It’s been more than a decade since 9/11, but we still haven’t figured out how to treat captured terrorists. The latest evidence comes from the extradition of Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law and onetime mouthpiece, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith. Arrested in Turkey, he was turned over to U.S. authorities in Jordan and flown to New York where he was remanded to federal custody. He will now presumably face trial in the Southern District of New York where many previous terrorists have been convicted for their crimes.
Odds are that Ghaith, too, will ultimately be found guilty by a jury that will not be terribly sympathetic to Osama bin Laden’s relatives. But other potential terrorists are not so easily convicted. That is why approximately 167 detainees remain at Guantanamo where they are held as unlawful enemy combatants, not as criminal defendants. Some of them will be tried by military tribunals; others will be held indefinitely until the cessation of hostilities. But no detainees have been added at Gitmo since 2006.
Esquire magazine has just posted a much-discussed article about “the Shooter” who is said to have killed Osama bin Laden. This is not a simple tale of heroism, a la “No Easy Day,” the best-selling book written by another member of SEAL Team Six who was on the raid. This article has a strong point of view, as is made clear by the headline: “The Man Who Killed Osama bin Laden… Is Screwed.”
Journalist Phil Bronstein, who interviewed “the Shooter,” laments “that a man with hundreds of successful war missions, one of the most decorated combat veterans of our age, who capped his career by terminating bin Laden, has no landing pad in civilian life.” He explains that “the Shooter will discover soon enough that when he leaves after sixteen years in the Navy, his body filled with scar tissue, arthritis, tendonitis, eye damage, and blown disks, here is what he gets from his employer and a grateful nation: Nothing. No pension, no healthcare for his wife and kids, no protection for himself or his family.”
Numerous veterans have pointed out that this is an exaggeration and in fact Esquire has already posted a correction and changed the language above which had previously suggested that there is no healthcare for him, not just for his (separated) wife and his kids. The magazine notes: “A previous version of this story misstated the extent of the five-year health care benefits offered to cover veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Department of Veterans Affairs offers comprehensive health care to eligible veterans during that period, though not to their families.” There are also numerous other benefits such as the GI Bill which would enable “the Shooter” to go to college.
Nevertheless the article does have a serious point to make—the nation is not doing right by the small number of infantrymen and special operators, a tiny percentage of the overall armed forces, who are at the pointy tip of the spear. The problem is two-fold.
Kathryn Bigelow, the Zero Dark Thirty director who has been attacked by senators and anti-war types for her portrayal of how enhanced interrogation helped intelligence officials track down Osama bin Laden, has published a very sharp response to her critics:
On a practical and political level, it does seem illogical to me to make a case against torture by ignoring or denying the role it played in U.S. counter-terrorism policy and practices.
Experts disagree sharply on the facts and particulars of the intelligence hunt, and doubtlessly that debate will continue. As for what I personally believe, which has been the subject of inquiries, accusations and speculation, I think Osama bin Laden was found due to ingenious detective work. Torture was, however, as we all know, employed in the early years of the hunt. That doesn’t mean it was the key to finding Bin Laden. It means it is a part of the story we couldn’t ignore. War, obviously, isn’t pretty, and we were not interested in portraying this military action as free of moral consequences. …
Bin Laden wasn’t defeated by superheroes zooming down from the sky; he was defeated by ordinary Americans who fought bravely even as they sometimes crossed moral lines, who labored greatly and intently, who gave all of themselves in both victory and defeat, in life and in death, for the defense of this nation.
This past year was a banner year for the CIA on celluloid. Normally the intelligence agency’s operatives are seen in movies as murderous bad guys abusing their power–see for example any of the “Bourne” films or the Denzel Washington flick “Safe House.” This is a theme that dates back to the Church Committee’s revelations of CIA abuses in the 1970s, which prompted paranoid movies like Robert Redford’s “Three Days of the Condor” and Warren Beatty’s “Parallax View.”
