Commentary Magazine


Topic: Richard Reid

Flotsam and Jetsam

The number of terrorists convicted in the criminal-justice system is 300. Or 195. Or 39, if you believe the ACLU.  Andy McCarthy writes: “It is disingenuous to low-ball the figure, as the ACLU does, in order to minimize the problem. It is equally disingenuous to exaggerate the figure, as DOJ is now doing, to create a myth of law-enforcement effectiveness (in order to discredit wartime military processes). Both of these plays are in the Left’s playbook. But guys, but when your objective is to hoodwink the public, you’re not supposed to run both plays at the same time! Can’t anybody here play this game?”

Obama is not turning out to be everything (anything?) the Left had hoped he’d be. Eli Lake reports: “President Obama is coming under pressure from Democrats and civil liberties groups for failing to fill positions on an oversight panel formed in 2004 to make sure the government does not spy improperly on U.S. citizens. … Since taking office, Mr. Obama has allowed the board to languish. He has not even spent the panel’s allocation from the fiscal 2010 budget.” Well, he hasn’t set up the High Value Interrogation group either, so the Left shouldn’t take it personally. He’s just not very good on following through.

But the key test for Democrats is not what they say in a hearing, but how they vote: “The Democratic chairman of the Senate Budget Committee said he is a skeptic of President Barack Obama’s long-term budget plan. Sen. Kent Conrad (N.D.) told White House officials Tuesday that the nation can’t accept the budget’s projected deficits at the end of this decade, which approach $1 trillion. ‘We are on an unsustainable course by any measure,’ Conrad said during his committee’s first hearing on the administration’s 2011 budget request. ‘I believe the president is taking us in the right direction over the next several years,’ he added. ‘But I must say I am very concerned about the long term.'”

More horrid polling for Blanche Lincoln: “Her GOP rivals, including Congressman John Boozman who is expected to enter the race on Saturday, all earn roughly 50% of the vote against the two-term Democrat. … Boozman, the newest entrant in the race, runs strongest among likely voters in Arkansas for now, beating Lincoln by 19 points, 54% to 35%. State Senator Gilbert Baker also leads Lincoln by 19, 52% to 33%. State Senate Minority Leader Kim Hendren posts a 51% to 35% lead over the incumbent.”

The Obami’s vendetta against Fox was a stunning success — for Fox. “Fox News had its best January in the history of the network, and was the only cable news network to grow year-to-year. FNC also had the top 13 programs on cable news in total viewers for the fifth month in a row, and the top 13 programs in the A25-54 demographic for the first time in more than five years.”

Sen. John Kerry: “We need a constitutional amendment to make it clear once and for all that corporations do not have the same free speech rights as individuals.” It may be a daft idea to amend the Constitution so as to restrict speech, but at least he’s more honest than the president. You can’t overrule a First Amendment decision by statute.

Sen. Judd Gregg will be missed when he retires. “Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag faced the wrath of Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., Tuesday during the Senate Budget Committee hearing on the Obama administration’s budget proposal for 2011. Gregg was irked about President Obama’s plan to unveil a new proposal to use $30 billion from Troubled Asset Relief Program funds to help community banks lend to small businesses at an event Tuesday afternoon in Nashua, NH — Gregg’s home state. ‘This proposal violates the law,’ Gregg said. ‘The whole concept of the TARP was as we recouped the money, we would use it to pay down the debt. Now that’s not going to happen. It’s become a piggy bank. A piggy bank which adds to our deficit.'”

Yes, Richard Reid was Mirandized. So what? John McCormack: “But the fact remains that it was a mistake to mirandize Abdulmutallab — just as it was a mistake to mirandize Reid. At what point will Democrats realize that the Bush administration’s mistakes are not an excuse for the Obama administration’s failures?” The answer is never. They ran against Bush, they won being against Bush, they crafted not-Bush national-security policies, and now they are convinced they can govern being not Bush (except when they repeat an error of the Bush administration). This is what comes from Bush Derangement Syndrome, I suppose.

The number of terrorists convicted in the criminal-justice system is 300. Or 195. Or 39, if you believe the ACLU.  Andy McCarthy writes: “It is disingenuous to low-ball the figure, as the ACLU does, in order to minimize the problem. It is equally disingenuous to exaggerate the figure, as DOJ is now doing, to create a myth of law-enforcement effectiveness (in order to discredit wartime military processes). Both of these plays are in the Left’s playbook. But guys, but when your objective is to hoodwink the public, you’re not supposed to run both plays at the same time! Can’t anybody here play this game?”

Obama is not turning out to be everything (anything?) the Left had hoped he’d be. Eli Lake reports: “President Obama is coming under pressure from Democrats and civil liberties groups for failing to fill positions on an oversight panel formed in 2004 to make sure the government does not spy improperly on U.S. citizens. … Since taking office, Mr. Obama has allowed the board to languish. He has not even spent the panel’s allocation from the fiscal 2010 budget.” Well, he hasn’t set up the High Value Interrogation group either, so the Left shouldn’t take it personally. He’s just not very good on following through.

But the key test for Democrats is not what they say in a hearing, but how they vote: “The Democratic chairman of the Senate Budget Committee said he is a skeptic of President Barack Obama’s long-term budget plan. Sen. Kent Conrad (N.D.) told White House officials Tuesday that the nation can’t accept the budget’s projected deficits at the end of this decade, which approach $1 trillion. ‘We are on an unsustainable course by any measure,’ Conrad said during his committee’s first hearing on the administration’s 2011 budget request. ‘I believe the president is taking us in the right direction over the next several years,’ he added. ‘But I must say I am very concerned about the long term.'”

More horrid polling for Blanche Lincoln: “Her GOP rivals, including Congressman John Boozman who is expected to enter the race on Saturday, all earn roughly 50% of the vote against the two-term Democrat. … Boozman, the newest entrant in the race, runs strongest among likely voters in Arkansas for now, beating Lincoln by 19 points, 54% to 35%. State Senator Gilbert Baker also leads Lincoln by 19, 52% to 33%. State Senate Minority Leader Kim Hendren posts a 51% to 35% lead over the incumbent.”

The Obami’s vendetta against Fox was a stunning success — for Fox. “Fox News had its best January in the history of the network, and was the only cable news network to grow year-to-year. FNC also had the top 13 programs on cable news in total viewers for the fifth month in a row, and the top 13 programs in the A25-54 demographic for the first time in more than five years.”

Sen. John Kerry: “We need a constitutional amendment to make it clear once and for all that corporations do not have the same free speech rights as individuals.” It may be a daft idea to amend the Constitution so as to restrict speech, but at least he’s more honest than the president. You can’t overrule a First Amendment decision by statute.

Sen. Judd Gregg will be missed when he retires. “Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag faced the wrath of Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., Tuesday during the Senate Budget Committee hearing on the Obama administration’s budget proposal for 2011. Gregg was irked about President Obama’s plan to unveil a new proposal to use $30 billion from Troubled Asset Relief Program funds to help community banks lend to small businesses at an event Tuesday afternoon in Nashua, NH — Gregg’s home state. ‘This proposal violates the law,’ Gregg said. ‘The whole concept of the TARP was as we recouped the money, we would use it to pay down the debt. Now that’s not going to happen. It’s become a piggy bank. A piggy bank which adds to our deficit.'”

Yes, Richard Reid was Mirandized. So what? John McCormack: “But the fact remains that it was a mistake to mirandize Abdulmutallab — just as it was a mistake to mirandize Reid. At what point will Democrats realize that the Bush administration’s mistakes are not an excuse for the Obama administration’s failures?” The answer is never. They ran against Bush, they won being against Bush, they crafted not-Bush national-security policies, and now they are convinced they can govern being not Bush (except when they repeat an error of the Bush administration). This is what comes from Bush Derangement Syndrome, I suppose.

Read Less

But Isn’t There a Downside?

This is an instructive exchange on Fox News Sunday between Obama’s counterterrorism advisor, John Brennan, and Chris Wallace, on the subject of treating the Christmas Day bomber as a criminal defendant. Why do this?

BRENNAN: Well, we have an array of tools that we will use, and we want to make sure we maintain flexibility as far as how we deal with these individuals.

Now, let’s get the facts on the table. He was arrested on U.S. soil on a plane on — in the Detroit airplane. He was, in fact, talking to people who were detaining him.

There were people who were arrested during the previous administration — Richard Reid, the shoe bomber; Zacarias Moussaoui; Padilla; Iyman Faris; others — all were charged and tried in criminal court and sentenced, some cases to life imprisonment.

Just because somebody is going to be put into the criminal legal process does not mean that they’re — we don’t have other opportunities to get information from them.

WALLACE: But wait, wait. Let me ask you specifically. After Abdulmutallab got lawyered up, did he stop cooperating with authorities? Did he stop talking?

BRENNAN: I’m not going to address exactly what he did before or after he was — talked with his lawyer. We got information. We continue to have opportunities to do that.

As you talk with the lawyers and you talk with the individuals, as they recognize what they’re facing as far as the charges, conviction and possible sentence, there are opportunities to continue to talk about it.

FBI has some of the best interrogators and debriefers in the world, and so I’m confident that we’re going to continue to be able to work this system and see whether or not…

WALLACE: But once he gets his Miranda rights, he doesn’t have to speak at all.

BRENNAN: He doesn’t have to, but he knows that there are certain things that are on the table, and if he wants to, in fact, engage with us in a productive manner, there are ways that he can do that.

WALLACE: But why not treat him — you certainly had the right — have — had — still have the right to treat him as an enemy combatant. Why not do that?

If he has more actionable intelligence about future attacks, and you say there’s a real possibility of that, doesn’t the president have a responsibility to do everything legal he can to get that information?

BRENNAN: And the president has that responsibility, and the Department of Justice makes these determinations about what’s the best tool to use. And in this instance, we felt as though it was the best way to address Mr. Abdulmutallab’s case.

We’ll continue to look at each of the cases individually and proceed accordingly.

WALLACE: Just briefly, what’s the downside of treating him as an enemy combatant?

BRENNAN: There’s — there are no downsides or upsides in particular cases. What we’re trying to do is to make sure we apply the right tool in the right instance. In this case, we made a determination that he should be tried in U.S. criminal court.

