Commentary Magazine


Topic: Khalid Sheikh Mohammad

“I Am Jewish” — Remembering Daniel Pearl

Ten years ago this week, the Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Pearl was kidnapped by al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan. Nine days later he was murdered–beheaded by Khalid Sheikh Mohammad. Before being killed, he was forced to make a statement on a video that the terrorists subsequently distributed to the press. Though he was forced to make criticisms of the United States, he died expressing pride in his identity. “My father is Jewish. My mother is Jewish. I am Jewish,” he said.

Pearl’s abduction and murder was a heinous crime that came to symbolize the barbarity at the heart of the Islamist movement. But Pearl’s final words, though spoken under duress and with the shadow of death hanging over him, are also a symbol of the spirit of a people that hate cannot extinguish.

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Ten years ago this week, the Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Pearl was kidnapped by al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan. Nine days later he was murdered–beheaded by Khalid Sheikh Mohammad. Before being killed, he was forced to make a statement on a video that the terrorists subsequently distributed to the press. Though he was forced to make criticisms of the United States, he died expressing pride in his identity. “My father is Jewish. My mother is Jewish. I am Jewish,” he said.

Pearl’s abduction and murder was a heinous crime that came to symbolize the barbarity at the heart of the Islamist movement. But Pearl’s final words, though spoken under duress and with the shadow of death hanging over him, are also a symbol of the spirit of a people that hate cannot extinguish.

Ten years after Pearl’s death, there are many in this country who believe the “war on terror” is something for the history books, put on a shelf and forgotten. Al-Qaeda has received severe blows. Mohammad was subsequently arrested and after much legal wrangling, will eventually face trial before a military commission at Guantanamo Bay for his role in Pearl’s death as well as the 9/11 attacks. But the terrorists are still out there and, with their allies the Taliban still holding their own in Afghanistan, hold out hope for a revival of their cause.

Even more to the point, Islamists who sympathize with Pearl’s killers and share much of their ideology–such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Palestinian group Hamas–are on the upswing. The Brotherhood controls Egypt’s new parliament with other Islamists while Hamas appears poised to expand its sway over Palestinian society from Gaza to the West Bank via a unity pact with Fatah.

The anniversary of Pearl’s abduction should remind us that those who spread hatred of the West and of the Jews are generally not satisfied with merely talking about killing Jews. These groups pose a direct threat to world peace, and the United States must not be gulled into seeing them as people with whom we can do business. For them, Daniel Pearl’s admission of his Jewish identity and his ties with the people and the land of Israel justified his death. For us, they are an expression of pride.

Daniel Pearl was an open, inquisitive and honest journalist who bore no grudges against those of other nationalities and faiths. For this as well as for his American and Jewish identities, those for whom such qualities are anathema marked him for death. But though this anniversary is a sad one, his last words must also serve as a reassurance the Islamists who murdered him will not prevail. Though an Islamist winter has followed the Arab spring, the words “I am Jewish” resonate today as the cry of a Jewish people who will not perish. May Pearl’s memory be for a blessing.

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Reading The Longest War

Normally, I like a hanging judge, and I am certainly a big fan of Michael Mukasey, the esteemed former federal judge and attorney general. He is one of the most reasonable, learned, and authoritative voices around on most matters relating to the law — and especially on the war on terror with which he has been closely connected ever since he sentenced the “blind sheikh” to life in prison in 1996. Yet I can’t help but conclude that his review of Peter Bergen’s The Longest War in the Wall Street Journal metes out a harsher verdict than the book deserves.

Having read the book myself — and having interviewed Bergen about it for an upcoming episode of C-SPAN’s Afterwords — I agree with many of Mukasey’s specific criticisms. I, too, disagree with Bergen when he makes withering criticisms of Guantanamo and the use of “enhanced” interrogation techniques on the likes of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad. I, too, disagree with Bergen when he criticizes “renditions” of terrorists and when he claims (in words not quoted by Mukasey) that “by any rational standard” Saddam Hussein’s Iraq “did not pose a real threat to the United States.” The last is a particularly puzzling statement considering that Saddam Hussein had invaded his neighbors twice, schemed to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and had already sparked one war with the United States and numerous lesser military actions.

