May 5, 2011 2:36PM

What Not to Learn from bin Laden’s Killing

The tendency to treat Osama bin Laden’s killing as national holiday akin to V-E day is both understandable and unfortunate. Everyone with a sense of justice appreciates the death of mass murderers, particularly the terrorist sort. But celebrating as if we killed Hitler or won a war plays into al Qaeda’s self-serving myth. Paul Pillar put it well:

An unfortunate irony of the huge reaction to the killing of Bin Ladin is that it continues to give him in death what he worked so hard to achieve in life: the status of arch foe of the most powerful nation on earth. It is a status that conforms with Bin Ladin's narrative of himself as the leader of the Muslim world, protecting that world against the predations of the Judeo-Christian West, the leader of which is the United States.

We should also avoid drawing sweeping conclusions about our counterterrorism policies from Osama bin Laden’s death. We typically overgeneralize about important events. After the September 11 attacks, for example, even defense analysts tended to interpret al Qaeda’s capability largely through the purview of that plot, rather than treating it as a particularly important data point in al Qaeda’s history. The myopic take made al Qaeda seem far more capable than it was. With that in mind, here are several things that bin Laden’s death either cannot tell us much about or will not tell us much about until more information surfaces.

1. The war in Afghanistan. There are many reasons we should draw down in Afghanistan, but the bin Laden raid offers little intellectual ammunition for either side of the war debate. The intelligence that led to Abbottabad came years ago, from prisoners outside Afghanistan and operations in Pakistan. The helicopters flew from a base in Afghanistan, but it didn’t take a decade of war and a massive ground force to get that. The fact that bin Laden was living in an area of Pakistan where the state was relatively strong does nothing to support the idea that we should fight wars trying to build authority in ungoverned regions lest terrorists gain haven there.

But the fact that Sunday’s events do not serve pro-war arguments does not show logically, the correctness of the anti-war position, which is mine. The pro-war argument, flawed as it is, depends on other claims (i.e. terrorists will gain haven in Afghanistan if we draw down) that bin Laden’s death does not affect. That something is not an orange does little to tell you whether it’s a pear. Hopefully, however, bin Laden’s death may make it easier, politically to get out of Afghanistan.

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February 3, 2011 12:02PM

Egypt’s Iraq Connection

Overall, President Obama was right to applaud the Egyptian military for defending (at least for now) rather than killing Egyptian civilians, potentially avoiding the Arab world’s Tienanmen Square. Whether Obama’s rhetoric could have been more supportive, as we saw with Tunisia, is up for debate. But it appears that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s attempt to shape an orderly transition is running into trouble.


The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer reports that Mubarak’s recently appointed Vice President, Omar Suleiman, was “the C.I.A.’s point man in Egypt for renditions — the covert program in which the C.I.A. snatched terror suspects from around the world and returned them to Egypt and elsewhere for interrogation, often under brutal circumstances.” Suleiman used to be head of the Intelligence Services (al‐​mukhabarat).


According to U.C.S.B. Professor Paul Amar, the mukhabarat, which detains and tortures foreigners more than Egyptians, is less hated than the Interior Ministry’s State Security Investigations (SSI) (mabahith amn al‐​dawla), and different than the Central Security Services (Amn al‐​Markazi), “the black uniformed, helmeted men that the media refer to as ‘the police.’” Mayer reports that Suleiman Suleiman was also the C.I.A.’s liaison for the rendition of al Qaeda suspect Ibn Sheikh al‐​Libi. “The Libi case,” Mayer reports, “is particularly controversial, in large part because it played a role in the building of the case for the American invasion of Iraq.”


How ironic that America’s attempt to export democracy to Iraq was aided by a repressive government like Egypt’s.

November 11, 2010 1:42PM

Destroying Evidence = American Hero

That’s what the attorney for former CIA officer Jose Rodriguez is saying about his client. Rodriguez and other CIA personnel destroyed videotapes of detainee interrogations. The Justice Department announced that Rodriguez will not face criminal charges, but did not elaborate on the reasoning behind the decision.


Rodriguez’s decision to get rid of the tapes came after White House lawyers, responding to a court order, instructed the CIA not to destroy any evidence associated with detainee interrogations.


I know that the term “slippery slope” is overused, but it’s clearly evident here. Thwart the rule of law by declaring torture legal, thwart it again to cover up your actions.

September 10, 2010 2:10PM

Obama Administration Wins in State Secrets Case

A split panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decided, on a 6 – 5 vote, that a lawsuit filed by extraordinary rendition and torture victims is barred by the State Secrets Privilege. Over a year ago, a three‐​judge panel ruled that the case should proceed with traditional application of the Privilege — individual pieces of evidence would be excluded based on their secret nature, but other evidence would remain available for litigation.


Robert Chesney has some thoughtful commentary on how the current state of the law deals with rule of law versus individual justice concerns. By any measure this is, as Glenn Greenwald notes, a broad victory for the government and further evidence of continuity between the Bush and Obama administrations’ approaches to terrorism.

February 17, 2010 9:49AM

Wednesday Links

  • Is there a place for gay people in conservative politics? We’ll be discussing it today at Cato. Watch here live at 12 PM EST.
November 4, 2009 3:36PM

Greenwald on the Arrar Ruling

Glenn Greenwald has a good post about Arrar v. Ashcroft, an appeals court ruling that came down the other day. Here’s an excerpt:

Maher Arar is both a Canadian and Syrian citizen of Syrian descent. A telecommunications engineer and graduate of Montreal’s McGill University, he has lived in Canada since he’s 17 years old. In 2002, he was returning home to Canada from vacation when, on a stopover at JFK Airport, he was (a) detained by U.S. officials, (b) accused of being a Terrorist, (c) held for two weeks incommunicado and without access to counsel while he was abusively interrogated, and then (d) was “rendered” — despite his pleas that he would be tortured — to Syria, to be interrogated and tortured. He remained in Syria for the next 10 months under the most brutal and inhumane conditions imaginable, where he was repeatedly tortured. Everyone acknowledges that Arar was never involved with Terrorism and was guilty of nothing. I’ve appended to the end of this post the graphic description from a dissenting judge of what was done to Arar while in American custody and then in Syria.

Read the whole thing. Also, the ACLU has put together a short film about the experiences of some prisoners released from Guantanamo.