If you missed the coherent explanation for why they are doing this — other than the fact that the lefty lawyers in the Justice Department told them to — you are not alone. The lack of thoughtful analysis as to the national-security implications of treating Abdulmutallab as a criminal rather than as an enemy combatant is somewhat stunning. Yes, the terrorist doesn’t have to talk to us, but we have “certain things on the table.” What — we are already plea bargaining with an al-Qaeda trained terrorist? It is startling, but it is also the natural result of what comes from putting the criminal-justice model into place. Oh, he’s arrested here? So Mirandize him, call the FBI, and yes, I suppose, permit him to take the 5th. And when Brennan says that there is “no downsides or upsides in particular cases,” one has to wonder what in the world he is talking about. Of course there is a downside to allowing Abdulmutallab to clam up. Just as there would have been a downside had we allowed KSM to clam up. We lose potentially life-saving information when we stand quietly by.

The difference is that the Bush administration wasn’t willing to play Russian roulette with Americans lives or hope that detainees would eventually change their minds and co-operate. The Obama administration is. And that should be deeply disturbing to all of us.

This is an instructive exchange on Fox News Sunday between Obama’s counterterrorism advisor, John Brennan, and Chris Wallace, on the subject of treating the Christmas Day bomber as a criminal defendant. Why do this?

BRENNAN: Well, we have an array of tools that we will use, and we want to make sure we maintain flexibility as far as how we deal with these individuals.

Now, let’s get the facts on the table. He was arrested on U.S. soil on a plane on — in the Detroit airplane. He was, in fact, talking to people who were detaining him.

There were people who were arrested during the previous administration — Richard Reid, the shoe bomber; Zacarias Moussaoui; Padilla; Iyman Faris; others — all were charged and tried in criminal court and sentenced, some cases to life imprisonment.

Just because somebody is going to be put into the criminal legal process does not mean that they’re — we don’t have other opportunities to get information from them.

WALLACE: But wait, wait. Let me ask you specifically. After Abdulmutallab got lawyered up, did he stop cooperating with authorities? Did he stop talking?

BRENNAN: I’m not going to address exactly what he did before or after he was — talked with his lawyer. We got information. We continue to have opportunities to do that.

As you talk with the lawyers and you talk with the individuals, as they recognize what they’re facing as far as the charges, conviction and possible sentence, there are opportunities to continue to talk about it.

FBI has some of the best interrogators and debriefers in the world, and so I’m confident that we’re going to continue to be able to work this system and see whether or not…

WALLACE: But once he gets his Miranda rights, he doesn’t have to speak at all.

BRENNAN: He doesn’t have to, but he knows that there are certain things that are on the table, and if he wants to, in fact, engage with us in a productive manner, there are ways that he can do that.

WALLACE: But why not treat him — you certainly had the right — have — had — still have the right to treat him as an enemy combatant. Why not do that?

If he has more actionable intelligence about future attacks, and you say there’s a real possibility of that, doesn’t the president have a responsibility to do everything legal he can to get that information?

BRENNAN: And the president has that responsibility, and the Department of Justice makes these determinations about what’s the best tool to use. And in this instance, we felt as though it was the best way to address Mr. Abdulmutallab’s case.

We’ll continue to look at each of the cases individually and proceed accordingly.

WALLACE: Just briefly, what’s the downside of treating him as an enemy combatant?

BRENNAN: There’s — there are no downsides or upsides in particular cases. What we’re trying to do is to make sure we apply the right tool in the right instance. In this case, we made a determination that he should be tried in U.S. criminal court.

If you missed the coherent explanation for why they are doing this — other than the fact that the lefty lawyers in the Justice Department told them to — you are not alone. The lack of thoughtful analysis as to the national-security implications of treating Abdulmutallab as a criminal rather than as an enemy combatant is somewhat stunning. Yes, the terrorist doesn’t have to talk to us, but we have “certain things on the table.” What — we are already plea bargaining with an al-Qaeda trained terrorist? It is startling, but it is also the natural result of what comes from putting the criminal-justice model into place. Oh, he’s arrested here? So Mirandize him, call the FBI, and yes, I suppose, permit him to take the 5th. And when Brennan says that there is “no downsides or upsides in particular cases,” one has to wonder what in the world he is talking about. Of course there is a downside to allowing Abdulmutallab to clam up. Just as there would have been a downside had we allowed KSM to clam up. We lose potentially life-saving information when we stand quietly by.

The difference is that the Bush administration wasn’t willing to play Russian roulette with Americans lives or hope that detainees would eventually change their minds and co-operate. The Obama administration is. And that should be deeply disturbing to all of us.

Read Less

Profile Me if You Must

I don’t want to be profiled at the airport. It has happened before, and I hate it. Volunteering for more isn’t what I feel like doing right now, but our airport security system is so half-baked and dysfunctional it may as well not even exist, and flying is about to become more miserable anyway. So rather than doubling down on grandma and micromanaging everyone on the plane, we might want to pay as much attention to people as to their luggage, especially military-aged males who make unusual and suspicious-looking travel arrangements. That’s what the Israelis do, and that’s why security agents take me into a room and interrogate me every time I pass through Ben-Gurion International Airport.

Israeli airport security is the most thorough and strict in the world, as one might expect in one of the most terrorized countries. No plane leaving Ben-Gurion has ever been hijacked or otherwise attacked by a terrorist. The system works, yet you don’t have to take off your shoes in the security line, no one cares if you pack perfume from the duty-free in your carry-on, you can listen to your iPod 55 minutes before landing, and you don’t have to stand in front of invasive and expensive body-scanning machines.

The Israelis look for weapons, of course. You aren’t at all likely to sneak one on board. Just as important, though, the Israelis are on the look-out for terrorists. Who would you rather sit next to? A woman carrying shampoo and tweezers, or 9/11 hijacker Mohammad Atta, even if he’s not carrying anything?

Israeli security agents interview everyone, and they subject travelers who fit certain profiles to additional scrutiny. I don’t know exactly what their criteria are, but I do know they aren’t just taking Arabs and Muslims aside. They take me aside, too, partly because of my gender and age but mostly because a huge percentage of my passport stamps are from countries with serious terrorist problems.

“Does anyone in Lebanon know you’re here?” they usually ask me. They’ve also asked if I’ve ever met with anyone in Hezbollah. I am not going to lie during an airport security interview, especially not when the answer can be easily found using Google. They know I’ve met with Hezbollah. That’s why my luggage gets hand-searched one sock at a time while elderly tourists from Florida skate through. I can’t say I enjoy this procedure, but I don’t take it personally, and it makes a lot more sense than letting me skate through while grandma’s luggage is hand-searched instead.

The United States need not and should not import the Israeli system. It’s labor intensive, slow, and at times incredibly aggravating. Americans wouldn’t put up with it, and it wouldn’t scale well. The one thing we can and should learn from the Israelis, though, is that we need to pay as much attention to who gets on airplanes as to what they’re bringing on board.

I don’t like being profiled, but the Israelis aren’t wrong for looking more closely at me than at, say, an 80-year-old black woman from Kansas or a 12-year-old kid from Japan. When I get on a plane in the United States, though, I often breeze past women decades older than me while they’re being frisked. Almost every single person in line knows it’s ridiculous. We don’t say anything, partly because we don’t want to get in trouble, and partly because it feels vaguely “fair.”

Maybe it is, but it’s no way to catch terrorists. And it’s not as if the only alternative is a separate policy for Arabs and Muslims. Racial and religious profiling won’t even work. Shoe bomber Richard Reid wouldn’t have been caught that way, and it’s probably safe to let a 90 year-old woman from Dubai through with minimal hassle.

Right now there appears to be no effort whatsoever to discriminate among passengers using any criteria, let alone racist criteria. “Pants bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab did not have a passport, did not have any luggage, and bought a one-way ticket with cash. His name is in a database of possible terrorists. Any Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, or all-American white boys from Iowa who fit that description should be stopped. Abdulmutallab wasn’t stopped. In 2004, though, Senator Ted Kennedy found himself with his name on the no-fly list.

The TSA’s whole mindset is wrong. Its agents confiscate things, even harmless things, and they apply additional scrutiny to things carried by people selected at random. If they were also tasked with looking for dangerous people, they would rightly ease up on grandmothers and senators, and they’d have a competently compiled list in the computer of those who are known to be dangerous. And if some kind of broad profiling means I’ll have to suffer the indignity of being frisked while the nun in line behind me does not, it’s no worse, really, than the embarrassment and contempt I’ll feel if the nun gets frisked instead.

Security agents will never find everything or everyone. It’s impossible. Abdulmutallab sewed a bomb into his underwear. Not even the most draconian new rules imaginable will allow agents to search inside anyone’s underwear. Patting down grandpa below the mid-thigh won’t do any good. Patting down Abdulmutallab below the mid-thigh wouldn’t have done any good either — all the more reason to start paying as much attention to people as to what they carry.

I don’t want to be profiled at the airport. It has happened before, and I hate it. Volunteering for more isn’t what I feel like doing right now, but our airport security system is so half-baked and dysfunctional it may as well not even exist, and flying is about to become more miserable anyway. So rather than doubling down on grandma and micromanaging everyone on the plane, we might want to pay as much attention to people as to their luggage, especially military-aged males who make unusual and suspicious-looking travel arrangements. That’s what the Israelis do, and that’s why security agents take me into a room and interrogate me every time I pass through Ben-Gurion International Airport.

Israeli airport security is the most thorough and strict in the world, as one might expect in one of the most terrorized countries. No plane leaving Ben-Gurion has ever been hijacked or otherwise attacked by a terrorist. The system works, yet you don’t have to take off your shoes in the security line, no one cares if you pack perfume from the duty-free in your carry-on, you can listen to your iPod 55 minutes before landing, and you don’t have to stand in front of invasive and expensive body-scanning machines.

The Israelis look for weapons, of course. You aren’t at all likely to sneak one on board. Just as important, though, the Israelis are on the look-out for terrorists. Who would you rather sit next to? A woman carrying shampoo and tweezers, or 9/11 hijacker Mohammad Atta, even if he’s not carrying anything?

