instigating the antigovernment protesters. . . Once again, the ideas underlying Washington’s new policy miss the target. At this late date, sanctions can only be helpful if they facilitate regime change, which should be the top objective of the new strategy. Targeting for sanctions only a handful of evil regime operators would hardly impress the Iranian masses (although it will be widely applauded in Washington and the United Nations).”

The State Department goes rushing to the defense of Hannah Rosenthal (who is supposed to be working on anti-Semitism but took some time out to lash out at Israel’s Ambassador Michael Oren for not being nice to her J Street pals). “Separately, Rosenthal’s predecessor, Gregg Rickman, has slammed her for her remarks about Oren. ‘Ms. Rosenthal’s criticisms of Ambassador Oren strike a chord particularly because this is not her policy portfolio to advocate . . . She is supposed to fight anti-Semitism, not defend J-Street, an organization on whose Advisory Board she formally sat before her appointment to the State Department.”

If “Big is bad” is catching on as a political message, how long before voters exact revenge once they figure out that the Democrats have struck a health-care deal with big and bad insurance companies?

James Taranto goes on a roll: “We suppose Napolitano is a glass-is-half-full kind of gal. And it’s true that, apart from allowing a known extremist to board a plane while carrying a bomb, the system worked. . . ABC News reports that ‘one of the four leaders allegedly behind the al Qaeda plot to blow up a Northwest Airlines passenger jet over Detroit was released by the U.S. from the Guantanamo prison in November 2007.’ Said Ali Shari, a Saudi national, was released into the custody of our friends the Saudis and “has since emerged in leadership roles in Yemen,” says ABC. Heckuva job, Nayef. In fairness, we should note that in November 2007, Barack Obama was only the junior senator from Illinois. This is a problem he inherited from the Bush administration. And he has responded by putting a stop to the release of terrorists from Guantanamo. Just kidding!” Looks like the joke is on us.

Worse than returning the Churchill bust: “The name of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was included in a dossier of people believed to have made attempts to deal with known extremists that was shared with American intelligence. . . Abdulmutallab came to the attention of intelligence agencies because of ‘multiple communications’ he had with Islamic extremists in Britain while a student between 2006 and 2008. However, denying reports that the information had not been divulged, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said: ‘Clearly there was security information about this individual’s activities and that was information that was shared with the US authorities. That is the key point.'”

Cliff May tries to explain satire to the Beagle Blogger. And it doesn’t even involve Sarah Palin.

COMMENTARY contributor Jamie Kirchick, on designating the Christmas Day bomber as a criminal defendant rather than an enemy combatant: “The question of what type of legal status we ought to grant Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab remains a live question with serious implications for the national security of the United States. As the situation now stands, with an untold number of plots in the works, treating this man as a criminal defendant requires us to count upon the discretion and good will of a would-be mass murderer.”

Former CIA Director James Woolsey doesn’t think Flight 253 was “a problem of coordination”: “It was about people within the agencies pulling in their horns. The only person who can turn this around is the president. Not much will change unless he speaks up. He needs to tell people that this is a long struggle against radical Islam and its manifestations.” I hope I am wrong but somehow I don’t think Obama is the one to “smash political correctness upside the head.”

A top-tier GOP contender shows interest in a Blue state senate race: “Republican Rep. Pete King (N.Y.) signaled Monday that he is reconsidering his decision not to run for Senate in 2010 .King said he’s actively looking at a run for statewide office this year after he’d ruled out such a campaign last summer.” If they suspect it will be a wave election, many more well-known challengers may want to jump into races that in ordinary years would be considered out of reach.

Benny Avni explains why “targeted” sanctions on Iran are a dumb idea: “No one in last week’s well-organized pro-regime mass demonstrations carried a sign advocating diplomacy to defuse tensions with America (and anti-government demonstrators aren’t itching for it either). A diplomatic solution exists only in our head. Some (like [John] Kerry) cling to last year’s foolishness, but for others it’s replaced by a new ‘boomerang’ theory: If we sanction the Iranian people too heavily, they ‘will be fooled into thinking we are to blame,’ as an unnamed administration official told the Washington Post. Nonsense, says Israel Radio’s Farsi Service veteran Menashe Amir, whose broadcasts are often cited by Iranian media as instigating the antigovernment protesters. . . Once again, the ideas underlying Washington’s new policy miss the target. At this late date, sanctions can only be helpful if they facilitate regime change, which should be the top objective of the new strategy. Targeting for sanctions only a handful of evil regime operators would hardly impress the Iranian masses (although it will be widely applauded in Washington and the United Nations).”

The State Department goes rushing to the defense of Hannah Rosenthal (who is supposed to be working on anti-Semitism but took some time out to lash out at Israel’s Ambassador Michael Oren for not being nice to her J Street pals). “Separately, Rosenthal’s predecessor, Gregg Rickman, has slammed her for her remarks about Oren. ‘Ms. Rosenthal’s criticisms of Ambassador Oren strike a chord particularly because this is not her policy portfolio to advocate . . . She is supposed to fight anti-Semitism, not defend J-Street, an organization on whose Advisory Board she formally sat before her appointment to the State Department.”

If “Big is bad” is catching on as a political message, how long before voters exact revenge once they figure out that the Democrats have struck a health-care deal with big and bad insurance companies?

James Taranto goes on a roll: “We suppose Napolitano is a glass-is-half-full kind of gal. And it’s true that, apart from allowing a known extremist to board a plane while carrying a bomb, the system worked. . . ABC News reports that ‘one of the four leaders allegedly behind the al Qaeda plot to blow up a Northwest Airlines passenger jet over Detroit was released by the U.S. from the Guantanamo prison in November 2007.’ Said Ali Shari, a Saudi national, was released into the custody of our friends the Saudis and “has since emerged in leadership roles in Yemen,” says ABC. Heckuva job, Nayef. In fairness, we should note that in November 2007, Barack Obama was only the junior senator from Illinois. This is a problem he inherited from the Bush administration. And he has responded by putting a stop to the release of terrorists from Guantanamo. Just kidding!” Looks like the joke is on us.

Worse than returning the Churchill bust: “The name of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was included in a dossier of people believed to have made attempts to deal with known extremists that was shared with American intelligence. . . Abdulmutallab came to the attention of intelligence agencies because of ‘multiple communications’ he had with Islamic extremists in Britain while a student between 2006 and 2008. However, denying reports that the information had not been divulged, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said: ‘Clearly there was security information about this individual’s activities and that was information that was shared with the US authorities. That is the key point.'”

Read Less




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