Al-Marri Is (Probably) a Terrorist — We Should Have Tried Him

The Justice Department received an extension from the Supreme Court in the pending appeal of Ali Saleh Mohamed Kahlah al-Marri, an exchange student who allegedly arrived in the United States on September 10th, 2001, as an Al Qaeda sleeper agent. He is the only person presently domestically detained as an enemy combatant, a practice I oppose. The Obama administration is taking the extra time to reconsider the government’s position.

The Fourth Circuit previously held that al-Marri can continue to be detained as an enemy combatant. The unclassified version of the evidence against him is available in the Rapp Declaration. I highly recommend you read the whole thing. Al-Marri is (probably) a sleeper agent for Al Qaeda. We should have tried him.

The fight against Al Qaeda is part military, part law enforcement. Whichever approach we use, this is a struggle where the population is not incidental to the battlefield, the population is the battlefield. Insurgencies and terrorism are 10% tactical, 90% propaganda. By making a legal martyr out of al-Marri, we give him a propaganda victory he has not earned.

The FBI did exactly what we want domestic terrorism investigators to do: it gathered evidence to produce an indictment. The government should have followed through with prosecution instead of moving him to a military brig. We prosecute domestic terrorists for criminal actions, and al-Marri should be treated no differently. 

Former FBI special agent and terrorism expert Mike German infiltrated two domestic terror organizations and brought charges against their members. As German says in his excellent book, Thinking Like a Terrorist: Insights of a Former FBI Undercover Agent, prosecuting terrorists for fraud charges should not give us pause. 

As an FBI agent my counterterrorism investigations never resulted in anyone being charged with terrorism. The terrorists I arrested were charged with specific criminal offenses; possessing and transferring illegal firearms and explosive devices, illegally using firearms and destructive devices, conspiring to use illegal firearms and destructive devices, and conspiring to violate civil rights. Terrorists use these crimes to accomplish their political goals. Once I had evidence of their illegal activities, I could bring charges against them. Certainly the motive behind their conduct came into play to prove they had the requisite criminal intent, but the laws I enforced had absolutely nothing to do with the terrorists’ ideology.

German also points out that terrorists rely on their claim to be something more akin to soldiers than criminals to maintain political legitimacy. IRA terrorists held by British authorities staged a hunger strike to retain treatment as “prisoners of war” rather than “criminals.” Ten of them willingly starved to death rather than be lumped in with murderers and rapists, the goal of the British “criminalization” strategy. As German writes:

The reasons for the hunger strike reveal much about the IRA and about terrorists in general. They didn’t strike over the anti-Catholic discrimination that led to the civil rights movement. They didn’t strike over the RUC’s police abuse or the stationing of British troops in Northern Ireland. They didn’t strike over being arrested without charges, interned, and tortured. They didn’t strike over indefinite detentions or even over Bloody Sunday. They knew all those things helped their cause. They went on hunger strike because the British government was going to make them look like criminals.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, architect of the 9/11 attacks, sees the writing on the wall — the Obama administration intends to close down the Military Commissions and try him and his co-conspirators in a traditional court of law. This is why he tried to plead guilty and become a martyr for his cause. If we convict al-Marri and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in federal court and not a Military Commission or one of the proposed national security courts, the Al Qaeda boogey-man is revealed as a thug, not a noble Muslim soldier. 

Mike German’s recent Cato podcast with Caleb Brown is here. German also spoke on a panel at Cato’s recent conference, Shaping the Obama Administration’s Counterterrorism Strategy. The video file is available here and the podcast can be downloaded here. Cato filed an amicus brief in the al-Marri case with the Constitution Project and the Rutherford Institute.

Buy American Is Politics as Usual

As I wrote in an earlier post today, the Buy American provisions in the just-passed House and currently-worded Senate spending bills will encourage similar measures abroad, threatening yet more tit-for-tat protectionism, as respect for international trade rules disintegrates.

It’s not too difficult to discern who’s behind the Buy American provision, which reads:

None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used for a project for the construction, alteration, maintenance, or repair of a public building or public work unless all of the iron and steel [my emphasis] used in the project is produced in the United States.