Israeli security agents interview everyone, and they subject travelers who fit certain profiles to additional scrutiny. I don’t know exactly what their criteria are, but I do know they aren’t just taking Arabs and Muslims aside. They take me aside, too, partly because of my gender and age but mostly because a huge percentage of my passport stamps are from countries with serious terrorist problems.

“Does anyone in Lebanon know you’re here?” they usually ask me. They’ve also asked if I’ve ever met with anyone in Hezbollah. I am not going to lie during an airport security interview, especially not when the answer can be easily found using Google. They know I’ve met with Hezbollah. That’s why my luggage gets hand-searched one sock at a time while elderly tourists from Florida skate through. I can’t say I enjoy this procedure, but I don’t take it personally, and it makes a lot more sense than letting me skate through while grandma’s luggage is hand-searched instead.

The United States need not and should not import the Israeli system. It’s labor intensive, slow, and at times incredibly aggravating. Americans wouldn’t put up with it, and it wouldn’t scale well. The one thing we can and should learn from the Israelis, though, is that we need to pay as much attention to who gets on airplanes as to what they’re bringing on board.

I don’t like being profiled, but the Israelis aren’t wrong for looking more closely at me than at, say, an 80-year-old black woman from Kansas or a 12-year-old kid from Japan. When I get on a plane in the United States, though, I often breeze past women decades older than me while they’re being frisked. Almost every single person in line knows it’s ridiculous. We don’t say anything, partly because we don’t want to get in trouble, and partly because it feels vaguely “fair.”

Maybe it is, but it’s no way to catch terrorists. And it’s not as if the only alternative is a separate policy for Arabs and Muslims. Racial and religious profiling won’t even work. Shoe bomber Richard Reid wouldn’t have been caught that way, and it’s probably safe to let a 90 year-old woman from Dubai through with minimal hassle.

Right now there appears to be no effort whatsoever to discriminate among passengers using any criteria, let alone racist criteria. “Pants bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab did not have a passport, did not have any luggage, and bought a one-way ticket with cash. His name is in a database of possible terrorists. Any Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, or all-American white boys from Iowa who fit that description should be stopped. Abdulmutallab wasn’t stopped. In 2004, though, Senator Ted Kennedy found himself with his name on the no-fly list.

The TSA’s whole mindset is wrong. Its agents confiscate things, even harmless things, and they apply additional scrutiny to things carried by people selected at random. If they were also tasked with looking for dangerous people, they would rightly ease up on grandmothers and senators, and they’d have a competently compiled list in the computer of those who are known to be dangerous. And if some kind of broad profiling means I’ll have to suffer the indignity of being frisked while the nun in line behind me does not, it’s no worse, really, than the embarrassment and contempt I’ll feel if the nun gets frisked instead.

Security agents will never find everything or everyone. It’s impossible. Abdulmutallab sewed a bomb into his underwear. Not even the most draconian new rules imaginable will allow agents to search inside anyone’s underwear. Patting down grandpa below the mid-thigh won’t do any good. Patting down Abdulmutallab below the mid-thigh wouldn’t have done any good either — all the more reason to start paying as much attention to people as to what they carry.

Read Less

The Politics of Whining

Democrats are whimpering that Obama is being treated unfairly, that George W. Bush didn’t get as much criticism in handling shoe-bomber Richard Reid, and that those nasty Republicans are ganging up on the president. Really, this is sounding remarkably akin to an eight year-old who thinks his older brother was given favorable treatment by the relatives. And let me guess: the worst possible argument that Democrats could make right now is: “The media liked Bush better!”

But let’s consider why Bush was not lambasted in the same manner as Obama. Marc Thiessen explains:

The Richard Reid attack came almost immediately after 9/11, long before we figured out that we had other options than handing him over to law enforcement. After that came Jose Padilla, who was arrested at the Chicago airport on a mission from KSM to blow up apartment buildings in the United States. He was taken out of the criminal-justice system, declared an illegal enemy combatant, and transferred to the Charleston brig for interrogation.

The reason Obama is being savaged is that he and his crew appear to have learned nothing from 9/11. As Ruth Marcus put it:

The more I think about the Christmas all-but-bombing, the angrier I get. At the multiple failures that allowed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to get on the plane with explosives sewn in his underwear. And at the Obama administration’s initial, everything’s-fine-everybody-move-right-along reaction. . .

How can it be that screening technology is so lacking so long after the 9/11 Commission called for “priority attention” to detect explosives on passengers?

How can it be that our best line of defense seems to have been a combination of incompetence and bravery — incompetence by the attacker whose device failed to detonate properly, and bravery by passengers who acted so quickly to subdue him and put out the fire?

And how can it be, in the face of all this, that the administration’s communications strategy, cooked up on a conference call, was to assure us that officials were looking into things but in the meantime we should settle down?

(I think we can agree that when Marcus sounds like me, the Obama administration is in deep trouble.)

And there is more than the specifics of the incident or the fact that Obama had prior experiences to guide him this time around. Very clearly, Obama simply doesn’t match up favorably to his predecessor when it comes to the war on terror. Never for a moment did we doubt that Bush understood we were at war, who we were fighting, and the need to dump the criminal-justice model. We never had the sense that Bush was engaged in some grand experiment to cajole and flatter our enemies into giving up their grievances. And never did we believe the war on terror was not his top priority. Who can say that about Obama?

If Obama wants to indulge in liberal fantasies about how to “improve our image” with would-be terrorists, revert to a pre-9/11 model and give lackadaisical press conferences, so be it. But then he can’t expect to escape criticism for being . . . well . . . not George Bush.

Democrats are whimpering that Obama is being treated unfairly, that George W. Bush didn’t get as much criticism in handling shoe-bomber Richard Reid, and that those nasty Republicans are ganging up on the president. Really, this is sounding remarkably akin to an eight year-old who thinks his older brother was given favorable treatment by the relatives. And let me guess: the worst possible argument that Democrats could make right now is “The media liked Bush better!”

But let’s consider why Bush was not lambasted in the same manner as Obama. Marc Thiessen explains:

The Richard Reid attack came almost immediately after 9/11, long before we figured out that we had other options than handing him over to law enforcement. After that came Jose Padilla, who was arrested at the Chicago airport on a mission from KSM to blow up apartment buildings in the United States. He was taken out of the criminal-justice system, declared an illegal enemy combatant, and transferred to the Charleston brig for interrogation.

The reason Obama is being savaged is that he and his crew appear to have learned nothing from 9/11. As Ruth Marcus put it:

The more I think about the Christmas all-but-bombing, the angrier I get. At the multiple failures that allowed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to get on the plane with explosives sewn in his underwear. And at the Obama administration’s initial, everything’s-fine-everybody-move-right-along reaction. . .

How can it be that screening technology is so lacking so long after the 9/11 Commission called for “priority attention” to detect explosives on passengers?

How can it be that our best line of defense seems to have been a combination of incompetence and bravery — incompetence by the attacker whose device failed to detonate properly, and bravery by passengers who acted so quickly to subdue him and put out the fire?

And how can it be, in the face of all this, that the administration’s communications strategy, cooked up on a conference call, was to assure us that officials were looking into things but in the meantime we should settle down?

(I think we can agree that when Marcus sounds like me, the Obama administration is in deep trouble.)

And there is more than the specifics of the incident or the fact that Obama had prior experiences to guide him this time around. Very clearly, Obama simply doesn’t match up favorably to his predecessor when it comes to the war on terror. Never for a moment did we doubt that Bush understood we were at war, who we were fighting, and the need to dump the criminal-justice model. We never had the sense that Bush was engaged in some grand experiment to cajole and flatter our enemies into giving up their grievances. And never did we believe the war on terror was not his top priority. Who can say that about Obama?

If Obama wants to indulge in liberal fantasies about how to “improve our image” with would-be terrorists, revert to a pre-9/11 model and give lackadaisical press conferences, so be it. But then he can’t expect to escape criticism for being . . . well . . . not George Bush.

Democrats are whimpering that Obama is being treated unfairly, that George W. Bush didn’t get as much criticism in handling shoe-bomber Richard Reid, and that those nasty Republicans are ganging up on the president. Really, this is sounding remarkably akin to an eight year-old who thinks his older brother was given favorable treatment by the relatives. And let me guess: the worst possible argument that Democrats could make right now is: “The media liked Bush better!”

But let’s consider why Bush was not lambasted in the same manner as Obama. Marc Thiessen explains:

The Richard Reid attack came almost immediately after 9/11, long before we figured out that we had other options than handing him over to law enforcement. After that came Jose Padilla, who was arrested at the Chicago airport on a mission from KSM to blow up apartment buildings in the United States. He was taken out of the criminal-justice system, declared an illegal enemy combatant, and transferred to the Charleston brig for interrogation.

The reason Obama is being savaged is that he and his crew appear to have learned nothing from 9/11. As Ruth Marcus put it:

The more I think about the Christmas all-but-bombing, the angrier I get. At the multiple failures that allowed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to get on the plane with explosives sewn in his underwear. And at the Obama administration’s initial, everything’s-fine-everybody-move-right-along reaction. . .

How can it be that screening technology is so lacking so long after the 9/11 Commission called for “priority attention” to detect explosives on passengers?

How can it be that our best line of defense seems to have been a combination of incompetence and bravery — incompetence by the attacker whose device failed to detonate properly, and bravery by passengers who acted so quickly to subdue him and put out the fire?

And how can it be, in the face of all this, that the administration’s communications strategy, cooked up on a conference call, was to assure us that officials were looking into things but in the meantime we should settle down?

(I think we can agree that when Marcus sounds like me, the Obama administration is in deep trouble.)

And there is more than the specifics of the incident or the fact that Obama had prior experiences to guide him this time around. Very clearly, Obama simply doesn’t match up favorably to his predecessor when it comes to the war on terror. Never for a moment did we doubt that Bush understood we were at war, who we were fighting, and the need to dump the criminal-justice model. We never had the sense that Bush was engaged in some grand experiment to cajole and flatter our enemies into giving up their grievances. And never did we believe the war on terror was not his top priority. Who can say that about Obama?

If Obama wants to indulge in liberal fantasies about how to “improve our image” with would-be terrorists, revert to a pre-9/11 model and give lackadaisical press conferences, so be it. But then he can’t expect to escape criticism for being . . . well . . . not George Bush.

