Thoughts on "Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency"
(too old to reply)
2019-09-23 03:20:10 UTC
One of my latest books is an important, and tricky subject.
"When he was elected in 2008, Barack Obama had vowed to close
Guantánamo, put an end to coercive interrogation and military
tribunals, and restore American principles of justice. Yet by
the end of his first term he had backtracked on each of these
promises, ramping up the secret war of drone strikes ---"

Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency
by Daniel Klaidman (Author)

Here is a good report on it.


Book Review: Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the
Obama Presidency
Engage Volume 13, Issue 3 October 2012

Kill or Capture provides a fast-moving, highly readable insider account
of the formulation and execution of President Obama’s counterterrorism
program through early 2012. Klaidman’s access to high-level White House
and national security sources is the primary quality of the book. In his
book, Klaidman summarizes the effort to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in
Manhattan, the arrest of the “underwear bomber,” and the killing of
Anwar al-Awlaki and Usama Bin Laden, among others. But readers hoping
for a substantive discussion of the merits of these policies will not
find it in this volume.

It is clear that the Administration’s preferred strategy is kill over
capture—or at least over capture and detain. If media reports are
accurate (always something to question in the area of national
security), when President Obama inherited the drone program, it had been
used only forty-four times and was restricted to Pakistan. As of July
2012, drones had been used in more than 250 strikes in Pakistan,
Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Klaidman’s account of the hunt for
Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan illustrates that the Administration’s preference
for kill over capture is driven by operational realities and the absence
of a post capture strategy.

Nabhan was a long-time CIA and military target because of his role as a
“critical link between al-Qaeda and its Somalia-based affiliate, the
Shabab.” Nabhan was also a suspect in the U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya
and Tanzania. As Klaidman notes, “[t]aking him out would have been a
major victory in the war on terror. But capturing him would have been an
even bigger coup, a potentially huge intelligence windfall that could
have helped counterterrorism officials understand the connections
between al-Qaeda and its offshoots.”

After months of surveillance, an opportunity to act arose when Nabhan
would be traveling along a remote coastal road in southern Somalia.
According to Klaidman, the Administration considered three options to
eliminate him as a threat: 1) a missile strike; 2) a helicopter-borne
assault on Nabhan’s convoy; or 3) an attempt to take Nabhan alive. A
missile strike was dismissed because the military recalled a similar
scenario when a missile was fired seemingly on target, and the terrorist
survived the attack. Of the remaining two options, the “snatch and grab”
from a tactical perspective “was the most attractive alternative.
Intelligence from high-value targets was the coin of the realm in the
terror wars. But it was also the riskiest option, requiring significant
boots on the ground.” This risk, combined with memories of events in
1993 in Somalia that became known as Black Hawk Down, weighed upon many
of the military and intelligence decision makers. Moreover, there was
the question of what to do with Nabhan once captured.

As noted by Klaidman, “nine months into its own war on al-Qaeda, the
Obama Administration had no detention policy for terrorists captured
outside established war zones like Afghanistan or Iraq.” The
Administration had boxed itself in. Obama had campaigned on a promise to
close the Guantánamo Bay detention facility, and it was the
Administration’s policy to reduce the number of Guantánamo detainees, so
Nabhan could not be taken there. An executive order ended the use of CIA
“black sites” where interrogations took place, so that was off the
table. The White House also opposed sending Nabhan to the U.S. air base
in Bagram, Afghanistan for fear of it becoming a new Guantánamo, and
bringing him to the United States for detention and prosecution was
politically unacceptable. During the discussions about Nabhan, General
James “Hoss” Cartwright, the Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
told President Obama, “[w]e do not have a plausible capture strategy.”
The President was given a kill or capture option, but “as everyone left
the meeting that evening, it was clear that the only viable plan was the
lethal one.” Obama signed off on a mission that would involve the use of
helicopters to attack Nabhan’s convoy. The next morning, Nabhan and
three other militants were dead.

The absence of a capture strategy is the product of an Administration
that views counterterrorism through a different lens than that of its
predecessor. George W. Bush believed that America was at war against
al-Qaeda and its affiliates. The Bush Administration believed that the
power of the Commander-in-Chief during wartime coupled with Congress’
Authorization for Use of Military Force passed shortly after the attacks
of September 11, 2001 justified the Administration’s approach to its
prosecution of the war on terror, including the use of long-term
detention facilities. In his campaign for the Presidency and his
subsequent Administration, Obama rejected long-term detention and
repeatedly pledged to close Guantánamo. In fact, President Obama
considered ways to contract the authority he had available. Early in his
Administration, Obama met with several human rights activists and civil
libertarians, including leadership of Human Rights Watch and the
American Civil Liberties Union. According to Klaidman’s sources, the
President “told the group that he wanted to create a series of
institutions and laws that would limit the scope of presidential action
in the global fight against terrorism – a framework that would be
binding not just for himself but for future presidents.” Obama worried
that such a precedent, in the words of Justice Robert H. Jackson’s
dissent in the Korematsu case that upheld Franklin Roosevelt’s
internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, “lies around like
a loaded weapon ready for the hands of any authority that can bring
forward a plausible claim.” The reader is left to wonder whether the
internment of innocent Japanese Americans is equivalent to the
internment of terrorists removed from the theaters of war. Klaidman
offers no view, and if he asked his sources to make the comparison, it
is not mentioned in his book.

