Topic: Foreign Policy and National Security

Why Is Marijuana Still Illegal?

According to Rasmussen Reports, a majority of Americans believe that alcohol is more dangerous than marijuana:

Pot or not, that is the question.

Fifty-one percent (51%) of American adults say alcohol is more dangerous than marijuana, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. Just 19% disagree and say pot is worse.

But 25% say both are equally dangerous. Just two percent (2%) say neither is dangerous.

Younger adults are more likely than their elders to view alcohol as the more dangerous of the two.

Fifty-three percent (53%) of women say alcohol is more dangerous than marijuana, compared to 48% of men. Men by a two-to-one margin over women say pot is riskier, but women are more inclined to say both are dangerous.

Unmarried adults are more critical of alcohol than those who are married. Those with children at home think alcohol is more dangerous than those without kids living with them.

So why are pot users still being tossed into jail?

There are lots of good reasons why people shouldn’t use drugs.  But making drug use illegal only compounds the social consequences, turning a moral and health problem into a legal and criminal problem.  The result is the worst of both worlds:  all of the problems of drug use plus all of the problems of prohibition.  Unfortunately, those consequences flow overseas, further undermining fragile societies such as Afghanistan, Colombia, and Mexico and ultimately American security objectives as well.

It’s time to call off the Drug War.

Enhanced Justification Techniques

Over the last few days the right has been trying to rehabilitate the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” on detainees, claiming that the ends justified the means. For a sample, click here, here, here, and here.

Don’t be fooled by these “enhanced justification techniques.” (H/T NonSequitur, who coined the term in response to Charles Krauthammer’s justifications for torture, something I have also fisked)

Peter Bergen breaks down the facts and chronology of what information we gleaned from Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) over at Foreign Policy.

Most interesting tidbit:

The CIA inspector general’s report on al Qaeda detainees also concluded that based on a review of KSM’s plots aimed at the United States, it “did not uncover any evidence that these plots were imminent,” but it did find that KSM “provided information that helped lead to the arrests of terrorists including Sayfullah Paracha and his son Uzair Paracha, businessmen who Khalid Shaykh Muhammad planned to use to smuggle explosives into the United States; Saleh Almari, a sleeper operative in New York; and Majid Khan, an operative who could enter the United States easily and was tasked to research attacks [redacted]. Khalid Shaykh Muhammad’s information also led to the investigation and prosecution of Iyman Faris, the truck driver arrested in early 2003 in Ohio.”

The man identified by the CIA inspector general as “Saleh Almari, a sleeper operative in New York” who KSM supposedly gave up to his interrogator appears, in fact, to be Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, who was arrested on Dec. 12, 2001, in Peoria, Ill., a year and a half before KSM was captured.

I’ve written extensively about al-Marri, an Al Qaeda sleeper agent that the FBI picked up shortly after September 11, 2001. His arrest had nothing to do with KSM’s statements. This was FBI agents doing police work like we would hope they do. His indictment for credit card fraud and lying to federal agents may not be prosecution for conducting a terrorist attack, but that’s okay — if you can bust him on something else before he blows up a building, then it’s a win all around. Terrorism inherently breaks laws, and prosecuting aspiring terrorists for those crimes neutralizes them.

As former FBI counterterrorism agent Mike German says:

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.

Al-Marri’s criminal prosecution should have been a success story that shows how law enforcement plays a critical role in counterterrorism. Instead, the Bush administration used him as justification for domestic military detention of suspected terrorists, a practice that it claimed would be lawful in the case of an American citizen apprehended on the streets of Anytown, U.S.A.

The rest of the information gained from KSM also fails to justify the blowback from exceeding the lawful limits of interrogation:

The Parachas are a father-and-son team; the former, arrested in Thailand in the summer of 2003, is being held at Guantánamo and has yet to face trial, while his son was convicted in 2005 of providing “material support” to al Qaeda.

Majid Khan was arrested in Pakistan only four days after KSM was captured, suggesting that this lead came not from interrogations but from KSM’s computers and cell phones that were picked up when he was captured.

Of the terrorists, alleged and otherwise, cited by the CIA inspector general as being fingered by KSM during his coercive interrogations, only Ohio truck driver Iyman Faris was an actual al Qaeda foot soldier living in the United States who had serious intention to wreak havoc. However, he was not much of a competent terrorist: In 2002 he researched the feasibility of bringing down the Brooklyn Bridge by using a blowtorch, an enterprise akin to demolishing the Empire State Building with a firecracker.

Bergen does a good job of putting torture in context and how little utility it actually had. Read the whole thing.

The War on Terror Is Over—-Spread the News!

Daniel Henninger shares the good news in the Wall Street Journal today: The war on terror is over!

Unfortunately, he appears to bemoan that development. The excesses of the “war on terror” will—regrettably, to him—be reined in by lawyers.

His basic thesis is, very roughly: Lawyers interfere with good things. Lawyers are going to interfere with torture. So torture is a good thing.

This litigation nightmare, together with the chilling effect of the special prosecutor’s potential indictments, has as its goal making the price of aggressive interrogation too high under any circumstance, including a one-hour-bomb scenario.