Democrats are whimpering that Obama is being treated unfairly, that George W. Bush didn’t get as much criticism in handling shoe-bomber Richard Reid, and that those nasty Republicans are ganging up on the president. Really, this is sounding remarkably akin to an eight year-old who thinks his older brother was given favorable treatment by the relatives. And let me guess: the worst possible argument that Democrats could make right now is “The media liked Bush better!”

But let’s consider why Bush was not lambasted in the same manner as Obama. Marc Thiessen explains:

The Richard Reid attack came almost immediately after 9/11, long before we figured out that we had other options than handing him over to law enforcement. After that came Jose Padilla, who was arrested at the Chicago airport on a mission from KSM to blow up apartment buildings in the United States. He was taken out of the criminal-justice system, declared an illegal enemy combatant, and transferred to the Charleston brig for interrogation.

The reason Obama is being savaged is that he and his crew appear to have learned nothing from 9/11. As Ruth Marcus put it:

The more I think about the Christmas all-but-bombing, the angrier I get. At the multiple failures that allowed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to get on the plane with explosives sewn in his underwear. And at the Obama administration’s initial, everything’s-fine-everybody-move-right-along reaction. . .

How can it be that screening technology is so lacking so long after the 9/11 Commission called for “priority attention” to detect explosives on passengers?

How can it be that our best line of defense seems to have been a combination of incompetence and bravery — incompetence by the attacker whose device failed to detonate properly, and bravery by passengers who acted so quickly to subdue him and put out the fire?

And how can it be, in the face of all this, that the administration’s communications strategy, cooked up on a conference call, was to assure us that officials were looking into things but in the meantime we should settle down?

(I think we can agree that when Marcus sounds like me, the Obama administration is in deep trouble.)

And there is more than the specifics of the incident or the fact that Obama had prior experiences to guide him this time around. Very clearly, Obama simply doesn’t match up favorably to his predecessor when it comes to the war on terror. Never for a moment did we doubt that Bush understood we were at war, who we were fighting, and the need to dump the criminal-justice model. We never had the sense that Bush was engaged in some grand experiment to cajole and flatter our enemies into giving up their grievances. And never did we believe the war on terror was not his top priority. Who can say that about Obama?

If Obama wants to indulge in liberal fantasies about how to “improve our image” with would-be terrorists, revert to a pre-9/11 model and give lackadaisical press conferences, so be it. But then he can’t expect to escape criticism for being . . . well . . . not George Bush.

Read Less

In a Nutshell

Notice the language the president employs to describe an act of terrorism on the homeland:

On Christmas Day, Northwest Airlines Flight 253 was en route from Amsterdam, Netherlands, to Detroit. As the plane made its final approach to Detroit Metropolitan Airport, a passenger allegedly tried to ignite an explosive device on his body, setting off a fire.

Thanks to the quick and heroic actions of passengers and crew, the suspect was immediately subdued, the fire was put out, and the plane landed safely. The suspect is now in custody and has been charged with attempting to destroy an aircraft.

Allegedly. Suspect. Charged with attempting to destroy an aircraft. Would one ever guess this is anything but a routine criminal escapade? Of course not. We have Mirandized the “suspect” who is lawyered up. We can look forward to the civilian trial — if we can be so bold as to assume there is sufficient evidence to indict him — and if convicted (after a full trial  complete with the defendant’s explanation of his “justification” for his “crime”) he will be incarcerated in a U.S. prison where he can share his views on Islamic fundamentalism with its entire population, to which he will have full access after objecting (as did Richard Reid) to any unusual restrictions on contact with fellow prisoners or with his comrades on the outside. Feel safer yet?

Notice the language the president employs to describe an act of terrorism on the homeland:

On Christmas Day, Northwest Airlines Flight 253 was en route from Amsterdam, Netherlands, to Detroit. As the plane made its final approach to Detroit Metropolitan Airport, a passenger allegedly tried to ignite an explosive device on his body, setting off a fire.

Thanks to the quick and heroic actions of passengers and crew, the suspect was immediately subdued, the fire was put out, and the plane landed safely. The suspect is now in custody and has been charged with attempting to destroy an aircraft.

Allegedly. Suspect. Charged with attempting to destroy an aircraft. Would one ever guess this is anything but a routine criminal escapade? Of course not. We have Mirandized the “suspect” who is lawyered up. We can look forward to the civilian trial — if we can be so bold as to assume there is sufficient evidence to indict him — and if convicted (after a full trial  complete with the defendant’s explanation of his “justification” for his “crime”) he will be incarcerated in a U.S. prison where he can share his views on Islamic fundamentalism with its entire population, to which he will have full access after objecting (as did Richard Reid) to any unusual restrictions on contact with fellow prisoners or with his comrades on the outside. Feel safer yet?

Read Less

Needed: Wartime Commander in Chief

If nothing else, the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab should remind us that the “war on terror” (oh, that now banished phrase!) was not dreamed up by some neocon conspiracy bent on curtailing Americans’ civil liberties and on colonizing poor defenseless countries. It is nothing but a simple, accurate description of the threat we face from Islamist extremists bent on mass murder to advance their deranged worldview.

It is not only luck that has kept us (relatively) safe since 9/11, aside from a few random nuts like the Beltway sniper (John Allen Muhammad) and the Fort Hood shooter (Major Malik Nadal Hasan). There has been no lack of larger plots against American targets here and abroad. A few, such as the attempted bombings by Richard Reid and Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab, have been foiled by a combination of bad planning on the part of the terrorists and active resistance by airline passengers. Many more plots, such as the attempt to blow up airliners flying across the Atlantic by using liquid explosives, have been defeated by active intelligence and law enforcement work. A vital contribution to that work has been made by the Patriot Act and other post-9/11 changes, which have made it easier to wiretap suspects, share intelligence, and (don’t forget) aggressively interrogate captured terrorists and keep them in custody even if they cannot be convicted beyond a shadow of a doubt in a civil court.

Unfortunately all too many people have drawn the wrong lesson from these post-9/11 successes, concluding that we are so safe that we can go back to the pre-9/11 status quo, back when we treated terrorism as a law-enforcement problem and nothing more. This has become the conventional wisdom of the mainstream, left-wing of the Democratic Party and a tiny, right-wing fringe of the Republican Party (Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan), which see the U.S. government as the biggest threat we face—not al-Qaeda and its fellow travelers.

It would be unfair to say that President Obama has bought into this worldview. To his credit, he has continued an active program of using drones and Special Forces to assassinate terrorist kingpins from Pakistan to Somalia; has ramped up our military efforts in Afghanistan; and has continued an active program of intelligence and military cooperation designed to allow states such as Yemen and the Philippines to fight their own wars on terror. Moreover, he has signed off on wider wiretapping and intelligence-gathering authority than the ACLU is comfortable with. But there are certainly some worrisome trends evident from this administration, which insists on trying Khalid Sheikh Muhammad in a civilian court, which has banned the use of all stress techniques in interrogation, and which continues releasing detainees from Guantanamo, many of whom go right back to the sorts of activities that got them interred in the first place. And let us not forget the president’s unwillingness to get tough with Iran, whose nuclear-weapons program could before long radically increase the chances of our allies’ suffering a nuclear terrorist attack.

Obama has actually been a little tougher on terrorism (and Iraq and Afghanistan) than his record as an ultra-liberal senator would have led us to expect; certainly a lot tougher than Michael Moore or his ilk would like him to be. But not perhaps as tough as the situation demands. If there is any good that comes out of the attempted bombing of the Detroit flight, or the Iranians’ rejections of his naive overtures, it is that he may finally shed some of his remaining illusions about the world and start acting more as a wartime commander in chief should.

If nothing else, the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab should remind us that the “war on terror” (oh, that now banished phrase!) was not dreamed up by some neocon conspiracy bent on curtailing Americans’ civil liberties and on colonizing poor defenseless countries. It is nothing but a simple, accurate description of the threat we face from Islamist extremists bent on mass murder to advance their deranged worldview.

It is not only luck that has kept us (relatively) safe since 9/11, aside from a few random nuts like the Beltway sniper (John Allen Muhammad) and the Fort Hood shooter (Major Malik Nadal Hasan). There has been no lack of larger plots against American targets here and abroad. A few, such as the attempted bombings by Richard Reid and Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab, have been foiled by a combination of bad planning on the part of the terrorists and active resistance by airline passengers. Many more plots, such as the attempt to blow up airliners flying across the Atlantic by using liquid explosives, have been defeated by active intelligence and law enforcement work. A vital contribution to that work has been made by the Patriot Act and other post-9/11 changes, which have made it easier to wiretap suspects, share intelligence, and (don’t forget) aggressively interrogate captured terrorists and keep them in custody even if they cannot be convicted beyond a shadow of a doubt in a civil court.

Unfortunately all too many people have drawn the wrong lesson from these post-9/11 successes, concluding that we are so safe that we can go back to the pre-9/11 status quo, back when we treated terrorism as a law-enforcement problem and nothing more. This has become the conventional wisdom of the mainstream, left-wing of the Democratic Party and a tiny, right-wing fringe of the Republican Party (Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan), which see the U.S. government as the biggest threat we face—not al-Qaeda and its fellow travelers.

It would be unfair to say that President Obama has bought into this worldview. To his credit, he has continued an active program of using drones and Special Forces to assassinate terrorist kingpins from Pakistan to Somalia; has ramped up our military efforts in Afghanistan; and has continued an active program of intelligence and military cooperation designed to allow states such as Yemen and the Philippines to fight their own wars on terror. Moreover, he has signed off on wider wiretapping and intelligence-gathering authority than the ACLU is comfortable with. But there are certainly some worrisome trends evident from this administration, which insists on trying Khalid Sheikh Muhammad in a civilian court, which has banned the use of all stress techniques in interrogation, and which continues releasing detainees from Guantanamo, many of whom go right back to the sorts of activities that got them interred in the first place. And let us not forget the president’s unwillingness to get tough with Iran, whose nuclear-weapons program could before long radically increase the chances of our allies’ suffering a nuclear terrorist attack.