But by focusing on these dubious assertions, Mukasey gives the impression that Bergen’s book is an anti-Bush screed along the lines of Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side. It isn’t. It’s actually a fairly balanced account of the past decade’s fight against al-Qaeda. Read More

Normally, I like a hanging judge, and I am certainly a big fan of Michael Mukasey, the esteemed former federal judge and attorney general. He is one of the most reasonable, learned, and authoritative voices around on most matters relating to the law — and especially on the war on terror with which he has been closely connected ever since he sentenced the “blind sheikh” to life in prison in 1996. Yet I can’t help but conclude that his review of Peter Bergen’s The Longest War in the Wall Street Journal metes out a harsher verdict than the book deserves.

Having read the book myself — and having interviewed Bergen about it for an upcoming episode of C-SPAN’s Afterwords — I agree with many of Mukasey’s specific criticisms. I, too, disagree with Bergen when he makes withering criticisms of Guantanamo and the use of “enhanced” interrogation techniques on the likes of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad. I, too, disagree with Bergen when he criticizes “renditions” of terrorists and when he claims (in words not quoted by Mukasey) that “by any rational standard” Saddam Hussein’s Iraq “did not pose a real threat to the United States.” The last is a particularly puzzling statement considering that Saddam Hussein had invaded his neighbors twice, schemed to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and had already sparked one war with the United States and numerous lesser military actions.

But by focusing on these dubious assertions, Mukasey gives the impression that Bergen’s book is an anti-Bush screed along the lines of Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side. It isn’t. It’s actually a fairly balanced account of the past decade’s fight against al-Qaeda.

In the first place, many of the criticisms Bergen offers are on the money — for instance, about the failure of the Bush administration to send more troops to trap Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora and about the failure to prepare for the post-invasion phase of the Iraq war. Both assertions should, by now, be fairly uncontroversial even in conservative circles. For that matter, I think Bergen is convincing in arguing that no tangible links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda have been uncovered and that mainstream Islam has rejected al-Qaeda — both assertions that Mukasey questions.

In the second place, Bergen also offers praise for Bush that Mukasey doesn’t quote. He writes, for example, “There is little doubt that some of the measures the Bush administration and Congress took after 9/11 made Americans safer.” Among the positives he cites are the Patriot Act and other enhanced security measures.

Bergen also endorses Bush’s decision to  attack al-Qaeda with the full weight of the U.S. military — not just with law enforcement and intelligence agencies. This led the Economist to criticize Bergen’s book for dismissing “the view of some Europeans that al-Qaeda is essentially a law and order problem—more or less arguing, with odd logic, that since it declared war on America, then America must be at war.”

Unlike Michael Scheuer, the eccentric former CIA analyst whose new book about Osama bin Laden is also reviewed by Mukasey, Bergen does not think that Bush fell into a trap by sending troops into Afghanistan. Although bin Laden has talked about how he was luring America into a guerrilla war, Bergen concludes that this is largely an ex post facto justification and that the invasion of Afghanistan actually did significant damage to al-Qaeda. Moreover, unlike many of those who backed the initial decision to intervene, he strongly supports the current war effort in Afghanistan. Indeed Bergen and I teamed up at an Intelligence Squared US debate not long ago to argue that Afghanistan isn’t a lost cause.

In short, I think Mukasey is being harder on Bergen than the facts of the case warrant. But judge for yourself — read the book and watch my interview with Bergen in which I press him on some of the very points that Mukasey raises.