Bring back the Dalkon Shield, asbestos, and torture!

Except that the ticking time-bomb/”one-hour bomb” scenario is never going to happen. It’s an interesting ethical thought experiment—and riveting fodder for TV—but not a serious dilemma for our security policy.

I take delight when commentators misuse history or culture to jazz up their writing, and Henninger throws a slow, fat pitch right over the plate: He quotes the famous anti-laywer line from Shakespeare, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

The line was spoken by a criminal to other criminals as they dreamed up a criminals’ “chicken in every pot” scenario. This undercuts the idea that we’d be better off without lawyers and the rule of law.

Terrorists are too weak to advance their own unpopular ideologies, so they seek to tear down their opponents’. Henninger’s attack on the rule of law in the United States invites exactly what terrorists want us to do.

This I Don’t Get

While the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency constantly raids factories and workplaces looking for peaceful and hard-working undocumented immigrants to kick out of the country, the same federal government agency brings to the U.S. dangerous Mexican drug traffickers who—while continuing their criminal activities in Mexico and the U.S.—also serve as informants to the federal authorities in their war on drugs.

Can someone explain this to me?

Meghan Cox Gurdon: Doesn’t Understand Terrorism

In goading victim states to overreact, one of the things terrorists seek is confirmation of their ideological narrative. The story Islamist terrorists tell themselves and others is that the United States is a wicked power, an occupier, a Crusader, and an exploiter of Muslims. Terrorists are energized, and they have an easier time with recruiting and maintaining support, when the United States does things that make these charges look true.

Lacking this insight, Washington Examiner columnist Meghan Cox Gurdon interprets recent events wrongly in almost every respect. Her column is called “These are Good Times for Terrorists.”

Rather than scoring a terrorist “win,” the compassionate release of Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi doesn’t square with Western cruelty. Thus—to the extent it matters to terrorists—it confounds their version of events. Terrorists don’t really do a “how much time will I serve” calculation, so the release probably doesn’t matter much. In terms of individual justice, it may have been wrong, but not in terms of counterterrorism strategy.

Gurdon cites flagging U.S. will in Afghanistan as a sign of terrorist success, and it would provide short-term gains to the Taliban if the United States exited the field. But with lessened U.S. violence in the area, and with the recent election giving a stronger toehold to legitimate government, U.S. military caution stands to deal terrorism strategic setbacks.

Where Gurdon really gets it wrong—and purposefully so—is in her interpretation of Attorney General Holder’s move to investigate allegations of torture by U.S. authorities: “[M]ilitants now know that, should they be apprehended, American interrogators cannot so much as wave a loaded gun or blow cigar smoke in their faces lest they face the disciplinary wrath of their own authorities.”

These slights are not the gravamen of the torture allegations, and Gurdon undoubtedly knows that. What she may not know is that abuse of terror suspects is good for terrorism: It confirms the ideological narrative holding that the United States is an evil, abusive power. Meticulous fair treatment of terror suspects, on the other hand—as ordinary criminals—is the fate terrorists loathe. This robs them of their claim on moral authority and makes their struggle boring.

Recall that the first of the “five demands” in the 1981 IRA hunger strike was the right not to wear a prison uniform. Treating them as ordinary criminals would sap their legitimacy and the strength of their challenge to incumbent power in the eyes of key audiences.

It would have been far, far better for the United States and CIA interrogators not to have lost their cool after the 9/11 attacks. We handed terrorism many swords with our responses. But exposing error to light and punishing proven wrongdoing confirms our ideology: fealty to the rule of law.

Meghan Gurdon doesn’t understand terrorism. And she takes a real header with her flabby attempt to associate alleged CIA torture and other missteps with the constitution:

The Republic rests on the Constitution, but the reverse is also true; the Constitution and all the benign and enlightened principles it embodies rest on the continued strength and moral will of the Republic.

No, Meghan. The republic, its strength, and its moral will all rest on the constitution.

The Cost of Getting Out of Iraq

Getting into Iraq was easy.  Fighting the war was expensive in lives and money.  Getting out will cost more cash.

In fact, the Pentagon figures that taxpayers will have to spend tens of billions of dollars to bring home or transfer the equipment strewn about Iraq.  According to Jason Ditz:

A lot of the cost is going to depend on what the military decides to do with the various items it required to occupy the nation and then fight an insurgency for several years with well over 100,000 US troops. Some of the gear will be shipped back to the US, others will be sent to Afghanistan for the ongoing war there. Still others will just be given to the Iraqi government so they don’t have to deal with the other two options.

The US has spent over two thirds of a trillion dollars on the war in Iraq so far (and this is only figuring the direct costs), but while President Obama has already started projecting dramatically lower costs in the near future as the war “winds down” (which so far hasn’t translated to actually removing serious numbers of troops from the nation), the costs just of hauling “mountains of equipment” out of Iraq show that nothing the military does is done on the cheap, not even ending a war.

So much for the occupation that was supposed to pay for itself!