Drawing from the narrative, Klaidman’s second recurring theme flows from
the first, and it focuses on whether terrorists should be treated as
criminals subject to civilian courts or as enemy combatants that are
governed by the law of war. In its public pronouncements and initial
instincts, the Obama Administration favored a law enforcement approach.
In 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that Khalid Sheikh
Mohammed would be tried in a federal civil court in Manhattan. Mohammed
admitted responsibility for the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World
Trade Center that killed three-thousand Americans and confessed to the
2002 beheading of Wall Street Journal Reporter Daniel Pearl. As the
author notes, the Bush Administration had rejected civilian trials for
Mohammed and his co-conspirators because the United States was at war.
Klaidman summarizes Holder’s differing point of view:

Holder liked to think that his decision on the 9/11 cases reflected the
beliefs of a hard-nosed prosecutor. And there was no doubt that he was
driven in part by pragmatic, tactical considerations. But the KSM
decision also amounted to a test of his principles. It was an
opportunity to show that the speeches he’d given criticizing the Bush
[A]dministration—“We owe the American people a reckoning,” he’d said in
a June 2008 address—amount to more than just political rhetoric.

President Obama supported the decision of his Attorney General. Klaidman
writes, “[t]he government’s willingness to try Mohammed in a civilian
court would send a resounding message to the rest of the world that
America was rededicating itself to the rule of law.” Other
Administration officials such as Harold Koh, the State Department’s top
lawyer, shared this view. In a meeting with the President, Koh said that
terrorists had been successfully tried in civilian courts without
security problems. Koh believed that trying Mohammed would be a
“redemptive act” and would “show confidence in our [civil justice]
system.” Koh contended that to try Mohammed in a military commission
would give Mohammed want he wants, the stature of a great military
leader when he is “just a common criminal.”

The decision to try Mohammed in a Manhattan court room was not
universally supported within the White House. Rahm Emanuel, then the
White House Chief of Staff, opposed the plan on political grounds. When
Holder announced his decision, he was criticized by House and Senate
Republicans, as Emanuel predicted. When testifying before the Senate
Judiciary Committee, Holder stumbled in response to the question of what
would the Administration do if Mohammed was acquitted. First, Holder
said, “failure is not an option,” then he argued that even if acquitted,
Mohammed could be held preventively under the laws of war. As Klaidman
rightly observes, this “argument undercut the reasons for using Article
III courts in the first place.”

One of chief critics of the decision was Senator Lindsey Graham who
supported the use of military commissions. While Obama told Graham that
he supported Holder’s call, this would soon change. On Christmas Day
2009, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab boarded a flight from Amsterdam to
Detroit with explosive chemicals sewn into his underwear. Trained by the
Yemeni-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), an al-Qaeda
affiliate, he tried to ignite the explosive in flight but was subdued by
fellow passengers. After being taken into custody, federal agents gave
Abdulmutallab his Miranda warning. This decision was raised in advance
in a videoconference with John Brennan, the Assistant to the President
for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, and members of Homeland
Security, the FBI, and the DNI. No one objected. Once he was read his
rights, Abdulmutallab stopped speaking and requested a lawyer. This was
viewed by Administration critics as a significant blunder, as
Abdulmutallab was then off-limits as an intelligence source.

Klaidman writes that the change in climate after the Abdulmutallab
arrest was reflected in Mayor Bloomberg’s public announcement that
trying Mohammed in Manhattan would be too costly and disruptive for the
city. Congressional Republican opposition had manifested itself in the
2011 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). In addition to funding
for troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, the law prohibited the trial of
Mohammed and the other 9/11 defendants in civilian courts and barred the
transfer of Guantánamo detainees into the United States. In May 2010,
the Attorney General capitulated with the President’s support and
announced that Mohammed would be tried by a military commission. Obama
signed the NDAA.

