Topic: Foreign Policy and National Security

Padilla Verdict

Jose Padilla is the American citizen who was arrested five years ago at Chicago’s O’Hare airport because he was suspected of working with al-Qaeda.  At that time, Attorney General John Ashcroft said Padilla had come to the U.S. from Pakistan to set off a “dirty bomb.”  President Bush declared Padilla an “enemy combatant” and locked him up in a military brig with no access to family, lawyers, or the civilian court system.  That move turned into the most important constitutional issue that has arisen since 9/11.  President Bush says he can arrest any person in the world and lock that person up in a military prison.  No arrest warrant.  No trial.  No judicial check via the great legal writ of habeas corpus.

We filed a brief (pdf) in the Padilla case when it reached the Supreme Court in 2004.  The Supreme Court did not reach the merits of the controversy at that time.  A majority of the Court found a jurisdictional problem and basically said that the lawsuit should have been filed elsewhere.  Justice John Paul Stevens dissented and this is how he described the matter:

At stake in this case is nothing less than the essence of a free society.  Even more important than the method of selecting the people’s rulers and their successors is the character of the constraints imposed on the Executive by the rule of law.  Unconstrained Executive detention for the purpose of investigating and preventing subversive activity is the hallmark of the Star Chamber.  Access to counsel for the purpose of protecting the citizen from official mistakes and mistreatment is the hallmark of due process. … [I]f this Nation is to remain true to the ideals symbolized by its flag, it must not wield the tools of tyranny even to resist an assault by the forces of tyranny.

That was the dissent.  The majority dismissed the lawsuit on jurisdictional grounds.

Another lawsuit was promptly filed – and just when looked as if the Supreme Court was about to rehear the case and declare President Bush’s enemy combatant policy to be illegal, Bush administration lawyers moved Padilla back into ordinary civilian custody to be tried on criminal charges.  That move was presumably to keep the controversial claim of executive power away from the Supreme Court, i.e. no need to hear the case because the circumstances have changed. 

The criminal trial finally concluded today with a guilty verdict.

What’s it all mean?  Well, we should all want the intelligence and police agencies to be on the lookout for persons connected with al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups.  No argument there.  The real issue, as Justice Stevens noted, is the means by which the government goes about that mission.  I did not follow the criminal trial closely because the key issues surrounding Padilla’s imprisonment (military custody and the legality of the interrogation tactics that were used against him) were not in play–though they may now come up on appeal. 

Although the federal government was able to persuade a jury that Padilla broke the law and was involved in a murderous conspiracy with al-Qaeda, we should all be troubled that this prisoner was locked up for five years before an independent tribunal could affirm the allegations.  If the wheels of justice turned slowly in this case–and they unquestionably did–it means the same thing might happen tomorrow to another American citizen right here in the U.S.  On paper, the Constitution guarantees everyone “speedy trials” so as to minimize the hardship on innocent people who get charged with crimes they did not commit.  Reasonable people can disagree about what “speedy” means, but I’m sure that five years imprisonment ain’t speedy.  We need to be vigilant about the weakening of that guarantee, as well as all the others.

For some additional Cato work about the Padilla case, go here, here, and here.

For more about the constitutional record of the Bush administration, go here.

Invasion of the Cheney Snatchers

This eerie video clip of a 1994 interview with Dick Cheney has been making the rounds in recent days:

In it, Cheney defends the Bush 41 administration’s decision not to proceed to Baghdad after expelling the Iraqi army from Kuwait. His description of the downsides of occupation now sounds downright prophetic.

Seeing this clip reminded me of a personal experience along similar lines. Back in 1998, when I was running Cato’s then-new Center for Trade Policy Studies, we held a conference on unilateral economic sanctions called “Collateral Damage: The Economic Cost of U.S. Foreign Policy.” And our luncheon speaker at that event was none other than Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney.

