Opinion

The Great Debate

Gitmo: Too dangerous to release? Not so fast.

File photo of detainees sitting in a holding area at Naval Base Guantanamo Bay

When the National September 11 Memorial & Museum opens Thursday, we will finally have a national institution dedicated to exploring the effects of the tragic events of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The impact of that day on U.S. legal institutions, however, remains a work in progress. The federal court system has proven remarkably adept at handling the hundreds of criminal terrorism cases filed since Sept. 11, 2001. But the polarized politics of terrorism has left Washington paralyzed when it comes to handling the cases of dozens of indefinite detainees still imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

In New York last week, the U.S. government rested its case against the one-eyed, hook-limbed Sheikh Abu Hamza al Masri, on trial in federal court on terrorism charges. For weeks spectators were treated to a string of government informants, including confessed terrorism supporters, who seemed to have no qualms about taking the witness stand and incriminating the fiery preacher the government says inspired and directed lethal acts against Americans. In April, another extremist cleric, Suleiman Abu Ghaith, was convicted based on similar evidence.

In Washington, however, with the National Defense Authorization Act now pending in Congress, lawmakers and policy experts are again debating what to do about the men the United States has indefinitely detained for alleged terrorist activity at Guantanamo Bay. The question is growing more urgent as Washington prepares to withdraw its combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year — officially ending the war there.  That arguably ends the president’s authority to detain prisoners under the laws of war as well.

FILE PHOTO OF A PRISONER BEING TRANSPORTED.President Barack Obama reiterated in January his desire to close the notorious Guantanamo prison by the end of this year. Even among those who agree it should close, a surprising number of lawmakers and policy analysts seem to believe that may require creating a new indefinite detention scheme for suspected terrorists here in the United States.

Swift U.S. jury verdict gives lie to Gitmo

The government’s charges against Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law looked pretty thin. Washington was basically claiming that the Kuwaiti imam had made a few inflammatory speeches — one praising the September 11 attacks and another warning that more attacks on tall buildings were soon to come. It didn’t sound like much, given that the charges were providing “material support” for terrorism and conspiring to kill Americans.

But less than a year later, 48 year-old Suleiman Abu Ghaith stands convicted on all counts, following a jury trial in a U.S. federal court. Over the three-week trial the government managed to convince a jury that the cleric’s actions — giving a handful of speeches for al Qaeda, some on camera seated next to bin Laden — made him responsible for the September 11 attacks, the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa, and the 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole, a Navy ship docked in Yemen. Abu Ghaith didn’t even make his first videotaped speech until September 12, 2001.

It’s an odd quirk of U.S. conspiracy law. If someone joins a conspiracy, though it may be years after it started, he’s still liable for all the murder and mayhem his co-conspirators caused, even if it was long before he came along.

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Is NBC soft on Sochi terror threats, political stalling, and the lawyer who could nail Christie

1. Is NBC soft on Sochi terror threats? Or are its rivals overdoing it?

I may be imagining it, but while the other network news organizations are giving full, even avid, coverage to the threat of terrorism at the coming Sochi Olympics, NBC -- which is televising the games -- seems to be playing it down. Or at least not playing it up.

It’s no surprise that NBC has been full of segments featuring the arrivals or practice sessions of members of team America, especially the good-looking ones. That’s a time-honored, if cheesy, effort to use ostensible news shows to boost the games’ ratings.

But it also seems that its coverage of the security threats and accompanying precautions is nothing like what we’re seeing on CBS, ABC, Fox or CNN -- where images of barb wire-encased arenas and helmeted Russian security forces abound.

Obama can close Guantanamo

At his news conference on Tuesday, President Barack Obama for the first time in years spoke about the controversial detention center at Guantanamo Bay, which he had promised to close when he first took office.

“Guantanamo is not necessary to keep America safe,” Obama said, responding to a reporter’s question. “It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us in terms of our international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts. It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed.” He went on to acknowledge that more than half the detainees have been officially cleared for release.

As if to forestall the obvious next question – then why hasn’t he closed it? – the president blamed the prison’s continued existence on Congress. “Congress,” he said, “determined that they would not let us close it.”

Boston bomber acted as ‘enemy combatant’

The Obama administration announced on Monday that suspected Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev would “not be treated as an enemy combatant” who would be tried in a special military tribunal. Instead, White House spokesman Jay Carney declared, “we will prosecute this terrorist through our civilian system of justice.”

But this decision is a grave mistake for legal, political and practical reasons. As we sift through the challenging implications of last week’s events, we must aim to deter future acts of terror on our soil by U.S. citizens and legal residents. Treating and trying domestic terrorists as enemy combatants  can provide such a deterrent.

The strongest reason to do this is to send a signal to other would-be terrorists that we, as a society, consider these acts so repellant that we treat them as acts of war.

Holding Boston hostage

 

Boston was in lockdown Friday. The machinery of a major metropolitan area in the richest nation on earth had come to a grinding halt. We know why this is happened – a terrorist manhunt – but how, exactly, does a modern bustling city come to a full stop?