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The Last Thing This Administration Needs

Earlier this month, I commented that it was quite possible that Obama could choose a worse chief of staff to replace Rahm Emanuel — Valerie Jarrett. Her personal judgment is poor, her political instincts run far-left, and she is so cozy with the president, she’s unlikely to part with him — or deliver contrary views — and thereby curb his most self-destructive tendencies. Dana Milbank confirms my take:

As the senior adviser in charge of “public engagement,” she has been the White House official responsible for maintaining relationships with the business community and with liberal interest groups — two of the most conspicuous areas of failure for the White House during Obama’s first two years.

She’s also the one who arranged the hiring of social secretary Desiree Rogers, only to cut her friend loose when Rogers was tarnished by the party-crashing Salahis at a state dinner in November.

In addition to Jarrett’s hiring of Van Jones, support for the Ground Zero mosque, and enthusiasm for Fox News–bashing, Milbank points out that she’s ridden to the rescue of two problematic figures:

Consider the recent hiring of Harvard’s Elizabeth Warren as the White House official in charge of setting up the new Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection. Emanuel and others had opposed the appointment on grounds that Warren is difficult to work with and politically radioactive. But Jarrett, arguing for the need for more senior women in the White House, got Obama to overrule Warren’s detractors. …

Jarrett made a similar intervention months earlier, when some senior White House officials were losing confidence in Attorney General Eric Holder. His job appeared to be in jeopardy over the decision to put Khalid Sheikh Mohammad on trial in New York, but Jarrett made sure that Holder, a friend, would remain in good standing.

Her judgment is deeply flawed, and her ascension would essentially rule out any significant policy readjustment by the Obama administration.  Selecting her would confirm that Obama is not one to self-reflect, admit error, and adjust to new circumstances.

Earlier this month, I commented that it was quite possible that Obama could choose a worse chief of staff to replace Rahm Emanuel — Valerie Jarrett. Her personal judgment is poor, her political instincts run far-left, and she is so cozy with the president, she’s unlikely to part with him — or deliver contrary views — and thereby curb his most self-destructive tendencies. Dana Milbank confirms my take:

As the senior adviser in charge of “public engagement,” she has been the White House official responsible for maintaining relationships with the business community and with liberal interest groups — two of the most conspicuous areas of failure for the White House during Obama’s first two years.

She’s also the one who arranged the hiring of social secretary Desiree Rogers, only to cut her friend loose when Rogers was tarnished by the party-crashing Salahis at a state dinner in November.

In addition to Jarrett’s hiring of Van Jones, support for the Ground Zero mosque, and enthusiasm for Fox News–bashing, Milbank points out that she’s ridden to the rescue of two problematic figures:

Consider the recent hiring of Harvard’s Elizabeth Warren as the White House official in charge of setting up the new Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection. Emanuel and others had opposed the appointment on grounds that Warren is difficult to work with and politically radioactive. But Jarrett, arguing for the need for more senior women in the White House, got Obama to overrule Warren’s detractors. …

Jarrett made a similar intervention months earlier, when some senior White House officials were losing confidence in Attorney General Eric Holder. His job appeared to be in jeopardy over the decision to put Khalid Sheikh Mohammad on trial in New York, but Jarrett made sure that Holder, a friend, would remain in good standing.

Her judgment is deeply flawed, and her ascension would essentially rule out any significant policy readjustment by the Obama administration.  Selecting her would confirm that Obama is not one to self-reflect, admit error, and adjust to new circumstances.

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When Does an Unfulfilled Political Promise Become a Lie?

The president and his hapless attorney general (who, like the former director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, seems to be handicapped by his inability to go out in public without unnerving political supporters and giving fodder to opponents) repeatedly promised that they would reverse the Bush administration’s alleged proclivity to politicize the administration of justice. In the end, the accusations against the Bush team proved to be generally groundless (John Yoo and Jay Bybee were cleared, and the allegations that Yoo intentionally provided faulty legal advice were specifically rejected) or trivial (e.g., replacing nine U.S. attorneys, in contrast to other administrations, which replaced all of them). And in the politicization department, no one holds a candle to the Obama team.