Evidently, the once-and-for-always politically savvy U.S. steel industry has not lost its touch. Like profit-maximizing firms in any industry, America’s steel producers have devoted large chunks of their profits (which have been enormous and record-setting over the past five years, up until 4Q08) to their highest yielding input. For Big Steel, that input isn’t human capital or physical capital, but the far more productive enterprise of lobbying for taxpayer largesse. And this will be a pretty big payday for these modern-day robber barons.

But, it is absolutely stunning—even to those who have watched this industry impose its will over U.S. trade policy at great expense to other industries time and time again—that nobody in Congress has blown a whistle on this outrageous scheme. The incredibly profitable U.S. steel industry (which has fallen on harder times in the past several months like everyone else), consists of fewer than 100,000 workers. It is the ONLY beneficiary of this hair-brained provision that will undermine any incentive the industry has to remain efficient, and promises to spark reprisals and crush export sales for industries that employ millions of workers. That doesn’t strike me as a recipe for U.S. job growth.

That is not to say that Buy American coverage should therefore be expanded. It should be stripped entirely. All that those rules do is guarantee that a good portion of the billions of dollars the government is borrowing – on our children’s tab – will be wasted on unnecessary mark-ups. Think $300 light bulbs at the Penatagon? Each project will cost more than it should and do much less for the economy and for job growth than they would if those project dollars were in the hands of the private sector – where there is natural incentive for cost management.

The U.S. steel industry has already burdened taxpayers, consumers, and it’s much more economically significant customers (who support 50 jobs for every 1 in the steel industry and account for 10-times the steel industry’s share of GDP) over the decades. Just this decade, the steel industry dumped $13 billion of legacy costs on the taxpayer-funded Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation and convinced the Bush administration to impose sweeping tariffs on imports for nearly two years. Not a dime of that was repaid during the industry’s subsequent boom years (which just ended a few months back).

These Buy American provisions are an outrage and someone in the Senate, or the White House, should speak up.

The Freedom to Do Business

Cato author Tim Sandefur has a video on YouTube about a truly awful business regulation in Oregon, one that prevents anyone from starting a moving company without in effect the permission of the existing moving companies. As you can probably imagine, they aren’t eager to give it.

Sandefur and his employer, the Pacific Legal Foundation, are fighting the cartel:

Good for them.

Next Wednesday: Jefferson’s Moose

Post Jeffersons MooseReminder: Next Wednesday, February 4th, the Cato Institute will host a book forum on David Post’s new book, In Search of Jefferson’s Moose: Notes on the State of Cyberspace.

Comments will come from Clive Crook, chief Washington commentator of the Financial Times and senior editor of The Atlantic Monthly; and Jeffrey Rosen, professor of law at The George Washington University and legal affairs editor of The New Republic.

It’s a very interesting book, and the commentators are second to none.

The forum is at noon next Wednesday, February 4. Register here.

And here’s Cato alum Adam Thierer’s review of the book.

Stimulus Package = The Dems’ PATRIOT Act

That’s what Steve Horwitz says here.  Like the PATRIOT Act, it’s a preexisting wishlist of initiatives being rammed through in an atmosphere of hysteria. Where the Obama administration has, to its credit, backed away from the language of war and crisis when it comes to international affairs and homeland security, the Obama team seems all too willing to revert to Bush-style fearmongering in the service of greater state involvement in the economy.

Yesterday’s coverage in the New York Times (of all places) suggests that the stimulus package is a Trojan Horse effort designed to make dramatic and likely permanent changes in the federal role in health care and education, among other things:

For Democrats, [the stimulus package] is also a tool for rewriting the social contract with the poor, the uninsured and the unemployed, in ways they have long yearned to do….

Altogether, the economic recovery bill would speed $127 billion over the next two and a half years to individuals and states for health care alone, a fact that has Republicans fuming that the stimulus package is a back door to universal health coverage…. The federal share of Medicaid spending now ranges from 50 percent in higher-income states like New York and Connecticut to more than 73 percent in poor states like Mississippi and West Virginia. Under the House bill, the federal share would be increased by at least 4.9 percentage points in every state, and by much more in states with large increases in unemployment.