But a different–and more truthful–view of the agency’s operations has been presented in 2012′s “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” both of which highlight its triumphs: in the first instance, smuggling six U.S. diplomats out of Tehran during the Iranian Hostage Crisis using a clever ruse of making a science-fiction movie; in the second instance, tracking down Osama bin Laden, making possible the SEAL Team Six raid that ended with his death.
Strangely enough, Democrats didn’t seem too concerned about the Osama bin Laden raid movie “Zero Dark Thirty” back when Republicans were raising alarms about the potentially classified access the Obama administration granted the film team. But now that the movie has portrayed enhanced interrogation techniques in a favorable light, Senate Democrats are suddenly eager to launch an investigation:
After the Senate Intelligence Committee’s chairwoman expressed outrage over scenes that imply “enhanced interrogations” of CIA detainees produced a breakthrough in the hunt for Osama bin Laden, the panel has begun a review of contacts between the makers of the film “Zero Dark Thirty” and CIA officials.
Investigators will examine whether the spy agency gave the filmmakers “inappropriate” access to secret material, said a person familiar with the matter. They will also probe whether CIA personnel are responsible for the portrayal of harsh interrogation practices, and in particular the suggestion that they were effective, the person said. …
But the film has also produced a series of awkward political headaches for President Barack Obama. Early on, Obama’s Republican critics suggested it was a gimmick to boost his re-election campaign. But now, some of Obama’s liberal supporters are attacking the film and officials who cooperated with its creators for allegedly promoting the effectiveness of torture.
Yesterday, Abe wrote that “Barack Obama ushered in America’s first large-scale experiment in personality-cult politics. The experiment continues apace.” The experiment really has two parts to it, and only one of them continues. Electorally speaking, it was a success–Obama was elected and then reelected with a majority of the popular vote both times. But the other side of the experiment is how a personality-driven campaign incentivizes governing. Because President Obama ran on personality more than policy, the latter has been shaped throughout his presidency with the former in mind, producing not so much a governing philosophy as a slogan factory.
One of the more interesting aspects of the president’s health care reform legislation is how many liberals hate it. Conservatives don’t like it on constitutional grounds and on policy grounds. But liberals I meet often tell me how much they hate the bill on ideological grounds, because it took an idea that sprang forth from the perceived failure and greed of the insurance companies and then forced everyone in the country to buy their product. The left wanted universal health coverage; they got a bill that encourages the young and healthy, who currently often don’t buy health insurance, to continue not buying health insurance. But the left misunderstands Obama’s intent: he is not a detail man, nor a policy wonk. He is a man in constant search of a slogan, and saying he reformed health care was all he wanted out of the bill, even if the end result was a logical and regulatory nightmare. And health care is far from the only such issue.
The decision of the National Geographic Channel to air a film about the successful hunt for Osama bin Laden just two days before Election Day had already generated controversy. But the promotional materials released to the press this week confirm the suspicion that it is what even the New York Times was prepared to call a “political stunt.” The movie, “Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden,” is being promoted by Harvey Weinstein, a Hollywood mogul as well as a major bundler for President Obama. That and the release date was enough for many to think the film was an unpaid campaign ad, but as the Times reports:
Promotional materials and a copy of the movie provided to The New York Times this week also show that the film has been recut, using news and documentary footage to strengthen Mr. Obama’s role and provide a window into decision-making in the White House. … Some of the Obama moments were added at the suggestion of Mr. Weinstein, they said, using material gathered by Meghan O’Hara, a producer who worked closely with the documentarian Michael Moore on politically charged projects like “Fahrenheit 9/11” and “Sicko.”
While the normally low-rated National Geographic will likely get a lot of extra viewers for the broadcast, it has also opened itself up to charges of political motivation. The channel will try and use the movie to promote their other shows, but there’s no question that the main beneficiary is the president. Given the timing, the movie appears to be nothing more than an effort to aid the Democrat’s extended touchdown dance about the bin Laden killing and boost his faltering chances for re-election.