In fact, much of ordinary life continues. Water still comes from the taps for a shower; you can telephone your family and friends; you can even work on your computer or read quietly in the backyard. But one key aspect of city life stopped: the movement of people. What matters most in a lockdown of this scale is the ability to halt the circulation of people.

Whether or not a lockdown works often depends on who – the citizens or the terrorist suspect – can stay still the longest.

Bringing a terror mastermind to justice

Four months after retaliation for the 9/11 attacks he masterminded brought devastation to al Qaeda’s haven in Afghanistan, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was living openly in neighboring Karachi, Pakistan and taking leisurely walks with his new prize recruit – a young computer geek from Maryland who wanted to join the jihad.

They talked about how Majid Shoukat Khan might poison water wells in the United States and blow up his family’s gas station. Mohammed was especially enthusiastic about using his young associate to assassinate Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, perhaps by sneaking a suicide bomber into Khan’s planned arranged wedding to the daughter of a prominent Pakistani general.

The marriage never happened, and another Musharraf assassination plot fizzled, but the two continued to meet and scheme for more than a year. Mohammed’s patient grooming of his young associate ultimately paid off: Khan delivered $50,000 to al Qaeda associates for deadly attacks in Indonesia. And during trips back to the United States, he helped other al Qaeda operatives that Mohammed had dispatched on secret missions.

The case for letting Khalid Sheikh Mohammed live

What should be done with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed? If the Defense Department is to be believed, the chief planner of the 9/11 attacks on America is guilty of mass murder and crimes against humanity. Even if the evidence elicited by waterboarding him 183 times is void, his declaration in 2002 that “I was responsible for the 9/11 Operation from A to Z” should ensure conviction.

In addition to the 9/11 attacks that killed 2,973, he is credited with commissioning shoe-bomber Richard Reid to down a transatlantic jetliner laden with 300 passengers; planning the 1993 attempt to fell the Twin Towers, the Bali nightclub bombing that killed 200 and a bomb attack in Istanbul in 2003 that killed 60; as well as plots to assassinate Pope John Paul II and Bill Clinton and to demolish the Empire State Building and the Brooklyn Bridge. For those who would argue Mohammed is a war combatant rather than a dangerous psychotic, it should also be noted that he personally sawed off the head of the American reporter Daniel Pearl.

Mohammed and his co-conspirators face the death penalty, but it is by no means certain the prosecution will ask for it. There are a number of practical reasons Mohammed should instead live out his days buried in the vaults of a maximum security prison. He desperately wants to end his days of idle impotence and emerge as an inspirational figure in the Islamist war against the West. “This is what I wish, to be a martyr for a long time. I will, God willing, have this, by you,” he explained in 2008. He would be sooner forgotten alive than dead; just think of Charles Manson.

The urgent need to protect the global supply chain

Every day, staggering numbers of air, land and sea passengers, as well as millions of tons of cargo, move between nations. International trade and commerce has long driven the development of nations and provided unprecedented economic growth. Indeed, our future prosperity depends upon it.

At the same time, threats to trade and travel — whether from explosives hidden in a passenger’s clothing or inside a ship’s cargo, or from a natural disaster — remind us of the need for security and resilience within the global supply chain. A vulnerability or gap in any part of the world has the ability to affect the flow of goods and people thousands of miles away. For instance, just three days after the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear tragedies struck Japan last March, U.S. automakers began cutting shifts and idling some plants at home. In the days that followed, they did the same at their factories in more than 10 countries around the world.

Ten years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, we also continue to see the determination of individuals and groups to disrupt economies by targeting our transit and cargo systems. Understanding the seriousness of these threats underscores the need for a continued focus on protecting the global supply chain.

The danger of symbols

By Peter Baumann and Michael W. Taft
The opinions expressed are their own.

Ten years ago this Sunday, 19 madmen used commercial airliners as guided missiles to perpetrate what became the most influential act of terrorism in world history, generating mass fear, confusion, sorrow and rage on a scale that will not be forgotten. With the passing of a decade the reality of the attack—the smoke and the flames, the blood and the destruction—have receded into memory. Now the September 11th attack has become a concept, a symbol of the apex of terrorism in the new millennium.

Human beings evolved the capacity to generate symbolic thought over millions of years, a feat which allows us to predict and plan for potential threats and opportunities. For example, we put money in a 401k knowing that many years in the future we will have this money to live on. This aptitude is one ability that has made the human species uniquely successful among life on earth, as no other animal is capable of such complex future planning,

There is a downside, though, to this human capability: how we evaluate potential outcomes. If we are hunting for food and see a caribou, we get excited. Our emotional system signals us that an opportunity is present and it’s time to go after it. If, on the other hand, we see a bear, we become afraid, because our emotions are signaling it’s time to escape. This emotional evaluation system is probably similar in all animals, but the difference in humans is that we use this response pattern to judge imaginary scenarios as well.

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