Category Archives: Department of Defense

Who’s in Charge Here?

by Joshua L. Dratel

Amid the relief occasioning Hillary Clinton’s intervention that led to the plea agreement resolving the military commission prosecution of Omar Khadr, some curious comments were reported in the media during the period just before the deal was consummated. For example, The New York Times reported on October 15, 2010, that “Obama administration officials have privately expressed dismay about Mr. Khadr’s trial, which they see as undermining their efforts to redeem the reputation of the military commission system.” That article also stated that “[t]o the administration’s dismay, . . . the first case to reach trial under the revamped [military commission] rules was Mr. Khadr’s.”

That leads inexorably to the question: Who’s in charge here? Is the U.S. now like Pakistan, in which the military and intelligence apparatus constitute an independent government that is not subject to civilian dictates and control? The commander in chief, and therefore the person of ultimate authority over the military commissions, is the president himself. And the Department of Defense, a Cabinet-level agency that takes instructions from the chief executive, operates the commissions and controls the prosecutorial and administrative functions. A simple telephone call from the White House, or proverbial stroke of presidential pen, could have discontinued the Khadr prosecution, or stayed its proceedings indefinitely, or facilitated the same settlement ultimately reached by directing the prosecution to offer it. How could the president or his minions be “dismayed” over the continued actions of a government agency over which he exercises total control. Or does he?

Apparently not. When President Obama, two days after assuming office, issued his executive order that “halted” “all proceedings” pending in the military commissions, many aspects of the commissions, such as competency hearings for defendants in the 9/11 case, and ordinary proceedings in the Khadr case and others, continued unabated. Was there a problem with the commission fax machine? Was it one of those instances in which the Guantanamo base Internet was down?

Hardly. It was simply insubordination, and the belief, and then, when corrective action was not forthcoming, the knowledge that such refusal to obey the commander in chief would not be overridden or punished. Indeed, the commissions resumed without benefit of a rules manual, and it is unclear whether the president’s order halting the commissions has ever been formally rescinded. It is frustratingly ironic that when the commands were unlawful – to torture, to deceive the International Committee of the Red Cross, to lie to Congress, to wiretap illegally – there appeared to be little hesitation to “follow orders.” Now, in contrast, lawful orders have been ignored, and that insolence has gone unchecked and undisciplined.

In that context, the question also arises: Why did Secretary of State Clinton have to act as the indirect broker between the White House and the Department of Defense? How about a direct order through the proper and traditional chain of command: from the president to the secretary of defense? Another irony, indeed, as while throughout the Bush administration the controversy was the president’s regular and unilateral exercise of powers that were not his, now we have a president who declines to assert the authority that is unquestionably his, and to which no one could object.

Which returns us to the initial question: Is the president in charge of the Defense Department and, in particular, the Guantanamo military commissions? If so, how about demonstrating as much? Policy pronounced is meaningless unless implemented and, if not implemented, merely invites continued and broader defiance, and disrespect for those who fail to enforce it.

Copyright © 2010 by Joshua L. Dratel

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Today’s Terrorism News

McChrystal Replaced by Petraeus

As generals change, Afghan debate narrows to 2 powerful voices: The New York Times.

From Pentagon, messages of dismay and support: The New York Times.

Will Holbrooke be next to exit?: The Los Angeles Times.

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Today’s Terrorism News

McChrystal Fired, Replaced With Petraeus

Swift decision to dismiss McChrystal: The Wall Street Journal.

Afghanistan regrets McChrystal’s departure: Reuters via ABC Australia.

Afghan leaders saddened by McChrystal departure, optimistic about Petraeus: The Washington Post.

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Today’s Terrorism News

As you know, the Center on Law and Security is closed this week for our move to beautiful new quarters. However, we are forwarding the articles for you to read and digest on your own. We’ll be back with the full news summary next week.

Faisal Shahzad Pleads Guilty:

Covered in ABC News; The Wall Street Journal; The Los Angeles Times; The New York Times.

Excerpts from the transcript available from AP.

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Today’s Terrorism News

As you know, the Center on Law and Security is closed this week for our move to beautiful new quarters. However, we are forwarding the articles for you to read and digest on your own. We’ll be back with the full news summary next week.

Deal Could Yield Guilty Plea From bin Laden’s Cook: http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/06/19/1688924/deal-could-yield-guilty-plea-from.html

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Today’s Terrorism News

U.S. Citizen Arrested in Paraguay for Conspiring to Support Hezbollah

An American-Lebanese man suspected of smuggling merchandise to foreign countries in order to provide material support to Hezbollah was arrested in Paraguay yesterday, confirming suspicions of some officials that the Tri-Border area of Paraguay is becoming a “haven” for Islamic groups. The suspect faces extradition to America for prosecution in a Philadelphia federal court. AP, Newsweek‘s Declassified blog, Philly.com.