Obama has actually been a little tougher on terrorism (and Iraq and Afghanistan) than his record as an ultra-liberal senator would have led us to expect; certainly a lot tougher than Michael Moore or his ilk would like him to be. But not perhaps as tough as the situation demands. If there is any good that comes out of the attempted bombing of the Detroit flight, or the Iranians’ rejections of his naive overtures, it is that he may finally shed some of his remaining illusions about the world and start acting more as a wartime commander in chief should.

Read Less

Incentives for Terrorists

Reader Ben Orlanski weighed in yesterday with a key point on the treatment of Guantanamo detainees. His e-mail to Max Boot and me reads, in part:

The principal danger is further undermining the Geneva Conventions. These were, as you two know better than anyone, conventions to protect innocents by incentivizing decent behavior in war. Hence, protections are granted to those who fight decently, and are denied to those who don’t. The great danger here is that, by treating the indecent with decency, we undermine the very distinction the Geneva Conventions were designed to uphold, which, therefore, makes indecency (i.e., terrorism) more attractive, because it has more benefits and fewer disadvantages. … Obama’s plans to move terrorists to the US mainland is just another step in the same direction that has us trying KSM in civilian court.

Ben notes that some of the blurring of distinctions has already occurred thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court but argues it would be a mistake to compound the error. He directs our attention to a recent column by Bill McGurn, who detailed this argument in connection with the KSM trial:

We don’t often speak of incentives in war. That’s a loss, because the whole idea of, say, Geneva rights is based on the idea of providing combatants with incentives to do things that help limit the bloodiness of battle. These include wearing a uniform, carrying arms openly, not targeting civilians, and so on. Terrorists recognize none of these things. …

Why fight the Marines and risk getting killed yourself or locked up in Bagram forever when you can blow up American citizens on their own streets and gain the legal protections that give you a chance to go free? With this one step, Mr. Holder is giving al Qaeda a ghastly incentive: to focus more of their attacks on American civilians on American home soil.

And the argument, as Ben points out, is equally applicable to the planned closing of Guantanamo and the relocation of its detainees to U.S. prisons. Indeed, it seems to be the Obama team’s motive to eradicate the distinction between common criminals and the terrorists/detainees, not to mention the distinction (now partially eradicated) between terrorists and those who historically have been afforded protection under the Geneva Convention. The Obami intend to give the terrorists civilian trials, place them within the geographic jurisdiction of federal courts, house them in American prisons, and, as we saw with Richard Reid, afford them all the rights and privileges of ordinary criminals should they complain about their treatment.

In doing so, the administration not only provides perverse incentives to terrorists. It also conveys to them that, while they see this as a war, we do not. And that is the worst message we can possibly send.

Reader Ben Orlanski weighed in yesterday with a key point on the treatment of Guantanamo detainees. His e-mail to Max Boot and me reads, in part:

The principal danger is further undermining the Geneva Conventions. These were, as you two know better than anyone, conventions to protect innocents by incentivizing decent behavior in war. Hence, protections are granted to those who fight decently, and are denied to those who don’t. The great danger here is that, by treating the indecent with decency, we undermine the very distinction the Geneva Conventions were designed to uphold, which, therefore, makes indecency (i.e., terrorism) more attractive, because it has more benefits and fewer disadvantages. … Obama’s plans to move terrorists to the US mainland is just another step in the same direction that has us trying KSM in civilian court.

Ben notes that some of the blurring of distinctions has already occurred thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court but argues it would be a mistake to compound the error. He directs our attention to a recent column by Bill McGurn, who detailed this argument in connection with the KSM trial:

We don’t often speak of incentives in war. That’s a loss, because the whole idea of, say, Geneva rights is based on the idea of providing combatants with incentives to do things that help limit the bloodiness of battle. These include wearing a uniform, carrying arms openly, not targeting civilians, and so on. Terrorists recognize none of these things. …

Why fight the Marines and risk getting killed yourself or locked up in Bagram forever when you can blow up American citizens on their own streets and gain the legal protections that give you a chance to go free? With this one step, Mr. Holder is giving al Qaeda a ghastly incentive: to focus more of their attacks on American civilians on American home soil.

And the argument, as Ben points out, is equally applicable to the planned closing of Guantanamo and the relocation of its detainees to U.S. prisons. Indeed, it seems to be the Obama team’s motive to eradicate the distinction between common criminals and the terrorists/detainees, not to mention the distinction (now partially eradicated) between terrorists and those who historically have been afforded protection under the Geneva Convention. The Obami intend to give the terrorists civilian trials, place them within the geographic jurisdiction of federal courts, house them in American prisons, and, as we saw with Richard Reid, afford them all the rights and privileges of ordinary criminals should they complain about their treatment.

In doing so, the administration not only provides perverse incentives to terrorists. It also conveys to them that, while they see this as a war, we do not. And that is the worst message we can possibly send.

Read Less

RE: No Risk, They Say?

I seldom find myself in disagreement with my colleague Jen Rubin. This is one of those rare occasions. I am not as alarmed as she is by the prospect of moving detainees from Guantanamo to a super-max prison in Illinois. She cites an ABC News report to highlight the dangers but, in fact, I think the ABC report makes the case for the transfer. It notes that ultra-dangerous al-Qaeda prisoners are already being held at the supermax prison in Florence, Colordao, including the so-called “20th hijacker” Zacharias Moussaoui, the shoe bomber Richard Reid, the first World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef, and dirty bomber Jose Padilla. All of them “ have essentially disappeared inside the Colorado facility.” One of their defense attorneys is quoted complaining, “ It’s a bleak and brutal existence that’s defined by, essentially an 8 x 10 rectangle in which they live. There is no socialization whatsoever and the isolation itself is extremely damaging.”

While it may not make a defense attorney happy, that’s exactly the fate that I would like to see befall more terrorists. What about the risks that Jen mentions? It’s true that the “blind sheikh,” Omar Abdel Rahman, was able to communicate with his followers via his lawyer but that’s also possible in Guantanamo where the detainees now have access to attorneys. And it’s true that another al-Qaeda terrorist, Mamdouh Salim, who was being held temporarily at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York, was able to stab a guard with a sharpened comb in an unsuccessful attempt to escape. But that could happen at Gitmo too. In any case, security is tighter at supermax facilities. No one, as far as I know, has ever escaped from such a facility.

The most compelling argument against transferring the Gitmo detainees isn’t the worry that they will break out or convey forbidden information through their lawyers. Rather, it is that they may gain new legal rights by being brought to U.S. soil. I am not a lawyer, and stand ready to be corrected on this score, but my understanding is that they have already gained a lot of rights even while in Gitmo thanks to Supreme Court rulings. Only if they gain significant new legal protections that make their release more likely should a transfer to the mainland be banned. If they can be held securely in a supermax facility without having to be brought before a civilian court for trial, it makes sense to do so because, essentially, that would be a cosmetic change that would undo some of the public-relations damage wrought to America’s reputation by the Gitmo facility while not compromising our security.

I seldom find myself in disagreement with my colleague Jen Rubin. This is one of those rare occasions. I am not as alarmed as she is by the prospect of moving detainees from Guantanamo to a super-max prison in Illinois. She cites an ABC News report to highlight the dangers but, in fact, I think the ABC report makes the case for the transfer. It notes that ultra-dangerous al-Qaeda prisoners are already being held at the supermax prison in Florence, Colordao, including the so-called “20th hijacker” Zacharias Moussaoui, the shoe bomber Richard Reid, the first World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef, and dirty bomber Jose Padilla. All of them “ have essentially disappeared inside the Colorado facility.” One of their defense attorneys is quoted complaining, “ It’s a bleak and brutal existence that’s defined by, essentially an 8 x 10 rectangle in which they live. There is no socialization whatsoever and the isolation itself is extremely damaging.”

While it may not make a defense attorney happy, that’s exactly the fate that I would like to see befall more terrorists. What about the risks that Jen mentions? It’s true that the “blind sheikh,” Omar Abdel Rahman, was able to communicate with his followers via his lawyer but that’s also possible in Guantanamo where the detainees now have access to attorneys. And it’s true that another al-Qaeda terrorist, Mamdouh Salim, who was being held temporarily at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York, was able to stab a guard with a sharpened comb in an unsuccessful attempt to escape. But that could happen at Gitmo too. In any case, security is tighter at supermax facilities. No one, as far as I know, has ever escaped from such a facility.

The most compelling argument against transferring the Gitmo detainees isn’t the worry that they will break out or convey forbidden information through their lawyers. Rather, it is that they may gain new legal rights by being brought to U.S. soil. I am not a lawyer, and stand ready to be corrected on this score, but my understanding is that they have already gained a lot of rights even while in Gitmo thanks to Supreme Court rulings. Only if they gain significant new legal protections that make their release more likely should a transfer to the mainland be banned. If they can be held securely in a supermax facility without having to be brought before a civilian court for trial, it makes sense to do so because, essentially, that would be a cosmetic change that would undo some of the public-relations damage wrought to America’s reputation by the Gitmo facility while not compromising our security.

Read Less

Not Keeping America Safe

Liz Cheney and Debra Burlingame (board members of Keep America Safe), Eileen Trotta (the sister of Officer Louis Pepe, a former federal prison guard who was stabbed in the eye by an al-Qaeda terrorist 10 months before 9/11), and former federal prosecutor Andy McCarthy held a conference call to discuss the decision to move Guantanamo detainees to the Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois. Cheney was blunt, declaring that this was further evidence that the Obama administration was “dedicated to turning the clock back” to a failed pre-9/11 approach, which treated terrorism as a criminal-justice matter. Once here, she explained, the detainees will have “all the rights of U.S. citizens” and the opportunity to seek release onto U.S. soil. They will also have the freedom to plan and plot other terrorist activities, as well as to “radicalize the prison population.” She noted that the Obama team has “no stomach” for keeping in place restrictions on terrorists once they’re in U.S. facilities, pointing to the case of shoe bomber Richard Reid, who after a hunger strike and legal complaint got the restrictions on mail, media access, etc. lifted. (Burlingame later added that it was discovered that the 1993 World Trade Center bombers managed to send some 90 letters to terrorist networks, which used them as prime recruiting tools.)