Critics and supporters alike said that by its sheer scope, the measure could profoundly change the federal government’s role in education, which has traditionally been the responsibility of state and local government…. In recent years the federal government has contributed 9 percent of the nation’s total spending on public schools, with states and local districts financing the rest. Washington has contributed 19 percent of spending on higher education. The stimulus package would raise those federal proportions significantly. The Department of Education’s discretionary budget for the 2008 fiscal year was about $60 billion. The stimulus bill would raise that to about $135 billion this year, and to about $146 billion in 2010. Other federal agencies would administer about $20 billion in additional education-related spending. “This really marks a new era in federal education spending,” said Edward Kealy, executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, a coalition of 90 education groups.

Does the Trojan-Horse theory sound cynical? Well, as my colleague Will Wilkinson points out, what this country needs, now and ever, is a healthy dose of constructive cynicism:

“There are some who question the scale of our ambitions, who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans,” President Obama observed in his [inaugural] address. “Their memories are short,” he said, “for they have forgotten what this country has already done, what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose and necessity to courage.”

This is a tediously familiar and dangerous message. Can you recall the scale of our recent ambitions? The United States would invade Iraq, refashion it as a democracy and forever transform the Middle East. Remember when President Bush committed the United States to “the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world”? That is ambitious scale.

Not only have some of us forgotten “what this country has already done … when imagination is joined to a common purpose,” it’s as if some of us are trying to erase the memory of our complicity in the last eight years—to forget that in the face of a crisis we did transcend our stale differences and cut the president a blank check that paid for disaster. How can we not question the scale of our leaders’ ambitions? How short would our memories have to be?

So What Is Wrong with “Ideology?”

In its lead editorial today, the New York Times dismisses criticism of the stimulus bill that passed the House last night as “mostly ideological.” Similarly, a McClatchy News story about the economists who signed Cato’s newspaper advertisement opposing the stimulus bill, dismissed signers as “ideologically opposed” to government spending. This is part of a trend we’ve seen since President Obama’s election. Opposition to Obama’s programs is dismissed as “ideological,” whereas the belief by President Obama and Congressional Democrats in ever bigger and more activist government is, in the word’s of EJ Dionne, “anti-ideological.”

After all, President Obama has called for “a new declaration of independence, not just in our nation, but in our own lives — from ideology and small thinking, prejudice and bigotry.”

Apparently then, to believe in free-markets, limited government, and individual liberty is to be “ideological,” on a par with being a small-thinking bigot. On the other hand, to believe that government should run more and more of our lives, that government functions better than markets, and that government should redistribute wealth is…what? 

This country was founded by men who believed in such ideological ideas as “all men are created equal”  and are “endowed by the creater with certain unailenable rights.”  Since when is that a bad thing?

Trade Lessons Unheeded

Leaving aside the many other disastrous implications of the pork-laden “stimulus” bill, here are some thoughts about its impact on international trade. For all practical purposes there is no difference between the Smoot-Hawley tariff bill of 1930 and the “Buy American” provisions in the $819 billion spending bill that passed the House Wednesday.

Smoot-Hawley was the catalyst for a pandemic of tit-for-tat protectionism around the world, which helped deepen and prolong the global depression in the 1930s.  “Buy American” provisions will no doubt inspire similar trade barriers abroad and will have the same effect of reducing global trade—and therefore prospects for economic recovery.  It is not unreasonable to say that U.S. policymakers are on the verge of taking us down that same disastrous path.

The bill that passed the House includes the following language:

None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used for a project for the construction, alteration, maintenance, or repair of a public building or public work unless all of the iron and steel used in the project is produced in the United States.

The version currently before the Senate contains the same language, which would seem to indicate that scrapping the provision won’t be necessary to reconcile the two versions in conference.  So, unless the “Buy American” clause is dropped in the final Senate bill or is somehow defused during conference, the U.S. will have fired the first shot in what could evolve into a much wider trade war.

It’s usually better to be circumspect and to issue such dire warnings sparingly, but I see little room for alternative conclusions here.