Sen. John Kerry, national security sage, writes the following in an Obama campaign memo today (h/t Fox News):
Under President Obama’s leadership, we have devastated al-Qaeda’s leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Not only has the United States taken out Osama bin Laden, but we have devastated a large majority of al-Qaeda’s core group of leaders. And today our nation is safer because these terrorists have been eliminated. But there is still more work to do. …
President Obama kept his promise to re-focus our efforts on the real reason we went to Afghanistan after 9/11 – to decimate al-Qaeda and prevent a return to the safe haven they had there. Now that we’re accomplishing those objectives, the President has a plan to end the war in 2014, and our troops are already coming home. After over a decade at war, the President has a plan to use the savings from ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to do some nation-building here at home.
Not only is AQ not decimated in Afghanistan, it’s rebuilding strength as U.S. forces withdraw, Fox News reports:
Although the Obama campaign is happy to report the recent drop in the unemployment survey, the Republican critique that the drop is due in part to those leaving the labor force and giving up on finding work is more than mere spin. That’s because of a simple truth, and one that has hurt the Obama campaign’s narrative of recovery: it is quite a challenge to convince an unemployed person that they have a job. At the beginning of the year, the Obama campaign tried selling the economy as being on the upswing, and voters pushed back.
In February, Democracy Corps released polling on the most recent State of the Union address, and here is what they wrote:
One of the President’s weakest operative frameworks highlights recent progress on job creation. This message is potentially dangerous for Democrats. During the State of the Union, we watched the dial lines go flat, with even Democrats peaking below 70 when the President highlighted recent jobs numbers.
In post-speech focus groups, respondents explained why this part of the speech did not resonate for them: first, and most importantly, they have not seen these jobs or felt the effects of job creation. But they are also deeply concerned that these jobs are not permanent, that these new jobs belie much deeper structural problems in the economy, and that the new jobs that have been created are far inferior to the more stable, full-time, well-paying middle class jobs that have been lost over the last decade.
Of course, this was almost a year ago, and in that time economic data has improved, so it’s possible the message would be better received today. But the point is, the Obama campaign had to drop certain overly optimistic language from the president’s campaign speeches because the public wasn’t buying it. Something similar may be happening with regard to the president’s message that al-Qaeda is on its heels.
This is Obama-bundler Harvey Weinstein’s made-for-TV film about the Osama bin Laden raid, not to be confused with the much-hyped Kathryn Bigelow movie on the same subject (that one is supposed to come out at the end of the year). Weinstein’s film will air on National Geographic Channel on November 4, which many have pointed out is a pretty coincidental date:
A film dramatizing the death of Osama bin Laden is set to debut next month on the National Geographic Channel, two days before the presidential election.
“Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden,” from The Weinstein Co. and Voltage Pictures, will air Sunday, Nov. 4, the channel said Thursday. President Barack Obama faces Republican challenger Mitt Romney at the polls two days later.
Weinstein co-chairman Harvey Weinstein is a prominent fundraiser for Obama’s re-election campaign, which has touted bin Laden’s death as an example of the president’s leadership.
Lost in the headlines out of the Middle East was this amazing interview Fox News conducted with Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani medical doctor who helped the United States confirm Osama bin Laden’s compound. Even though Pakistani authorities said they were unaware of bin Laden’s residence in Abbottabad, a town that hosts Pakistan’s equivalent of West Point, they arrested Afridi, accusing him of treason. How one can commit treason without betraying state secrets is something that someone ought to ask the Pakistani government.
At any rate, after his arrest, Afridi says he was interrogated and tortured by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s intelligence agency. He relates:
“They said ‘The Americans are our worst enemies, worse than the Indians,’” Afridi, who spoke from inside Peshawar Central Jail, said as he recalled the brutal interrogation and torture he suffered after he was initially detained. “I tried to argue that America was Pakistan’s biggest supporter – billions and billions of dollars in aid, social and military assistance — but all they said was, ‘These are our worst enemies. You helped our enemies….’ It is now indisputable that militancy in Pakistan is supported by the ISI […] Pakistan’s fight against militancy is bogus. It’s just to extract money from America,” Afridi said, referring to the $23 billion Pakistan has received largely in military aid since 9/11.