I asked Cheney what the administration hoped to gain by this, since terrorists would still have to be indefinitely detained and we were simply going to have to re-create the Guantanamo facility on U.S. soil. She confessed that it was “impossible to get inside their heads,” but she emphasized that each and every action of the president should be assessed as to whether it would make Americans safer. She said there is simply “no way to argue” that this makes us safer. She deemed the argument that this will create jobs “disgraceful,” reminding those on the call that there was an overpopulation problem in U.S. prisons and that other prisoners could be moved and the Illinois facility enhanced if they wanted to boost local jobs. She reiterated that Guantanamo is both a “safe and just facility” and that there is “no legitimate justification” for moving them.

In response to a similar query from USA Today as to whether this was an administration effort to eliminate Guantanamo as a “recruiting tool,” Cheney said that the media should “challenge them to show evidence” that it was Guantanamo that was responsible for terror recruitment. Terrorists “are not attacking America because of the way they are detained” but, she explained, because of their hateful Islamic fundamentalist ideology. McCarthy added, “A pretext is not a cause.” It is Islamic ideology and signs of American weakness that, he noted, are what spur recruitment, according to terrorists (including the 1993 bombers) who have been debriefed.

I asked McCarthy what Congress could do. Congress has “remedies,” he noted, including the power to decline funding. Congress is also the “master of federal jurisdiction” and can use that power, for example in the KSM trial, to declare U.S. courts off-limits to enemy combatants. It is, he argues, incumbent on Congress to use “the power of the purse … but also to say in resolutions that this is not the way we want to go.”

This is a preview of the debate that will take place, both in Congress and in the 2010 elections. The question remains: do we want to move terrorists to U.S. soil and treat them as U.S. citizens, with all the attendant rights and security risks? The American people overwhelmingly have rejected this idea. But the Obami say they know better. We’ll see who wins the argument.

Liz Cheney and Debra Burlingame (board members of Keep America Safe), Eileen Trotta (the sister of Officer Louis Pepe, a former federal prison guard who was stabbed in the eye by an al-Qaeda terrorist 10 months before 9/11), and former federal prosecutor Andy McCarthy held a conference call to discuss the decision to move Guantanamo detainees to the Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois. Cheney was blunt, declaring that this was further evidence that the Obama administration was “dedicated to turning the clock back” to a failed pre-9/11 approach, which treated terrorism as a criminal-justice matter. Once here, she explained, the detainees will have “all the rights of U.S. citizens” and the opportunity to seek release onto U.S. soil. They will also have the freedom to plan and plot other terrorist activities, as well as to “radicalize the prison population.” She noted that the Obama team has “no stomach” for keeping in place restrictions on terrorists once they’re in U.S. facilities, pointing to the case of shoe bomber Richard Reid, who after a hunger strike and legal complaint got the restrictions on mail, media access, etc. lifted. (Burlingame later added that it was discovered that the 1993 World Trade Center bombers managed to send some 90 letters to terrorist networks, which used them as prime recruiting tools.)

I asked Cheney what the administration hoped to gain by this, since terrorists would still have to be indefinitely detained and we were simply going to have to re-create the Guantanamo facility on U.S. soil. She confessed that it was “impossible to get inside their heads,” but she emphasized that each and every action of the president should be assessed as to whether it would make Americans safer. She said there is simply “no way to argue” that this makes us safer. She deemed the argument that this will create jobs “disgraceful,” reminding those on the call that there was an overpopulation problem in U.S. prisons and that other prisoners could be moved and the Illinois facility enhanced if they wanted to boost local jobs. She reiterated that Guantanamo is both a “safe and just facility” and that there is “no legitimate justification” for moving them.

In response to a similar query from USA Today as to whether this was an administration effort to eliminate Guantanamo as a “recruiting tool,” Cheney said that the media should “challenge them to show evidence” that it was Guantanamo that was responsible for terror recruitment. Terrorists “are not attacking America because of the way they are detained” but, she explained, because of their hateful Islamic fundamentalist ideology. McCarthy added, “A pretext is not a cause.” It is Islamic ideology and signs of American weakness that, he noted, are what spur recruitment, according to terrorists (including the 1993 bombers) who have been debriefed.

I asked McCarthy what Congress could do. Congress has “remedies,” he noted, including the power to decline funding. Congress is also the “master of federal jurisdiction” and can use that power, for example in the KSM trial, to declare U.S. courts off-limits to enemy combatants. It is, he argues, incumbent on Congress to use “the power of the purse … but also to say in resolutions that this is not the way we want to go.”

This is a preview of the debate that will take place, both in Congress and in the 2010 elections. The question remains: do we want to move terrorists to U.S. soil and treat them as U.S. citizens, with all the attendant rights and security risks? The American people overwhelmingly have rejected this idea. But the Obami say they know better. We’ll see who wins the argument.

Read Less

A Nation of Psychotic Soldiers

It’s rare that Americans get to pore over a screed of up-to-date anti-U.S. hysteria as unapologetically caustic and lovingly detailed as this rant by Sir Simon Jenkins at Comment is Free. The distinguished British journalist has gone to the trouble of diagnosing America’s various ailments, their causes, and the overall prognosis, so we should give him our full attention:

Americans still do not travel abroad, and rely on television news for their knowledge of foreign places, which they continue to regard with bizarre suspicion. Hence a world view is lumped in with defence and security in a collective paranoia.

From Jenkins’ visits to the U.S., he’s arrived at this impression of our fair land: “A country in so many ways a kaleidoscope of the world is in many ways so different. Above all it is full of soldiers.” This is excellent news, as I’ve been hearing rumors the military was stretched thin, and as Sir Simon says, America is engaged in an “atavistic love affair with war.” There’s nothing atavistic about twenty-first Century knights like Jenkins, is there?

Here’s a charming wrap-up:

To visit America at present is to be reminded of the continuing trauma of post-9/11, of a nation that craves a cohering substitute psychosis for the lifting of the Soviet menace. It is seen in ubiquitous threat alerts, hysterical airport security, the continued acceptance of Guantánamo Bay and even jibes about public figures not wearing the American flag in their buttonhole.

But doesn’t the psychosis lie in denying the ramifications of post-9/11 existence? In reality, threat alerts are almost non-existent now. It’s the threat that’s remained ubiquitous. As for having to take off our shoes in airports, that maddening requirement comes courtesy of London’s own Richard Reid, who managed to sneak his shoe bomb past the decidedly non-hysterical airport security at Charles De Gaulle International. Prisoners being held at Guantánamo Bay live better than American soldiers, and have each gained an average of twenty pounds while there. So now we’re down to the flag lapel pin and “public figures.” For starters, the likely Democratic nominee for president isn’t just any public figure, and anyway, who can take seriously a scolding about nationalism from a journalist whose title establishes him as member of the English nobility?

And speaking of nobility, it should come as no surprise that this regal anti-American is gaga for Barack Obama: “His capacity to transform America‘s self-image and world image is colossal.” If only he can convince the soldiers from sea to shining sea.

It’s rare that Americans get to pore over a screed of up-to-date anti-U.S. hysteria as unapologetically caustic and lovingly detailed as this rant by Sir Simon Jenkins at Comment is Free. The distinguished British journalist has gone to the trouble of diagnosing America’s various ailments, their causes, and the overall prognosis, so we should give him our full attention:

Americans still do not travel abroad, and rely on television news for their knowledge of foreign places, which they continue to regard with bizarre suspicion. Hence a world view is lumped in with defence and security in a collective paranoia.

From Jenkins’ visits to the U.S., he’s arrived at this impression of our fair land: “A country in so many ways a kaleidoscope of the world is in many ways so different. Above all it is full of soldiers.” This is excellent news, as I’ve been hearing rumors the military was stretched thin, and as Sir Simon says, America is engaged in an “atavistic love affair with war.” There’s nothing atavistic about twenty-first Century knights like Jenkins, is there?

Here’s a charming wrap-up:

To visit America at present is to be reminded of the continuing trauma of post-9/11, of a nation that craves a cohering substitute psychosis for the lifting of the Soviet menace. It is seen in ubiquitous threat alerts, hysterical airport security, the continued acceptance of Guantánamo Bay and even jibes about public figures not wearing the American flag in their buttonhole.

But doesn’t the psychosis lie in denying the ramifications of post-9/11 existence? In reality, threat alerts are almost non-existent now. It’s the threat that’s remained ubiquitous. As for having to take off our shoes in airports, that maddening requirement comes courtesy of London’s own Richard Reid, who managed to sneak his shoe bomb past the decidedly non-hysterical airport security at Charles De Gaulle International. Prisoners being held at Guantánamo Bay live better than American soldiers, and have each gained an average of twenty pounds while there. So now we’re down to the flag lapel pin and “public figures.” For starters, the likely Democratic nominee for president isn’t just any public figure, and anyway, who can take seriously a scolding about nationalism from a journalist whose title establishes him as member of the English nobility?

And speaking of nobility, it should come as no surprise that this regal anti-American is gaga for Barack Obama: “His capacity to transform America‘s self-image and world image is colossal.” If only he can convince the soldiers from sea to shining sea.

Read Less

A Brave UK Muslim

The U.K. has seen a recent string of capitulations to radical Islam and its politically correct Western enablers. In a February 12 article in the Jerusalem Post, Daniel Pipes chronicled three events in one very bad week in England:

First, the UK government has decided that terrorism by Muslims in the name of Islam is actually unrelated to Islam, or even anti-Islamic.

[…]

Second, and again culminating several years of evolution, the British government now recognizes polygamous marriages.

[…]

Third, the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, endorsed applying portions of the Islamic law (the shari’a) in Great Britain.

Indeed, there is reason to suppose that a fair number of British lawmakers and clergy could get a tidy British shari’a system up and running before the Dems figure out who their nominee for President is. Which is why the following news is so important. The Evening Standard reports on a brave British Muslim who’s taking a stand against radicalization among England’s Muslims and the isolation that feeds it.

A leading Muslim figure has spoken out against plans for a 12,000-seat mosque next to the Olympic site.

Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, who co-founded the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain, says there is no need for another mosque in East London.

His opposition follows that of mayoral candidate Alan Craig – who found his own “obituary” posted on internet site YouTube after making his views known.

Dr Siddiqui, an Indian-born elder statesman, said: “We have too many mosques. I think it should not be built. What we need first is more integration between the existing mosques and the wider community.”

