Commentary Magazine


Topic: terrorists

Is Terrorist Arrest an Attack on U.S. Arabs?

The narrative is familiar. Since 9/11, we’ve had a steady drumbeat of accusations bolstered by featured stories in the mainstream media claiming that Arabs and Muslims in America have been subjected to a backlash that has amounted to a wave of discrimination. As I have written several times before (here, here, here, and here), the evidence for this charge is purely anecdotal. No credible studies back it up. If anything, statistics like those compiled by the F.B.I. of hate crimes show that assaults and bias crimes aimed at Muslims are disproportionately small and far less than attacks on Jews in every year since 2001, including the time in the immediate aftermath of the terror attacks.

But that hasn’t stopped groups such as the Council on American Islamic Relations that claim to represent Muslims and Arabs and their cheering sections in the press from continuing to make such charges about Islamophobia. CAIR, which was born as a political front for American supporters of Hamas, has at times advised its supporters not to cooperate with federal investigations of homegrown terrorists. But, as the Associated Press reports, a leader of a similar Chicago-based group has now jumped the rhetorical shark by saying that the arrest of a person convicted of taking part in a terror bombing in Israel is, “an escalation of attacks on our community. … We are very, very angry.”

Like so many other allegations of bias against Muslims and Arabs, this one is unfounded. But it betrays the mindset of groups that think that holding terrorists accountable for their actions is inherently prejudicial.

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The narrative is familiar. Since 9/11, we’ve had a steady drumbeat of accusations bolstered by featured stories in the mainstream media claiming that Arabs and Muslims in America have been subjected to a backlash that has amounted to a wave of discrimination. As I have written several times before (here, here, here, and here), the evidence for this charge is purely anecdotal. No credible studies back it up. If anything, statistics like those compiled by the F.B.I. of hate crimes show that assaults and bias crimes aimed at Muslims are disproportionately small and far less than attacks on Jews in every year since 2001, including the time in the immediate aftermath of the terror attacks.

But that hasn’t stopped groups such as the Council on American Islamic Relations that claim to represent Muslims and Arabs and their cheering sections in the press from continuing to make such charges about Islamophobia. CAIR, which was born as a political front for American supporters of Hamas, has at times advised its supporters not to cooperate with federal investigations of homegrown terrorists. But, as the Associated Press reports, a leader of a similar Chicago-based group has now jumped the rhetorical shark by saying that the arrest of a person convicted of taking part in a terror bombing in Israel is, “an escalation of attacks on our community. … We are very, very angry.”

Like so many other allegations of bias against Muslims and Arabs, this one is unfounded. But it betrays the mindset of groups that think that holding terrorists accountable for their actions is inherently prejudicial.

The case of Rasmieh Yousef Odeh, a 66-year-old Palestinian immigrant to the United States, is in many ways an unexceptional immigration case. Odeh was a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a Palestinian Marxist terror group that ordered her to take part in plots to plant bombs in Israel. One of them was exploded at a crowded supermarket, killing two people and wounding several others. She was caught and sentenced to a long prison sentence for her crime. But, like other lucky Palestinian terrorists down through the years, she was released as part of ransom paid by Israel in exchange for the release of an Israeli soldier who had been captured in Lebanon.

Press accounts don’t say what she did in the intervening years, but we know that in 1995 she left Jordan for the United States and became a citizen in 2004. She lived in suburban Evergreen Park, where she worked as a lawyer and attained the status of a community leader among Arabs. Whatever good she may or may not have done during the last 18 years, we do know one thing: she lied in order to gain entry to the United States. The law is fairly clear about those with prison records disclosing this fact while applying for a visa of any sort. Those with records of terrorism are not eligible for entry, let alone citizenship. So, like many Nazi war criminals who snuck into the U.S. by leaving out their time serving in the SS or as death camp guards on their resumes, Odeh is a prime candidate to be stripped of her citizenship and deported.