As Klaidman moves his narrative forward, the reader can see the Obama
Administration muddling its way forward from one counterterrorism event
to the next. One does not get a sense of a coherent strategy. This is
seen in the case of Ahmed Adulkadir Warsame, a Somali who was considered
to be the principal liaison between the Shabab and AQAP. He was viewed
as an intelligence treasure trove, and on April 19, 2010, he and an
associate were captured in open waters by United States Navy SEAL Team
six commandos. He was transported to the brig of the USS Boxer and was
held there for interrogation for an extended period before he was read
his Miranda rights. Meanwhile, the Administration debated how he should
be tried. Koh again argued for a civilian trial in New York City on the
grounds of its redemptive quality, particularly in the wake of the
Mohammed decision, and this time his argument carried the day.

Klaidman writes that the handling of Warsame outraged civil libertarians
for creating a floating Guantánamo and upset Republicans who opposed
bringing a terrorist into the country. In Klaidman’s view, anger from
both sides proves that Obama got it right:

It was perfectly Obamaesque resolution, pragmatic and rational. It
vindicated the principle that in the war on terror there were no
one-size-fits-all solutions. The Obama Doctrine on counterterrorism was
a hybrid approach to asymmetric war. Sometimes a military model made the
most sense. Other times a law-enforcement model was the way to go. And
in the case of Warsame, the two approaches worked together in tandem.

However, as Klaidman notes a few lines later, the capture of Warsame did
not lead to a new wave of captures over kills. Klaidman attributes this
to the absence of a political environment that would allow for a more
pragmatic approach.

The author acknowledges that Warsame demonstrated the potential value of
captures. Intelligence gained from Warsame was one of key elements that
led to the CIA’s killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, AQAP’s chief of external
operations. Awlaki, a U.S. citizen, planned Abdulmutallab’s Christmas
Day plot. He put improvised bombs in printer toner cartridges that were
bound for the United States but were intercepted by Saudi Arabian
intelligence. According to Klaidman, it was this killing that most
enraged civil libertarians, yet Awlaki’s U.S. citizenship was
“immaterial” to President Obama.

Kill or Capture’s strength lies in its storytelling. Klaidman gives you
a sense of who said what to whom, who was in the room when a critical
decision was made, and who was sidelined. Along the way, Klaidman
reveals himself to be sympathetic to the Administration, though not
completely uncritical. The book’s weakness is the paucity of any real
discussion of the consequences of the Obama Administration’s
counterterrorism program.

The most striking example is the genuine disconnect between the
Administration’s rhetoric on civil liberties and its actions. The
Administration is opposed to additional terrorists being subjected to
long-term detention at facilities like Guantánamo, and it understands
that bringing every terrorist through the criminal justice system is
politically impossible. Aside from doing nothing or releasing terrorists
it detains, the only other option becomes death from above. But, if a
drone attack is the only reliable tool you have, then do more terrorists
look like candidates for the kill rather than capture option? Klaidman
does not directly address this question, but it is hard to avoid such
thoughts in light of General Cartwright’s recognition that there is no
viable capture policy. The Administration has proposed no alternative
path out of the policy cul-de-sac. Even if Klaidman and the
Administration view a more robust military commission process or special
national security court as unacceptable options, it would have been
edifying to hear the decision makers’ reasoning and for them to explain
why death, the ultimate deprivation of civil liberties, or capture and
release, with the attendant risk of recidivism, is superior to
incarceration at Guantánamo.

It should also be noted that the book’s obvious appeal, Klaidman’s
access to the internal conversations and processes of military,
intelligence, and political operators, is also a source of concern.
Publicizing CIA success was well understood by Rahm Emanuel as a
political tool to demonstrate the Administration’s toughness on
terrorism. But, with the publication of each detail of our tactics and
strategies, their effectiveness is degraded and our enemies are
educated. In the wake of media publications of multiple leaks and the
publication of this book, along with David Sanger’s Confront and
Conceal, Holder was forced in June 2012 to appoint two United States
Attorneys to investigate. While the investigation was initiated after
publication of this book, Klaidman’s sources are silent as to the
potential repercussions of using intelligence details to further a
political agenda. Without sanction for such conduct, it is unlikely that
reporters and political operators will ignore their respective interests
in leaking and publishing sensitive material.

*Mr. Heiman is a lawyer with Tyco International. Previously, he
worked for the National Security Division at the Department of Justice
and the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, Iraq.Daniel
Klaidman’s Kill or Caputure: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama
Presidency is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Available for purchase at
Jim Wilkins
2019-09-23 16:51:36 UTC
Post by a425couple
One of my latest books is an important, and tricky subject.
"When he was elected in 2008, Barack Obama had vowed to close
Guantánamo, put an end to coercive interrogation and military
tribunals, and restore American principles of justice. Yet by
the end of his first term he had backtracked on each of these
promises, ramping up the secret war of drone strikes ---"
Even Lenin was forced to admit the impractical, childish and
self-serving nature of leftist ideals:
Loading Image...

And the true believers weren't happy with the shift.

Clinton was a great supporter of military electronics after he
discovered the power it gave him.