The “megamosque” in Newham is being planned by Islamic group Tablighi Jamaat, which the FBI has described as “a recruiting ground” for al Qaeda – a claim it denies. Shoebomber Richard Reid and 7/7 bombers Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer were members.

Dr. Siddiqui’s courage and honesty should be a source of great shame to the likes of Rowan Williams. As a Muslim, this man faces a far greater danger from his radical co-religionists than does the Archbishop. Yet he grasps the graver peril of allowing his country to give in to fanatics without a fight. While Williams deems shari’a inevitable, Dr. Siddiqui finds at least enough morale to take a stand. His proposition is hardly dramatic; he’s simply recognizing that there is a problem worthy of engagement. How encouraging it would be if Dr. Siddiqui’s call was the first in a hat trick of resistance to counter Britain’s bad week.

The U.K. has seen a recent string of capitulations to radical Islam and its politically correct Western enablers. In a February 12 article in the Jerusalem Post, Daniel Pipes chronicled three events in one very bad week in England:

First, the UK government has decided that terrorism by Muslims in the name of Islam is actually unrelated to Islam, or even anti-Islamic.

[…]

Second, and again culminating several years of evolution, the British government now recognizes polygamous marriages.

[…]

Third, the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, endorsed applying portions of the Islamic law (the shari’a) in Great Britain.

Indeed, there is reason to suppose that a fair number of British lawmakers and clergy could get a tidy British shari’a system up and running before the Dems figure out who their nominee for President is. Which is why the following news is so important. The Evening Standard reports on a brave British Muslim who’s taking a stand against radicalization among England’s Muslims and the isolation that feeds it.

A leading Muslim figure has spoken out against plans for a 12,000-seat mosque next to the Olympic site.

Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, who co-founded the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain, says there is no need for another mosque in East London.

His opposition follows that of mayoral candidate Alan Craig – who found his own “obituary” posted on internet site YouTube after making his views known.

Dr Siddiqui, an Indian-born elder statesman, said: “We have too many mosques. I think it should not be built. What we need first is more integration between the existing mosques and the wider community.”

The “megamosque” in Newham is being planned by Islamic group Tablighi Jamaat, which the FBI has described as “a recruiting ground” for al Qaeda – a claim it denies. Shoebomber Richard Reid and 7/7 bombers Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer were members.

Dr. Siddiqui’s courage and honesty should be a source of great shame to the likes of Rowan Williams. As a Muslim, this man faces a far greater danger from his radical co-religionists than does the Archbishop. Yet he grasps the graver peril of allowing his country to give in to fanatics without a fight. While Williams deems shari’a inevitable, Dr. Siddiqui finds at least enough morale to take a stand. His proposition is hardly dramatic; he’s simply recognizing that there is a problem worthy of engagement. How encouraging it would be if Dr. Siddiqui’s call was the first in a hat trick of resistance to counter Britain’s bad week.

Read Less

Not Quite the Falun Gong

Haaretz today reports the emergence of a new political force among the Palestinians, one which espouses non-violent protest rather than terror attacks. Although the Hizb ut-Tahrir (Party of Liberation) has been around since 1952 and is active in 45 countries, only recently has it begun to attract significant adherents among Palestinians—including a demonstration of 10,000 people last August in the city of El-Bireh, adjacent to Ramallah.

This is not the first movement advancing the Palestinian cause through the tactical renunciation of violence. I remember back in 1987 hearing a speech by Mubarak Awad, a self-styled Palestinian Ghandi Gandhi, who called for opposing Israel through strictly non-violent protest. Yet when asked what he would advocate if non-violent means fail, the Palestinian Martin Luther King responded that “of course, we would go back to violence.” (So much for Ghandi Gandhi.)

It is with the same feeling of “oops” that one reads about Hizb ut-Tahrir. According to Haaretz:

The party’s goal is the reestablishment of an Islamic caliphate to govern the whole Muslim world under Islamic law—and eventually to bring the entire world under Islamic rule. . . . The intention is to leave violent action—such as the destruction of Israel, which the party supports—to the conventional armed forces of the restored caliphate.

Our sense that Hizb ut-Tahrir’s renunciation of violence is a question of tactics rather than conviction grows stronger as we discover their uncanny ability to inspire their members to undertake violent acts. Haaretz continues:

Even if Hizb ut-Tahrir itself does not maintain an insurgent wing, recent experience in Europe shows that it has acted as an exemplary hothouse for the nurturing and education of future terrorists, who then go on to ply their trade in different frameworks. Omar Khan Sharif and Asif Muhammad Hanif, for example—the two British-Pakistanis who bombed the Tel Aviv bar Mike’s Place in 2003—had been associated with a Hizb ut-Tahrir splinter group in Britain, as had the “shoe-bomber” Richard Reid. This is why the party is outlawed in a number of European countries.

I do not know why Palestinians have failed to generate a single political movement of any strength that renounces terror and violence in principle. But so long as violence remains an overwhelming consensus among Palestinians, and its principled renunciation a public anathema, the prospects for a sustained reconciliation between Jew and Arab seem pretty grim.

Haaretz today reports the emergence of a new political force among the Palestinians, one which espouses non-violent protest rather than terror attacks. Although the Hizb ut-Tahrir (Party of Liberation) has been around since 1952 and is active in 45 countries, only recently has it begun to attract significant adherents among Palestinians—including a demonstration of 10,000 people last August in the city of El-Bireh, adjacent to Ramallah.

This is not the first movement advancing the Palestinian cause through the tactical renunciation of violence. I remember back in 1987 hearing a speech by Mubarak Awad, a self-styled Palestinian Ghandi Gandhi, who called for opposing Israel through strictly non-violent protest. Yet when asked what he would advocate if non-violent means fail, the Palestinian Martin Luther King responded that “of course, we would go back to violence.” (So much for Ghandi Gandhi.)

It is with the same feeling of “oops” that one reads about Hizb ut-Tahrir. According to Haaretz:

The party’s goal is the reestablishment of an Islamic caliphate to govern the whole Muslim world under Islamic law—and eventually to bring the entire world under Islamic rule. . . . The intention is to leave violent action—such as the destruction of Israel, which the party supports—to the conventional armed forces of the restored caliphate.

Our sense that Hizb ut-Tahrir’s renunciation of violence is a question of tactics rather than conviction grows stronger as we discover their uncanny ability to inspire their members to undertake violent acts. Haaretz continues:

Even if Hizb ut-Tahrir itself does not maintain an insurgent wing, recent experience in Europe shows that it has acted as an exemplary hothouse for the nurturing and education of future terrorists, who then go on to ply their trade in different frameworks. Omar Khan Sharif and Asif Muhammad Hanif, for example—the two British-Pakistanis who bombed the Tel Aviv bar Mike’s Place in 2003—had been associated with a Hizb ut-Tahrir splinter group in Britain, as had the “shoe-bomber” Richard Reid. This is why the party is outlawed in a number of European countries.

I do not know why Palestinians have failed to generate a single political movement of any strength that renounces terror and violence in principle. But so long as violence remains an overwhelming consensus among Palestinians, and its principled renunciation a public anathema, the prospects for a sustained reconciliation between Jew and Arab seem pretty grim.

Read Less

Let’s Help al Qaeda to Kill Americans

What is the best way for terrorists to wreak havoc in the United States? That was the question posed, and answered, yesterday on the New York Times website by Steven D. Levitt, the University of Chicago professor of economics and author of the best-selling book, Freakonomics.

Levitt’s advice to al Qaeda, based upon the economic principle of generating the greatest quantity of harm with the least possible input of resources, would be to learn from the Washington D.C snipers of 2002. He suggests arming

20 terrorists with rifles and cars, and arrang[ing] to have them begin shooting randomly at pre-set times all across the country. Big cities, little cities, suburbs, etc. Have them move around a lot. No one will know when and where the next attack will be. The chaos would be unbelievable, especially considering how few resources it would require of the terrorists. It would also be extremely hard to catch these guys. The damage wouldn’t be as extreme as detonating a nuclear bomb in New York City, of course; but it sure would be a lot easier to obtain a handful of guns than a nuclear weapon.

This does indeed sound like a terrifying scenario and perhaps there is a terrorist cell hidden here that will carry it out.

Read More

What is the best way for terrorists to wreak havoc in the United States? That was the question posed, and answered, yesterday on the New York Times website by Steven D. Levitt, the University of Chicago professor of economics and author of the best-selling book, Freakonomics.

Levitt’s advice to al Qaeda, based upon the economic principle of generating the greatest quantity of harm with the least possible input of resources, would be to learn from the Washington D.C snipers of 2002. He suggests arming

20 terrorists with rifles and cars, and arrang[ing] to have them begin shooting randomly at pre-set times all across the country. Big cities, little cities, suburbs, etc. Have them move around a lot. No one will know when and where the next attack will be. The chaos would be unbelievable, especially considering how few resources it would require of the terrorists. It would also be extremely hard to catch these guys. The damage wouldn’t be as extreme as detonating a nuclear bomb in New York City, of course; but it sure would be a lot easier to obtain a handful of guns than a nuclear weapon.

This does indeed sound like a terrifying scenario and perhaps there is a terrorist cell hidden here that will carry it out.

Levitt believes that putting such suggestions in print for terrorists to read is “a form of public service.” By thinking of plausible ways of causing violent destruction, he writes, “it gives terror fighters a chance to consider and plan for these scenarios before they occur.”

Levitt’s column generated what he says today, in a subsequent posting on the Times website, was an immense amount of hate mail: “The people e-mailing me can’t decide whether I am a moron, a traitor, or both.”

But there are also quite a few letters on the site applauding Levitt, like this one from a person who identifies herself simply as Kelly: “I think you are doing a terrific job actually THINKING about our situation rather than reacting like so many of our fellow Americans.”

Is Levitt indeed performing a public service, or is he a moron, traitor, or both?

Answering this is not as easy as it might appear at first glance. The fact is that we do need to think carefully about the manifold ways terrorists might attack us again. The U.S. government has failed abysmally at that task in the past.

In his memoir, At the Center of the Storm, CIA Director George Tenet recalls with some pride how on the evening of September 12, 2001, he was sitting in his office “kicking around ideas” with a senior agency official when they hit upon the idea of creating “a group with the CIA whose sole purpose in life would be to think contrarian thoughts.” Such a unit, duly created by Tenet and dubbed the “Red Cell,” was given the assignment of “speculat[ing] on what was going through Osama bin Laden’s mind.”