No doubt some will claim that years of alleged good works ought to grant her absolution for her crime. But the idea that helping to plant a bomb in a supermarket in order to kill as many Jews as possible is the sort of thing that should be ignored when assessing Odeh is risible. It is especially outrageous when you consider that there is no record of her apologizing for her crime. No doubt, like the many thousands of other Palestinian terrorists who have been released by Israel in order to gain the freedom of captive Jews, her community treated Odeh as a heroine because of what she did, not in spite of it.

But the decision of Arab-American groups to protest on her behalf and to allege discrimination has nothing to do with pleas for mercy. Rather, it is derived from that same sense that those who murder Israelis are “freedom fighters” and not terrorists.

Government action against Odeh is, at best, merely justice delayed. While the vast majority of Muslim and Arab Americans are loyal, hard-working citizens, those who embrace terrorists like Odeh or who claim prosecution of her is an example of bias are discrediting the cause of an entire community. Not to mention, the claim of a mythical post-9/11 backlash.

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Obama Sends Terrorists to Sub-Gitmo Hell

Among the unfortunate things about the ObamaCare ruling is that it’s taking oxygen away from some important stories. None more important than Eli Lake’s sensational scoop at the Daily Beast on the wretched facilities in Somalia where America is sending alleged terrorists caught in the expanded U.S. war on terror in that country. When Barack Obama came to office he described Guantanamo Bay as a “misguided experiment,” owing to the facility’s supposedly harsh conditions. He has since decreed that the United States will no longer accept new prisoners there (he was unable to close the facility altogether); Obama also shuttered CIA black site prisons in Europe. But if Gitmo was a “misguided experiment” and CIA sites beneath American standards of humane treatment, what on earth is this?

Overcrowded, underfunded, and reeking of urine, the Bosaso Central Prison could make even the most dedicated insurgent regret ever getting into the terrorism business. Many inmates don’t have shoes, and instead of uniforms, they wear filthy T-shirts and ankle-length garments wrapped around their waists that resemble sarongs (called ma-awis in Somali). When I visited earlier this year, the warden, Shura Sayeed Mohammed, told me he had 393 prisoners in a place designed to hold no more than 300. He said that since 2009, he had received 16 inmates captured by Americans.

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Among the unfortunate things about the ObamaCare ruling is that it’s taking oxygen away from some important stories. None more important than Eli Lake’s sensational scoop at the Daily Beast on the wretched facilities in Somalia where America is sending alleged terrorists caught in the expanded U.S. war on terror in that country. When Barack Obama came to office he described Guantanamo Bay as a “misguided experiment,” owing to the facility’s supposedly harsh conditions. He has since decreed that the United States will no longer accept new prisoners there (he was unable to close the facility altogether); Obama also shuttered CIA black site prisons in Europe. But if Gitmo was a “misguided experiment” and CIA sites beneath American standards of humane treatment, what on earth is this?

Overcrowded, underfunded, and reeking of urine, the Bosaso Central Prison could make even the most dedicated insurgent regret ever getting into the terrorism business. Many inmates don’t have shoes, and instead of uniforms, they wear filthy T-shirts and ankle-length garments wrapped around their waists that resemble sarongs (called ma-awis in Somali). When I visited earlier this year, the warden, Shura Sayeed Mohammed, told me he had 393 prisoners in a place designed to hold no more than 300. He said that since 2009, he had received 16 inmates captured by Americans.

Something tells me Bosaso’s inmates wouldn’t mind a transfer to Club Gitmo, where prisoners fatten up on halal chow, play pick-up basketball, take finance courses, and write poetry. As Lake explains, “Obama’s plan to get America out of the international jailer business means that developing-world prisons have picked up the slack.” So we’ve gone from the evil “Cheneyist” standard to the failed-state model, in which, according to Lake’s source, “guys end up with skin disease that spreads very quickly. It’s like a heat rash, they start bleeding, it passes onto the other prisoners.” And Lake was denied access to inmates associated with the al-Shabab terrorist group because, in the warden’s words, those men constitute a “virus” and “if we let them mix with the rest of the public, they can transmit the virus to the rest of the population.”