This report explains that for all the crying about upholding our legal traditions and rejecting the “lawless” Bush team, the Obama gang is delaying a decision on the KSM trial until the election is in the rear-view mirror. It’s hard to get more political than that (unless, of course, it’s dismissing the New Black Panther intimidation case because left-wing civil rights groups and Holder’s lawyers don’t like enforcing the civil rights laws against minority defendants). Josh Gerstein reports:

Attorney General Eric Holder said the decision over where to hold the trial for alleged 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammad was “weeks away” — three months ago. Now advocates on both sides of the issue say they expect the Obama administration to punt the decision until after the November midterm elections — when the controversial plan could do less damage to the political fortunes of endangered Democrats and might face less resistance on Capitol Hill.

Holder last week explicitly denied the midterms had anything to do with the timing but would only say discussions are continuing. The White House had no comment. Any further stalling could pose a serious political problem for President Barack Obama on the left — where advocates cheered his administration’s plan to break from the Bush administration and give top al-Qaida figures trials in American courtrooms, a sign to the country and the world that U.S.-style justice was enough to try to men accused of the worst crimes in the nation’s history. … Advocates say the signs of foot-dragging are evident. The Democrats’ political fortunes have dipped further, talks on the broader issue of Guantanamo closure have ground to a halt and the House took a little-noticed vote to block transporting any Gitmo detainees to the United States, for any reason.

The Obama administration plainly doesn’t have the nerve to stand up to its own base, so it delays and delays. Not exactly upholding our fundamental values, as Obama often preened. When the Bush administration had to combat endless attacks on its detainee procedures, the left, of course, excoriated the Bush Justice Department for dragging its feet and holding detainees in limbo. Some are shocked, shocked, to discover that the Obama gang is much worse:

“The worst possible outcome is not making a decision. … There’s a genuinely weird paralysis I would not have predicted,” said Ben Wittes, a Brookings Institution scholar who has urged Obama to announce that there will be no trials for the 9/11 suspects. “It’s disgraceful and they should be embarrassed by it. There are pros and cons of any approach you take, but there is no good argument to let this fester indefinitely.”

If there were Democrats willing to exercise any semblance of congressional oversight, the administration might be pressured to end the “weird” and entirely self-imposed paralysis. But for now, onlookers can only fume:

While “swift and certain justice” once was a regular part of the White House lexicon on Guantanamo and detainee trials, that catchphrase has now vanished along with the prospect of anything swift happening to most of the prisoners slated for continued detention or trial.

“Both the 9/11 and the Cole families had the president look them in the eye and say, ‘We’re going to close Gitmo, move forward with this process, and hold people accountable,’” said Commander Kirk Lippold, a proponent of military trials who was the commanding officer aboard the U.S.S. Cole when it was attacked in Yemen in 2000. “When does an unfulfilled political promise become a lie?” Lippold asked.

Now, there’s a question for Holder for his next outing on Capitol Hill.

The president and his hapless attorney general (who, like the former director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, seems to be handicapped by his inability to go out in public without unnerving political supporters and giving fodder to opponents) repeatedly promised that they would reverse the Bush administration’s alleged proclivity to politicize the administration of justice. In the end, the accusations against the Bush team proved to be generally groundless (John Yoo and Jay Bybee were cleared, and the allegations that Yoo intentionally provided faulty legal advice were specifically rejected) or trivial (e.g., replacing nine U.S. attorneys, in contrast to other administrations, which replaced all of them). And in the politicization department, no one holds a candle to the Obama team.

This report explains that for all the crying about upholding our legal traditions and rejecting the “lawless” Bush team, the Obama gang is delaying a decision on the KSM trial until the election is in the rear-view mirror. It’s hard to get more political than that (unless, of course, it’s dismissing the New Black Panther intimidation case because left-wing civil rights groups and Holder’s lawyers don’t like enforcing the civil rights laws against minority defendants). Josh Gerstein reports:

Attorney General Eric Holder said the decision over where to hold the trial for alleged 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammad was “weeks away” — three months ago. Now advocates on both sides of the issue say they expect the Obama administration to punt the decision until after the November midterm elections — when the controversial plan could do less damage to the political fortunes of endangered Democrats and might face less resistance on Capitol Hill.