In other words, up until September 11, it never occurred to the clueless Tenet or anyone else in a position of responsibility at our premier intelligence agency to perform the elementary task of thinking systematically about how our terrorist adversaries were thinking about us, including about how they might attack us.

There is thus a case for a public discussion of the issue raised by Levitt. But raising the issue and generating actual scenarios in public are two different things. Levitt defends himself on this point by noting that “a lot of the angry responses [he received made] me wonder what everyday Americans think terrorists do all day. My guess is that they brainstorm ideas for terrorist plots. And you have to believe that terrorists are total idiots if it never occurred to them after the Washington D.C. sniper shootings that maybe a sniper plot wasn’t a bad idea.”

True enough. Or is it true at all?

Yes, there are terrorist masterminds out there who do not need our help cooking up the most intricate and lethal plots against the United States. The attacks of September 11 alone are sufficient evidence of that.

But there are also more than a few terrorists and would-be terrorists roaming around who might qualify as “idiots,” or something close. Most recruits for terrorist action in the Islamist cause are not sophisticated planner types like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed but angry, ignorant, low-level figures, used by the higher-level terrorist plotters as expendable “muscle.”

Richard Reid is one such figure. If he had been smart enough to set off his shoe-bomb in the privacy of the bathroom instead of while remaining in his seat, American Airlines Flight 63 might now be resting quietly on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean with all of it 197 passengers and crew.

Then there was Zacharias Moussaoui, who was encountering trouble in his Minnesota flight school. This deranged fanatic might have only needed scant prompting, perhaps by stumbling across a clever scenario cooked up by Steven Levitt, to find a way to work al Qaeda’s will that was easier than poring through aviation manuals and struggling to operate a Boeing 747 simulator.

There was also el Sayyid Nosair, an operative in the nascent al Qaeda operation, part of the band that was to attack the World Trade Center the first time around in 1993. In 1990, Nosair spent his time and energy planning and carrying out the assassination of the firebrand rabbi Meir Kahane. Given the combination of Kahane’s extremist views and marginal status, this act was senseless, and even counterproductive, from the point of view of Nosair’s own cause. In choosing his victim, Nosair could well have used some help from an economist like Levitt. Will Levitt now offer to provide a public list of superior human targets, whose deaths would be far more useful to the Islamist cause? The logic of his argument suggests that the answer would be yes.

But beyond the logic or illogic of Levitt’s argument, there is something else. Thousands of Americans died on September 11. Although Levitt minimizes the dangers that lie ahead, blithely writing that his guess is that “the terrorism threat just isn’t that great,” the fact is that, like everyone else, he does not know what he does not know. It is entirely possible that the United States will be hit again, and hit harder than we were on September 11.

To Levitt, however, this solemn subject is not solemn at all. He writes about it in a glib and flippant tone, as in his summons to the public to come up with even more lethal scenarios by which al Qaeda might wreak death and destruction on the United States: “I’m sure many readers have far better ideas. I would love to hear them.”

One of the better ripostes to Levitt on the Times website came from a reader named Steve: “Sir, unable to determine if you are demonic, but your actions are demonic. Contemplate this name, Christine Lee Hanson.”

Christine Lee Hanson was a two-year old who perished on board United Airlines Flight 175 when it plowed into the World Trade Center on September 11.

Read Less

A Mighty Heart

So respectfully does A Mighty Heart, Michael Winterbottom’s film about the death of the journalist Daniel Pearl, treat its subject that criticism seems indecent, like rebuking someone for their tears at a funeral. It depicts Pearl’s kidnapping in January 2002 and the anguish of his French wife Mariane—then six-months pregnant with their first child—waiting in torment for news of him. The outcome of this vigil is no secret: Pearl was beheaded a week after his kidnapping, although another three weeks would pass before the videotape of his murder was recovered. Mariane’s book about this experience, Un coeur invaincu (literally, “an undefeated heart”), serves as the basis for Winterbottom’s often poignant film.

One can see why the story appealed to Hollywood, or—to be precise—to Angelina Jolie. It is difficult to imagine a better role for an actress aspiring to real gravitas. Mariane Pearl has become, in the years since her husband’s death, a kind of secular saint. (Slate’s review aptly called the film “a hagiographic chronicle of the martyrdom of Mariane Pearl.”) In the wake of her husband’s murder, Mariane refused to stoop to public hatred or to become a shill for any political cause, devoting her energy instead to creating the Daniel Pearl Foundation, a philanthropic organization of deliberately ecumenical scope. But if Mariane Pearl eschews politics of any color, the film about her does not, to its ultimate detriment.

Read More

So respectfully does A Mighty Heart, Michael Winterbottom’s film about the death of the journalist Daniel Pearl, treat its subject that criticism seems indecent, like rebuking someone for their tears at a funeral. It depicts Pearl’s kidnapping in January 2002 and the anguish of his French wife Mariane—then six-months pregnant with their first child—waiting in torment for news of him. The outcome of this vigil is no secret: Pearl was beheaded a week after his kidnapping, although another three weeks would pass before the videotape of his murder was recovered. Mariane’s book about this experience, Un coeur invaincu (literally, “an undefeated heart”), serves as the basis for Winterbottom’s often poignant film.

One can see why the story appealed to Hollywood, or—to be precise—to Angelina Jolie. It is difficult to imagine a better role for an actress aspiring to real gravitas. Mariane Pearl has become, in the years since her husband’s death, a kind of secular saint. (Slate’s review aptly called the film “a hagiographic chronicle of the martyrdom of Mariane Pearl.”) In the wake of her husband’s murder, Mariane refused to stoop to public hatred or to become a shill for any political cause, devoting her energy instead to creating the Daniel Pearl Foundation, a philanthropic organization of deliberately ecumenical scope. But if Mariane Pearl eschews politics of any color, the film about her does not, to its ultimate detriment.

A Mighty Heart begins on what was to have been Daniel Pearl’s last day in Pakistan, as he heads off for an interview with a certain Sheikh Gilani, who may know something about the shoe-bomber Richard Reid. The interview was a ruse; from this moment we never see Pearl again—just as Mariane never did—other than in flashbacks. We remain with her in her rented house in Karachi as the storm gathers around her. American and Pakistani intelligence officers descend, followed by colleagues from the Wall Street Journal.

Two of these unwanted guests come to loom large. One is the chief American intelligence officer, a creepy but genial presence played by Will Patton (whose geniality makes him all the creepier). The other is the Captain, a cryptic Pakistani security chief, at once an enormously sympathetic and shockingly brutal figure (we see him routinely slapping citizens who fail to answers his questions quickly enough). They alternately question Mariane and comfort her, making her house a kind of combination war room and support group.

Given Mariane’s essentially passive role, the principal challenge in playing her is convincingly to convey her emotional state. And this Jolie does exceptionally well, offering not so much an imitation of anguish as a simulacrum of it. She falters only once. When Mariane learns the fate of her husband, she withdraws into her room and gives up an agonized scream. It is a jarring, near-histrionic note in a film otherwise unfailingly low-key. It is not, however, the excesses of Jolie that mar this film, but those of its director.

In a sense, A Mighty Heart is two films. There is Mariane Pearl’s own story, the first-person account drawn from her memoirs. Although it is re-created with a large cast, the point of view is entirely solitary. Our perspective is identical to hers: we watch with her as her Karachi home fills with well-meaning strangers; we experience her remoteness and detachment. But this first-person story is embedded in another film, one that depicts the desperate police search for the sender of the e-mails that entrapped Pearl. Though the search takes up considerable screen time, it is no mere police procedural. Winterbottom’s framework consists of an impressionistic montage: we see shards of interrogation and vignettes of broken-down doors and midnight arrests, but not in such a way that we can follow the investigation’s track. Of course, we can hardly expect Mariane, who was not privy to police matters, and who in any event was in a state of shock, to provide a forensic account of the investigation. It is therefore not surprising that these scenes refuse to come into focus, and remain as dreamlike as the flashbacks of her husband.

From a dramaturgical point of view, these scenes are a necessary counterpoint to those with Mariane, which are bereft of explicit action; one can see why Winterbottom felt his film needed them. But in his treatment of the investigation, Winterbottom shows scenes and events that Mariane could not possibly have witnessed. Which raises a question: to what end did he interpolate them?

The fact that the most egregious of these scenes is one of torture may point toward an answer. A hapless low-level conspirator is suspended by his hands, while the enigmatic Captain quietly asks him questions, nodding his head slightly from time to time, requesting something that causes the captive to scream. The situation at this point is urgent—could information be extracted that might reveal Pearl’s whereabouts before he is killed?—but the Captain is unhurried, even ominously gentle. The scene is framed carefully so that we see neither the tormentor, nor precisely what he is doing, which is as it should be, from both a moral and an artistic point of view.

If any political moral is to be drawn from this film, it is to be found in this scene. What precisely is Winterbottom saying here? That such proceedings, appalling as they are, are a regrettable necessity? Far more accurate is Manohla Dargis’s observation, in the New York Times, that “Mr. Pearl would have probably been appalled that this outrage was committed on his behalf; the point is, we should be too.”

While Winterbottom feels free to show a scene of police torture, he refrains from even an oblique depiction of Pearl’s death. He doubly insulates the viewer from it, showing only the faces of Pearl’s friends as they watch his death on video. This omission may have been intended (partially, at least) as a kindness to Mariane Pearl. But its political overtones cannot be missed: Winterbottom assigned the film’s most disturbing images to the American and Pakistani investigators seeking to free Pearl. Pearl’s actual murderers are given no visual presence whatsoever. The most we see of them is a few of their cringing and pathetic flunkies, caught up unwittingly in the madness of contemporary global politics. We see them only, in other words, as victims themselves—as we see Mariane and Daniel Pearl.

In the end, A Mighty Heart belongs to the same moral universe as Oliver Stone’s 2006 film World Trade Center, which looked sympathetically at the victims of terrorism—but could not summon up the stamina to look honestly at the terrorists themselves. For Winterbottom, one of the most talented filmmakers alive, and one of the most concerned with moral complexity, this omission is all the more glaring.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.