Far be it from me to shed a tear for terrorists rotting away in hellholes like Bosaso. The point is the president’s campaign against Gitmo was rooted in superficial moral vanity, not a deep morality. If he was so concerned about the treatment of captured terrorists it’s hard to see how he could sleep at night after having outsourced terrorist detention to Somalia. The same goes, of course, for his attendant war on waterboarding and enhanced interrogation. Under George W. Bush, the United States waterboarded three terrorists, all of whom gave up life-saving intelligence and then ended the enhanced interrogation program. Obama, on the other hand, made anti-enhanced-interrogation pronouncements, changed the definition of enemy combatant to any 18-year-old male in a given geographical area, and proceeded to incinerate scores of nameless such men in ramped up drone strikes in Muslim lands. Again, no one should have any illusions about the war on terror being a gruesome business. But it would be nice if one of Bush’s full-time amateur accusers pointed out Obama’s gargantuan moral hypocrisy and asked the president to comment on the nature of his post-Gitmo redemption plan for America.

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A Case for Tactical Prisoner Releases

I sympathize with conservatives such as Bethany Mandel who are outraged by reports that the U.S. military in Afghanistan has been releasing some insurgent commanders from its detention facility–as revealed in a Washington Post article. I too am opposed to unnecessary and counterproductive releases of detainees–based on nothing more than wishful thinking–who could return to the battlefield to kill more Americans or Afghans. But that doesn’t mean all prisoner releases are ill-advised.

In Iraq, one of the key elements that made the “surge” so successful in 2007-2008 was both locking up and releasing lots of detainees: locking them up when they were seen as contributing to instability and releasing them when such releases were seen as furthering stability. Specifically, as Sunnis vowed to turn against al-Qaeda, the release of their kinsmen from American detention was a powerful “carrot” that, along with lucrative contracts for security and other services, could reward and encourage their change of thinking. By some lights this might be seen as negotiating with terrorists–and so it was. Or, more specifically, negotiating with former terrorists. Not all such deals panned out–in some cases dangerous men were released, and they did not live up to their word to stop fighting. But this was a risk that Gen. David Petraeus judged worth taking because he understood that U.S. forces did not have the will or ability to lock up all troublemakers indefinitely. Sooner or later the Americans would leave Iraq. Better to release some insurgent leaders on our terms when it could help to win the battle, rather than wait a few years and see them all released anyway.

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I sympathize with conservatives such as Bethany Mandel who are outraged by reports that the U.S. military in Afghanistan has been releasing some insurgent commanders from its detention facility–as revealed in a Washington Post article. I too am opposed to unnecessary and counterproductive releases of detainees–based on nothing more than wishful thinking–who could return to the battlefield to kill more Americans or Afghans. But that doesn’t mean all prisoner releases are ill-advised.

In Iraq, one of the key elements that made the “surge” so successful in 2007-2008 was both locking up and releasing lots of detainees: locking them up when they were seen as contributing to instability and releasing them when such releases were seen as furthering stability. Specifically, as Sunnis vowed to turn against al-Qaeda, the release of their kinsmen from American detention was a powerful “carrot” that, along with lucrative contracts for security and other services, could reward and encourage their change of thinking. By some lights this might be seen as negotiating with terrorists–and so it was. Or, more specifically, negotiating with former terrorists. Not all such deals panned out–in some cases dangerous men were released, and they did not live up to their word to stop fighting. But this was a risk that Gen. David Petraeus judged worth taking because he understood that U.S. forces did not have the will or ability to lock up all troublemakers indefinitely. Sooner or later the Americans would leave Iraq. Better to release some insurgent leaders on our terms when it could help to win the battle, rather than wait a few years and see them all released anyway.