Ross Douthat takes a look at Mitt Romney’s stagnating poll numbers and concludes, in part, that Romney is being held back by his hesitation to offer more clarity and creativity on economic policy and refusal to break more clearly with the Bush administration, especially on foreign policy. I find Douthat’s argument on economic policy compelling, but his estimation of the Bush administration’s drag on Romney less so.
Douthat is right to call attention to the weaknesses in the Romney camp’s favorite analogy: 2012 is just like 1980. There are parallels, of course, but their utility is limited and create the danger of Romney’s overreliance on them producing overconfidence. According to most major metrics, the Carter economy was in noticeably worse shape than the current economy. This recovery is still far too weak and unemployment far too high, and Romney has a very strong hand to play here. But Romney chose vagueness at his convention address, just as Reagan did at his, while voters seem to want more from Romney. He may very well have to respond to that.
Perhaps it’s because we’re in an election season or perhaps it’s that more than ten years have passed since 9/11, but either way the New York Times has dropped its pretense of solemnity when noting the anniversary of the most deadly attack on the American homeland. Though it’s taken a while, the day of reflection and remembrance is now just another tawdry news “peg” on which to hang sordid partisan accusations.
The accusation itself? Oh, nothing new—George W. Bush is to blame for 9/11, naturally. Places like the Nation are labeling today’s Times op-ed by Kurt Eichenwald a “bombshell,” but that’s only so if you’ve been living in a bomb-shelter. Eichenwald’s main revelation is no revelation at all—just a cynically timed cut-and-paste job. He writes that the oft-cited “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” intelligence document given to Bush a month before 9/11 “is not nearly as shocking as the briefs that came before it.” Taken together, Eichenwald maintains, “ the administration’s reaction to what Mr. Bush was told in the weeks before that infamous briefing reflected significantly more negligence than has been disclosed.” So Bush is even more to blame than you thought he was.
At the Washington Post yesterday, Marc Thiessen reported on a study by the Government Accountability Institute that found President Obama has attended less than half of his daily intelligence briefings since taking office, based on his public schedule. This is a sharp contrast to President Bush, who reportedly rarely missed an intelligence briefing.
According to the 2011 and 2012 digests of Obama’s public schedule from the U.S. Government Printing Office, he attended 198 of his daily intelligence briefings between April 14, 2011 (the day he hosted the first fundraiser of his reelection campaign) and August 24, 2012 (the last day included in the latest GPO digest). By August 14, 2012, Obama had already reached 203 fundraising events since launching his reelection campaign, slightly more than the number of intelligence briefings he had attended during that time period.
There’s plenty of disagreement over whether it was appropriate for SEAL Team 6 member Mark Owen — a pseudonym — to write a firsthand account of the Osama bin Laden raid. While I haven’t read the book myself, it seems (from interviews and excerpts) that Owen is not intending to spill tactical secrets or act in ways that are malicious and harmful to national security — despite the fact that he didn’t allow the Pentagon to vet the book beforehand and appears to have broken his non-disclosure agreement.
The question isn’t whether Owen should be held accountable for writing a book that may violate the non-disclosure agreement he signed with the Pentagon. Of course he should. But the controversy has also exposed the administration’s glaring double standard when it comes to classified information.
If you heard it once last week, you heard it 100 times. General Motors is alive and Osama bin Laden is dead. That juxtaposition of the federal bailout of the car manufacturer and the killing of the terrorist is supposed to be the argument for President Obama’s re-election. While both are good things, neither tells us much about the administration’s value. It is likely that GM would have survived in one form or another no matter what the president did. Nor, despite the unseemly chest-thumping braggadocio about the bin Laden operation, is it reasonable to assert that it was only possible because Obama was president. Nevertheless, this catch phrase, made popular by Vice President Joe Biden, is an effective campaign slogan. Indeed, the car bailout is thought to be a crucial factor in propping up the president’s poll numbers in key swing states like Ohio and Michigan that may decide the election.