Looking back at the transcript of his talk, you can see that it’s not just Cheney’s views of the wisdom of occupying Iraq that have undergone an amazing transformation. So has his attitude about engaging versus confronting Iran:

[O]ur sanctions policy oftentimes generates unanticipated consequences. It puts us in a position where a part of our government is pursuing objectives that are at odds with other objectives that the United States has with respect to a particular region.

An example that comes immediately to mind has to do with efforts to develop the resources of the former Soviet Union in the Caspian Sea area. It is a region rich in oil and gas. Unfortunately, Iran is sitting right in the middle of the area and the United States has declared unilateral economic sanctions against that country. As a result, American firms are prohibited from dealing with Iran and find themselves cut out of the action, both in terms of opportunities that develop with respect to Iran itself, and also with respect to our ability to gain access to Caspian resources. Iran is not punished by this decision. There are numerous oil and gas development companies from other countries that are now aggressively pursuing opportunities to develop those resources. That development will proceed, but it will happen without American participation. The most striking result of the government’s use of unilateral sanctions in the region is that only American companies are prohibited from operating there.

Another good example of how our sanctions policy oftentimes gets in the way of our other interests occurred in the fall of 1997 when Saddam Hussein was resisting U.N. weapons inspections. I happened to be in the Gulf region during that period of time. Administration officials in the area were trying to get Arab members of the coalition that executed operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm in 1991 to allow U.S. military forces to be based on their territory. They wanted that capability in the event it was necessary to take military action against Iraq in order to get them to honor the UN resolutions. Our friends in the region cited a number of reasons for not complying with our request. They were concerned with the fragile nature of the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, which was stalled. But they also had fundamental concerns about our policy toward Iran. We had been trying to force the governments in the region to adhere to an anti-Iranian policy, and our views raised questions in their mind about the wisdom of U.S. leadership. They cited it as an example of something they thought was unwise, and that they should not do.

So, what effect does this have on our standing in the region? I take note of the fact that all of the Arab countries we approached, with the single exception of Kuwait, rejected our request to base forces on their soil in the event military action was required against Iraq. As if that weren’t enough, most of them boycotted the economic conference that the United States supported in connection with the peace process that was hosted in Qatar during that period of time. Then, having rejected participation in that conference, they all went to Tehran and attended the Islamic summit hosted by the Iranians. The nation that’s isolated in terms of our sanctions policy in that part of the globe is not Iran. It is the United States. And the fact that we have tried to pressure governments in the region to adopt a sanctions policy that they clearly are not interested in pursuing has raised doubts in the minds of many of our friends about the overall wisdom and judgment of U.S. policy in the area.

Note again that Cheney gave these remarks in 1998 – when Iran’s nuclear ambitions were already well known, and two years after the Khobar Towers bombing in which Iran was believed to be complicit.

9/11 may not have changed everything, but it sure changed Dick Cheney.

[cross-posted from www.brinklindsey.com]

What Price (Restricted) Freedom?

About six months ago, I did an elegant back-of-envelope calculation about the Western Hemisphere Travel Restriction Initiative’s cost in terms of lost freedom and commerce. I came up with an estimate of about half a billion dollars (net present value).

If that estimate was a little too airy, here’s a clearer cost of WHTI: $944 million over three years. That’s the direct cost we’re paying through the State Department for the WHTI rules.

So now we’re at around $1.5 billion. Will $1.5 billion+ in damage to the United States’ people, possessions, infrastructure, and interests be averted thanks to WHTI? No. As a security measure, it’s Swiss cheese.

WHTI does more harm than good. It is a self-injurious misstep - precisely what the strategy of terrorism seeks to cause.

Evil in Qataniyah

More than 250 people were killed in four coordinated truck bombings in northern Iraq, in the villages of Qataniyah and Jazeera. The victims were adherents of the Yazidi faith, which predates Islam in the Middle East. Public radio’s “The World” interviewed Dutch scholar Philip Kreyenbroek, who has written books about Kurds and the Yazidi faith. He explained that Muslims and Christians sometimes denounce Yazidis as Satanists, claiming that they worship evil. But that’s not true, Kreyenbroek said; they don’t worship evil, they just don’t think it exists.