We do not have the full story of prisoner releases in Afghanistan, but based on the evidence presented in the Post article, the program appears to be modeled on the one in Iraq–and to be based, as in Iraq, on a hard-headed calculation by local commanders of what incentives they need to offer to local tribes and factions to come over to the government’s side. The only release actually described in the Post article involved a local leader of Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin in Wardak province whose followers had agreed to start fighting against the Taliban–another insurgent faction. This was precisely the type of “split the insurgency” mentality that made possible the success of the surge in Iraq. Under those circumstances, it would seem reasonable to release a HiG leader as a reward for his cooperation against our mutual enemies.

This type of release, made in return for real cooperation on the ground, is very different from the deal being contemplated by the Obama administration for the release of senior Taliban commanders from Guantanamo in return, it would seem, for nothing more than a willingness of the Taliban to engage in peace talks. That would appear to be a one-sided exchange which would signal weakness to our enemies who are far from defeated–and very different from the type of tactical prisoner releases that make sense when erstwhile enemies are prepared to switch sides or stop fighting.

 

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Why Are We Releasing, Not Exchanging, Taliban Prisoners?

Today, the Washington Post reported,

The United States has for several years been secretly releasing high-level detainees from a military prison in Afghanistan as part of negotiations with insurgent groups, a bold effort to quell violence but one that U.S. officials acknowledge poses substantial risks.

As the United States has unsuccessfully pursued a peace deal with the Taliban, the “strategic release” program has quietly served as a live diplomatic channel, allowing American officials to use prisoners as bargaining chips in restive provinces where military power has reached its limits.

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Today, the Washington Post reported,

The United States has for several years been secretly releasing high-level detainees from a military prison in Afghanistan as part of negotiations with insurgent groups, a bold effort to quell violence but one that U.S. officials acknowledge poses substantial risks.

As the United States has unsuccessfully pursued a peace deal with the Taliban, the “strategic release” program has quietly served as a live diplomatic channel, allowing American officials to use prisoners as bargaining chips in restive provinces where military power has reached its limits.

Almost exactly four years ago, in May 0f 2008 during an address before the Israeli Knesset then-candidate Barack Obama stated,

George Bush knows that I have never supported engagement with terrorists, and the president’s extraordinary politicization of foreign policy and the politics of fear do nothing to secure the American people or our stalwart ally Israel.

Besides a general easing of tension which this policy is trying to foster, there is one very real concession that the president has seemed to ignore in his concessions to the devil (they’re only called deals if you get something in return, which we have not).

On June 30, 2009, almost three years ago, Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl of Idaho was kidnapped by the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network. He is the only prisoner of war currently held by the Taliban and recent video releases seem to indicate that he is being kept alive for ransom by the group. A month after his capture the president issued a statement, explaining that he was “heartbroken” over Sgt. Bergdahl’s situation and vowed to bring him home. In three years, this seems to be the only public statement made by the President about Bergdahl.

In December, The Daily Beast was the only outlet to report on a heroic escape attempt by the sergeant. After working for over two years to gain the trust of his captors, Bergdahl jumped out of a first-story window, running into the wilderness. The Daily Beast tells the story,

Mullah Sangin and his brother Mullah Balal, who had been put in charge of the prisoner, organized a search as soon as the escape was discovered. Nevertheless, the sources say, Bergdahl successfully avoided capture for three days and two nights. The searchers finally found him, weak, exhausted, and nearly naked—he had spent three days without food or water—hiding in a shallow trench he had dug with his own hands and covered with leaves.

Even then, he put up a ferocious fight. The two gunmen who found him first were unable to subdue him. “He fought like a boxer,” Hanif was told. It took five more militants to overpower him. Now back in custody, he is kept shackled at night, and his jailers are taking no chances.

This is the caliber of soldier that the United States and its military produces, the American that the president seems to have forgotten about for almost three years.