Holder last week explicitly denied the midterms had anything to do with the timing but would only say discussions are continuing. The White House had no comment. Any further stalling could pose a serious political problem for President Barack Obama on the left — where advocates cheered his administration’s plan to break from the Bush administration and give top al-Qaida figures trials in American courtrooms, a sign to the country and the world that U.S.-style justice was enough to try to men accused of the worst crimes in the nation’s history. … Advocates say the signs of foot-dragging are evident. The Democrats’ political fortunes have dipped further, talks on the broader issue of Guantanamo closure have ground to a halt and the House took a little-noticed vote to block transporting any Gitmo detainees to the United States, for any reason.

The Obama administration plainly doesn’t have the nerve to stand up to its own base, so it delays and delays. Not exactly upholding our fundamental values, as Obama often preened. When the Bush administration had to combat endless attacks on its detainee procedures, the left, of course, excoriated the Bush Justice Department for dragging its feet and holding detainees in limbo. Some are shocked, shocked, to discover that the Obama gang is much worse:

“The worst possible outcome is not making a decision. … There’s a genuinely weird paralysis I would not have predicted,” said Ben Wittes, a Brookings Institution scholar who has urged Obama to announce that there will be no trials for the 9/11 suspects. “It’s disgraceful and they should be embarrassed by it. There are pros and cons of any approach you take, but there is no good argument to let this fester indefinitely.”

If there were Democrats willing to exercise any semblance of congressional oversight, the administration might be pressured to end the “weird” and entirely self-imposed paralysis. But for now, onlookers can only fume:

While “swift and certain justice” once was a regular part of the White House lexicon on Guantanamo and detainee trials, that catchphrase has now vanished along with the prospect of anything swift happening to most of the prisoners slated for continued detention or trial.

“Both the 9/11 and the Cole families had the president look them in the eye and say, ‘We’re going to close Gitmo, move forward with this process, and hold people accountable,’” said Commander Kirk Lippold, a proponent of military trials who was the commanding officer aboard the U.S.S. Cole when it was attacked in Yemen in 2000. “When does an unfulfilled political promise become a lie?” Lippold asked.

Now, there’s a question for Holder for his next outing on Capitol Hill.

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Countering Violent Extremism

In his retirement, Donald Rumsfeld must be enjoying a good chuckle right now as he reads that the Obama administration has decided to rename our war against the … whatchamacallit. Out is the Global War on Terror (GWOT). That’s so Bush administration. The preferred name of the Obama folks is “Countering Violent Extremism,” or CVE.

Reading that report, I knew the term was somewhat familiar but couldn’t quite place it. Where had I heard it before? Oh yeah, that’s right. It’s nearly identical to the wording Rumsfeld tried to enact in 2005 when he began referring to the Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism (G-SAVE). That was ultimately nixed by the White House, which (for once) didn’t appreciate the defense secretary’s freelancing.

It’s funny how the search for euphemisms — nobody wants to say we’re fighting Islamist fanatics — leads the current gang to adopt a nearly identical version of a slogan coined by their bête noire. Perhaps that’s fitting because on many fronts — especially in the use of targeted assassinations via Predators, in wiretap authority, in renditions, and in holding terrorist suspects indefinitely without trial — the Obama administration has continued the policies of its predecessor. It’s actually whacking more terrorists in Pakistan than the Bush administration ever did. The changes so far have been mainly cosmetic — notably the so-far-failed effort to shut Gitmo and the equally failed effort to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammad in a civilian court. Substance is ultimately more important than sloganeering and, for all my differences with the Obama administration, I have to admit their anti-terrorism policies are, on the whole, better (i.e., tougher) than we could have expected from the Nobel Laureate.