I wonder if they do now.

Who Will Author the Petraeus Report?

The LA Times reports that it will be the Bush White House:

Despite Bush’s repeated statements that the report will reflect evaluations by Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, administration officials said it would actually be written by the White House, with inputs from officials throughout the government.

The president actually presaged his own views at the recent press conference. One would imagine the president’s views will feature prominently in any report authored by the White House.

THE PRESIDENT: As you know, General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker will be coming back to report on the findings of the success of the surge. The surge success will not only include military successes and military failures, but also political successes and political failures. And my own perspective is, is that they have made some progress, but not enough.

So the findings on the success of the surge will feature both successes and failures. And, no doubt the president will ask for more time to reach our ultimate objective of Victory.

Getting Drafty?

It’s tough to imagine that the White House was too pleased that the first public declaration of the much-touted “war czar,” Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, was to suggest that we may need to “consider” a draft to fulfill our myriad international commitments.

Fred Kaplan explores the topic more in Slate, and notes “If we want to take on the world’s problems, we may need the draft. Still want to?”

But probably the best piece about the draft I’ve seen recently isn’t even about the draft. Benjamin Friedman, a PhD candidate at MIT, had this piece in Foreign Policy magazine about expanding the Army generally–voluntarily or not. It’s really worth reading the whole thing, but here’s the gist:

[N]obody has stopped to ask an obvious question: more troops for what? Expansion of the U.S. armed services feeds the misplaced hope that military occupations and state-building can defeat terrorism and strengthen the national security of the United States. Wiser leaders would avoid these doomed missions and the troop expansion altogether and focus on what works.

[…]

The good news is that counterterrorism does not demand that Americans master the art of running foreign countries. Modern Sunni terrorism stems principally from an ideology, jihadism, not a political condition. History is rife with ungoverned states. Only one, Afghanistan, created serious danger for Americans. Even there, the problem was more that the government allied with al Qaeda than that there was no government.

True, certain civil wars have attracted terrorists, but it hardly follows that the United States should participate in these conflicts. Doing so costs blood and treasure and merely serves the narrative of jihadism, slowing its defeat by more moderate ideologies. The notion that fighting terrorism requires that we fix foreign disorder leads to an empire far more costly than the problem it is meant to solve. What the United States needs is not more troops, but more restraint in using the ones it already has.

It would be great if the debate shifted from “a draft, or no?” to “more troops or fewer missions?” Then we’d be getting somewhere.

Woolsey Makes Predictions

Former CIA Director James Woolsey has surfaced recently to declare that it’s time to get serious about bombing Iran, and predicting terror attacks on the United States this summer or fall. Woolsey made an appearance on the Newsmax website last week, noting

“I think the threat of a serious attack in the next few months is very real.” A terrorist strike with a dirty bomb or with biological weapons was “a real possibility.”

And last night, Woolsey popped in to chat with Lou Dobbs, where he made the shocking prediction that

I’m afraid within, well, at worst, a few months; at best, a few years; [the Iranians] could have a bomb.

There were some weird commonalities to these appearances, almost as if Woolsey had prepared remarks. (Both interviews, for example, featured the Woolsey riff that “the Persians invented chess. They’re good at it. Their most valuable piece, their ‘queen’ really, is their nuclear weapons program.” Both appearances also feature this: “I agree with John McCain. Force is the worst option except for one. And that is allowing Iran to have a nuclear weapon.”)

While both of these substantive predictions are alarming, they have the benefit of being clear and falsifiable. Like the prediction Woolsey made in 1993 as the Director of Central Intelligence, for instance:

“February 24, 1993: CIA director James Woolsey says that Iran is still 8 to 10 years away from being able to produce its own nuclear weapon, but with assistance from abroad it could become a nuclear power earlier.”

God forbid we’re attacked or the Iranians get a bomb–let alone before the end of the year. What would be helpful, though, was if we had a predictions market so that we could put odds on these sorts of predictions and follow up to determine who knows what he’s talking about.