Police in Kosovo have arrested a man believed to be connected to a terrorist plot with a North Carolina target.

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Today’s Terrorism News

Arrest at Fort Gordon, “Several Possible Grenades” Found

In two separate incidents, U.S. military officials have arrested individuals trying to carry weapons onto bases in the United States. At CENTCOM headquarters – MacDill Air Force Base outside of Tampa, Florida – a couple was discovered attempting to bring ammunition and weapons onto the base on Monday. Little information has been released on the pair of intruders. Spc. Christopher Paul Kilburn had been stationed with Alpha Company, 1-16th 1st Infantry Division, Fort Riley, Kan. and was AWOL; his companion was Palm Beach resident Micah Noel Goodier. Reuters, AP, TBO.com. On Tuesday, “several possible grenades” were found in a vehicle at Fort Gordon, near Augusta, Georgia. The vehicle’s driver was impersonating a soldier and is now in FBI custody.  CNN, NBC Augusta.

Guantanamo

A Washington Post editorial highlights the case of Mohamed Mohamed Hassan Odaini, a Yemeni who has served eight years in Guantanamo, and urges the government to make an exception to the ban on returning detainees to Yemen for Mr. Odaini. The Post echoes the implications of the ruling made by Judge Henry H. Kennedy, Jr., who, in a decision publicly released last week, determined that Odaini should be freed. “The evidence before the Court shows that holding Odaini in custody at such great cost to him has done nothing to make the United States more secure,” wrote Kennedy. The editorial briefly describes the story of Odaini, who inadvertently spent the night at a friend’s house that was raided as an al Qaeda sanctuary – and who as a result was incarcerated at Gitmo from the ages of 18-16 for this “life-altering decision to spend the night.”

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Today’s Terrorism News

Two Arrested with Rifles at CENTCOM HQ Entrance

A man and a woman armed with rifles and other “military gear” were arrested at the gates of MacDill Air Force Base in Florida yesterday afternoon. MacDill is the headquarters of U.S. Central Command, which oversees the military’s efforts in both Iraq an Afghanistan. Washington Post, TBO.com.

General Petraeus “Slumped Over” During Senate Hearing

The House and Senate are holding  hearings over the next few days to address the slower than expected progress of military surges in the southern Afghani provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, delays that could interrupt President Obama’s planned timeline for troop withdrawal. General Petreaus was taken from a Senate hearing room after he “slumped over” but quickly revived. He returned to the room about twenty minutes later.

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Today’s Terrorism News

New Jersey al Shabaab Suspect Said to Be Engaged, Has “Anger Management Issues”

The two young men in last week’s terrorism arrest in North Bergen, New Jersey – one the son of Palestinian immigrants, the other from a Dominican family – showed signs of angry, disruptive behavior in their teens. According to the New York Times, “Their stories began like many others: troubled teenagers who scare and mystify their neighbors; run-ins with the police while still in high school; parents who cannot compete with the sense of belonging or purpose their boys find elsewhere.” Nadia Alessa, mother of defendant Mohamed Mahmood Alessa, said that her son is “stupid” but not a “terrorist” and had seen “16 or 17 psychiatrists for what she called ‘anger management issues,’” according to CNN. Meanwhile Siham Abedar, 19, has come forward to claim that Alessa was traveling to Egypt to marry her as part of an arranged marriage.  His desire to marry her and have children belies any believed terrorist intent, she claims. CNN, NJ.com.

Intelligence and Secrecy

Newsweek reports the newest draft of a bill that would authorize increased congressional oversight of intelligence agencies is likely to pass without a presidential veto and may lessen objections to the nomination of James Clapper as DNI. Foreign Policy notes that inherent to the debate over Clapper’s nomination is a concern with the effectiveness and supervisory competence of both the current nominee and the DNI itself.

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Today’s Terrorism News

No Bail for New Jersey al Shabaab Suspects

Mohamed Mahmood Alessa and Carlos Eduardo Almonte, accused of trying to join al Shabaab in Somalia, were denied bail yesterday.  The two allegedly acquired military gear and had attempted some type of training, in the form of paintball and working out, before they attempted to leave the U.S.  Almonte had exhibited anti-Jewish sentiment (“Death to all Juice”) in the past, along with attempting to legitimize terrorism on his Facebook page, according to the Daily News.

David Headley

David Coleman Headley, a Pakistani-American who has pleaded guilty to charges stemming from his involvement in the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, was interrogated by Indian investigators over the course of the past week in Chicago.  Headley’s cooperation with Indian officials was an agreed upon aspect of his plea agreement.  Headley was interrogated over seven days, without any restrictions as to content. BBC, AP, Chicago Tribune.

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