In his retirement, Donald Rumsfeld must be enjoying a good chuckle right now as he reads that the Obama administration has decided to rename our war against the … whatchamacallit. Out is the Global War on Terror (GWOT). That’s so Bush administration. The preferred name of the Obama folks is “Countering Violent Extremism,” or CVE.

Reading that report, I knew the term was somewhat familiar but couldn’t quite place it. Where had I heard it before? Oh yeah, that’s right. It’s nearly identical to the wording Rumsfeld tried to enact in 2005 when he began referring to the Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism (G-SAVE). That was ultimately nixed by the White House, which (for once) didn’t appreciate the defense secretary’s freelancing.

It’s funny how the search for euphemisms — nobody wants to say we’re fighting Islamist fanatics — leads the current gang to adopt a nearly identical version of a slogan coined by their bête noire. Perhaps that’s fitting because on many fronts — especially in the use of targeted assassinations via Predators, in wiretap authority, in renditions, and in holding terrorist suspects indefinitely without trial — the Obama administration has continued the policies of its predecessor. It’s actually whacking more terrorists in Pakistan than the Bush administration ever did. The changes so far have been mainly cosmetic — notably the so-far-failed effort to shut Gitmo and the equally failed effort to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammad in a civilian court. Substance is ultimately more important than sloganeering and, for all my differences with the Obama administration, I have to admit their anti-terrorism policies are, on the whole, better (i.e., tougher) than we could have expected from the Nobel Laureate.

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Re: Not in Virginia

Gov. Bob McDonnell wants there to be no doubt about his views. He has released the following statement on the KSM trial:

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell today reiterated his longstanding opposition to the detention or trial of any Guantanamo Bay detainee, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, taking place in the Commonwealth of Virginia. He also noted his agreement with Congressional leaders from both parties that all Guantanamo Bay detainees be put before military tribunals, rather than civilian courts as outlined by the United States Department of Justice. Virginia has several locations, including Alexandria and Newport News, that have been suggested as possible civilian trial locations.

Speaking about the issue Governor McDonnell noted, “Officials in New York City have made clear they do not want a disruptive civilian trial of 9-11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad taking place in that city. As they are appropriately acting in the best interests of their citizens, today I am doing the same for the citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Commonwealth has been the site of previous terrorism trials, most recently the 2006 trial of Zacarias Moussaoui at the federal courthouse in Alexandria. That trial led to ongoing significant disruptions and potential threats for the citizens of that Virginia community, and local leaders have made clear they do not want to host such a trial again.  I strongly oppose any Guantanamo Bay detainees being either held or tried in Virginia.”

Now the question becomes, what other governors will step forward? Is there any state willing to take on the financial burden and security risk of the Obami’s grand experiment? I think it unlikely.

Gov. Bob McDonnell wants there to be no doubt about his views. He has released the following statement on the KSM trial:

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell today reiterated his longstanding opposition to the detention or trial of any Guantanamo Bay detainee, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, taking place in the Commonwealth of Virginia. He also noted his agreement with Congressional leaders from both parties that all Guantanamo Bay detainees be put before military tribunals, rather than civilian courts as outlined by the United States Department of Justice. Virginia has several locations, including Alexandria and Newport News, that have been suggested as possible civilian trial locations.

Speaking about the issue Governor McDonnell noted, “Officials in New York City have made clear they do not want a disruptive civilian trial of 9-11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad taking place in that city. As they are appropriately acting in the best interests of their citizens, today I am doing the same for the citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Commonwealth has been the site of previous terrorism trials, most recently the 2006 trial of Zacarias Moussaoui at the federal courthouse in Alexandria. That trial led to ongoing significant disruptions and potential threats for the citizens of that Virginia community, and local leaders have made clear they do not want to host such a trial again.  I strongly oppose any Guantanamo Bay detainees being either held or tried in Virginia.”

Now the question becomes, what other governors will step forward? Is there any state willing to take on the financial burden and security risk of the Obami’s grand experiment? I think it unlikely.

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