However, for all of the cheering for GM plants done at the Democratic convention, the notion that the company that once dominated the industry has been set back on the path to prosperity by the president may be something of an illusion. Last month, Forbes published a sobering piece on the company’s prospects that should give even the giddiest of Democrats pause. According to Louis Woodhill, the GM revival is all smoke and mirrors:
President Obama is proud of his bailout of General Motors. That’s good, because, if he wins a second term, he is probably going to have to bail GM out again. The company is once again losing market share, and it seems unable to develop products that are truly competitive in the U.S. market.
Democrats are trying to portray ex-intelligence officials who are publicly criticizing the Obama administration’s leaking of sensitive material in order to boost the president’s political standing as partisans. They think by merely saying the words “Swift Boat,” the group, which calls itself Special Operations Opsec Education Fund, will be ignored or reviled. But the comparison to those Navy veterans who blasted John Kerry’s record during the 2004 campaign is not apt. Whatever the motivation of the original Swift Boat veterans, their beef was a personal grudge against Kerry. The issue the Opsec group is highlighting is a serious problem that has already resulted in federal investigations of the White House’s behavior.
The news that Amnesty International’s annual report on the state of the world has condemned the American raid on Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Pakistan, as “unlawful” should surprise no one. The group’s obtuse effort to brand every effort of the United States to defend itself against terrorists has long since reached the level of parody. Where once it could claim some moral legitimacy as a neutral compiler and observer of human rights violations wherever they were committed, the decision of the group to treat the West’s ongoing conflict with al-Qaeda and its Islamist allies as if it were a matter of American persecution of Third World innocents has lost Amnesty its last shred of credibility.
The defense of Osama bin Laden’s right to life and liberty should place the group’s criticisms of Israel’s efforts to fend off Palestinian terrorism in perspective. While human rights monitors are vital in a world where tyrannies are still commonplace, the inability of groups like AI to tell the difference between the perpetrators of violence and those attempting to defend themselves is a fatal flaw that has rendered them irrelevant to useful discussions about how to advance the cause of humanity.
Labels are always dangerous things. In the context of the U.S. policy debate, pundits attach labels to opponents in order to avoid debating issues or in order to construct straw man arguments. Seldom do people use labels with the precision they deserve. This is certainly the case when it comes to religion.
I use the term Islamism to depict the use of Islam as a political ideology and studiously avoid the term “Islamo-Fascism,” which is not accurate except, in very limited cases, to Hezbollah. (Several years ago, Turkish writer Mustafa Akyol falsely accused me of using the term; when I later saw him in Prague, he acknowledged his error, but neither he nor David Judson, his editor at the Turkish [now Hürriyet] Daily News, saw fit to correct their fabrication. To use labels precisely, it would be fair to call Akyol sloppy and, for failing to correct his error, lacking integrity).
The group is called Veterans for a Strong America, and they’ve already released one ad blasting President Obama’s handling of the bin Laden death anniversary. BuzzFeed reports there’s more on the way:
In the wake of a warm conservative reception for a web video trashing the president for “spiking the football” on the anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death, the conservative group Veterans for a Strong America plans to gather Navy SEALs and Special Forces operators to criticize the White House during the 2012 campaign.
“We’re looking to [put together] a coalition, to field SEALs and operators that want to come out publicly,” executive director of Veterans for a Strong America, Joel Arends, tells BuzzFeed. “I’ve had a lot of discussions with former SEALs and current SEALs. I’ve been talking to operators in the community. There is palatable discontent.”
Arends, a 35-year old Iraq war veteran who has spent the last six years in conservative activist circles, started the group last fall during the Republican primaries.