Max Boot is absolutely right that the United States has not figured out how to treat captured terrorists, like bin Laden son-in-law and former al-Qaeda spokesman Sulaiman Abu Ghaith. The question comes down to a dispute about whether terrorism is a legal matter to be resolved in courts, or a military matter to be resolved on the battlefield. The problem with the former is that evidence needed for a conviction would require exposing intelligence, sources, and methods that might spoil their utility to prevent future attacks or the forensic data available after an attack. A military response enables the United States government to protect its civilians and eliminate the perpetrators without compromising its own security. That al-Qaeda has declared war on America should have made the debate moot but, alas, Washington sophistication means never having to bow to common sense.
Counterterrorism requires not only military strategies, but diplomatic ones as well. Sulaiman Abu Ghaith was first arrested in Turkey, but then released despite U.S. requests that he be extradited to the United States. It was Jordan which complied with the extradition request.
Turkey is a NATO member and both the White House and diplomats say it is an ally of the United States. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, NATO invoked Article V of the Washington Treaty calling for collective defense after the al-Qaeda strike on New York and Washington D.C. Perhaps the Turks forgot. Or perhaps—as this Turkish ambassador suggests—Turkey no long considers al-Qaeda to be terrorists.
Either way, President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry need to ask why it is that a supposed ally set free a wanted al-Qaeda terrorist. More importantly, it may be time for the White House and State Department to consider what the proper response should be for a country that shelters if not supports terrorists bent on the destruction of the United States. Strong leaders might curtail aid, withdraw the ambassador for consultations, demarche the Turkish ambassador in Washington, or restrict the flow of military equipment. President Obama, alas, seeks instead to offer Turkey state of the art weaponry and even give it warships. Perhaps it is time for the State Department to recognize that diplomacy is more complicated than ameliorating adversaries, and for Congress to ask some hard questions of Obama and Kerry regarding how they perceive U.S. interests and why, under their leadership, U.S. counter terrorism diplomacy has become laughable.