Shortly before Bergdahl’s kidnapping, the United States was comfortable negotiating the release of terrorists in exchange for British hostages. Andrew McCarthy at National Review made the connection:

And although the administration has attempted to pass off Laith Qazali’s release as a necessary compromise of American national interests for the purportedly greater good of Iraqi reconciliation, the camouflage is thin indeed. Transparently, the terrorist has been freed as a quid pro quo for the release of British hostages. According to the New York Times, Sami al-Askari, another Maliki mouthpiece, told an interviewer:

This is a very sensitive topic because you know the position that the Iraqi government, the U.S. and British governments, and all the governments do not accept the idea of exchanging hostages for prisoners. . . . So we put it in another format, and we told them that if they want to participate in the political process they cannot do so while they are holding hostages. And we mentioned to the American side that they cannot join in the political process and release their hostages while their leaders are behind bars or imprisoned.

In 2008 it was Barack Obama’s policy not to engage with terrorists under any circumstances. In 2009, his administration was comfortable exchanging American prisoners for British hostages. In 2012, it has become clear it was the long-standing policy of the administration to release American-held terrorist prisoners while asking for nothing in exchange, not even an American POW.

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Time to Take Action in Pakistan

David Ignatius has a good column today pointing out that Pakistan has a lot to answer for in its relationship with al-Qaeda. As he notes: “Osama bin Laden lived in five houses in Pakistan, fathered four children there, kept three wives who took dictation for his rambling directives to his terror network, had two children born in public hospitals — and through it all, the Pakistani government did not know one single thing about his whereabouts?” That strains credulity as does the fact that numerous other senior al-Qaeda leaders such as Khalid Sheikh Muhammad were able to live in Pakistan for years.

Of course, Pakistan’s links with terrorists hardly end with al-Qaeda. The Pakistani state, and specifically its Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, has notoriously close ties with such groups as the Haqqani Network and the Afghan Taliban, who are responsible for the deaths of numerous American and Afghan soldiers as well as Afghan civilians, and Lashkar e Taiba, which was responsible for the 2008 murder spree in Mumbai and whose founder, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, now has a $10 million American bounty on his head. Saeed, by the way, lives and travels quite openly in Pakistan; he must know he has nothing to fear from his confederates in the Pakistani security establishment.

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David Ignatius has a good column today pointing out that Pakistan has a lot to answer for in its relationship with al-Qaeda. As he notes: “Osama bin Laden lived in five houses in Pakistan, fathered four children there, kept three wives who took dictation for his rambling directives to his terror network, had two children born in public hospitals — and through it all, the Pakistani government did not know one single thing about his whereabouts?” That strains credulity as does the fact that numerous other senior al-Qaeda leaders such as Khalid Sheikh Muhammad were able to live in Pakistan for years.

Of course, Pakistan’s links with terrorists hardly end with al-Qaeda. The Pakistani state, and specifically its Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, has notoriously close ties with such groups as the Haqqani Network and the Afghan Taliban, who are responsible for the deaths of numerous American and Afghan soldiers as well as Afghan civilians, and Lashkar e Taiba, which was responsible for the 2008 murder spree in Mumbai and whose founder, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, now has a $10 million American bounty on his head. Saeed, by the way, lives and travels quite openly in Pakistan; he must know he has nothing to fear from his confederates in the Pakistani security establishment.

Yet why does the U.S. still insist on treating Pakistan as a wayward ally—a difficult friend but a friend nevertheless? It is well past time to wake up from this delusion and start to take actions the Pakistani army may adamantly oppose—such as using drone strikes to target Haqqani and Afghan Taliban leaders living in Pakistan—but that are essential to protect our troops in Afghanistan and our interests in the region.

Instead, we continue to subsidize the very Pakistani state which is making war on us and our friends. As commentator Sarah Chayes noted in an article about Afghanistan (which I took some exception with): “Imagine Washington openly financing North Vietnam in 1970.”

 

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