Al Qaeda, Gitmo & National Security

, Bethany Stotts, Leave a comment

Are the Obama Administration’s actions putting Americans at increased risk of a terrorist attack? Keep America Safe and its board members argue that it is.

A recent ad released by KAS questions the loyalties of “The Al Qaeda 7,” the seven unnamed Department of Justice lawyers who have either represented terror suspects, worked on related cases, in some cases, advocated for detainees. In a February 18 letter to Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Assistant Attorney General Ron Welch wrote (pdf) that “To the best of our knowledge, during their employment prior to joining the government, only five of the lawyers who serve as political appointees in those components represented detainees, and four others either contributed to amicus briefs in detainee-related cases or were otherwise involved in advocacy on behalf of detainees.” He refused to give the names of the unknown seven, but just days after the KAS ad, on March 3, Fox News identified them and outlined their history.  “An extensive review of court documents and media reports by Fox News suggests many of the seven lawyers in question played only minor or short-lived roles in advocating for detainees,” writes Mike Levine for Fox News. “However, it’s unclear what roles, if any, they have played in detainee-related matters since joining the Justice Department.”

On March 2nd Josh Gerstein at Politico reprinted a quote by Center for American Progress’ (CAP) Ken Gude which condemns the KAS ad “pure McCarthyism.” “This is plainly unacceptable in the United States…Condemnation is not sufficient. This is pure McCarthyism,” Gerstein quotes Gude.

For some, the question remains: Is the conflict over closing Guantanamo a Republican vs. Democrat issue, or one with national security implications? Ben Smith of Politico took the former tack with the KAS ad.  “A co-founder of [Keep America Safe], Debra Burlingame, has been attacking the Justice lawyers for months, and the new assault comes as congressional Republicans signal that they’re likely to step up attacks,” he writes.

However, the Obama Administration has already acknowledged “systemic failure” surrounding the intelligence gathered on Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the alleged Christmas Day bomber.  “Yes, there were some human errors, but those errors were not the primary or fundamental cause of what happened on December 25th,” said John Brennan, the Administration’s counterterrorism advisor, according to a transcript released January 7 by the White House. “Rather, this was a systemic failure across agencies and across organizations,” Brennan said.

Liz Cheney, speaking at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), condemned what she termed Brennan’s and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s “incompetence.” (The latter is widely known for her assertion that “the system worked” with regards to the failed Christmas Day bombing.)

“Now there’s no polite way to put this but that kind of incompetence gets people killed and yet no one has been held accountable,” said Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, who made a surprise appearance during her speech.  Liz Cheney is one of three board members of Keep America Safe. She then went on to explain the connections between the Little Rock and Fort Hood shootings and the failed Christmas Day bombing. Namely, she pointed out, all three have ties to Yemen.

“During the presidential transition the Bush counterterrorism team briefed the Obama team about the threat from Yemen and what we were doing to address the threat,” Liz Cheney said at CPAC. An article by McClatchy Newspapers in late 2008 described a “major obstacle” to then President-elect Obama’s plans to close Guantanamo Bay: “The Bush administration has transferred hundreds of Guantanamo prisoners to the custody of their home countries, but it’s been unable to win assurances from Yemen—whose approximately 100 prisoners are the largest group still jailed at Guantanamo—that the men, if they’re returned, won’t pose a threat to the United States,” wrote Shashank Bengali for McClatchy Newspapers on November 13, 2008. “Yemeni officials say they’re ready to try many of the men and imprison those who are convicted, but they complain that U.S. officials refuse to share evidence with them,” Bengali later added.

In June 2009 the Little Rock shooter, Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, killed one soldier and wounded another outside an Army recruiting office, reported James Dao and David Johnston for the New York Times that month. Muhammad would later send a hand-written letter (pdf) to his judge which identifies himself as “affiliated with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” AQAP, and a “Member of Abu Basir’s Army,” reported Dao for the NY Times in January. “This was a Jihad!” he writes in a note marked January 12. “Attack on infidel forces. [sic] That didn’t go as plan [sic]. Flat out Truth.”

“In September the President’s own counterterrorism advisor, John Brennan, traveled to Saudi Arabia where he was briefed, personally, by Mohammed bin Nayef, the head of Saudi intelligence,” said Liz Cheney at CPAC.  She said that “…there have been press reports that intelligence sources believe the bombs may have been made by the same bomb-maker in Yemen.” The NEFA Foundation provides a translated statement (pdf) in which, they say, AQAP takes credit for the Saudi assassination attempt.

Then, in November, Major Nidal Malik Hasan entered Fort Hood, allegedly murdering thirteen and wounding 30 others. Cheney noted at CPAC that Major Hasan had “ties to the same cleric in Yemen who trained the Christmas Day bomber,” namely, Anwar al-Awlaki.

According to a translation provided by the NEFA Foundation, Al-Awlaki told Al Jazeera in an interview released December 23, 2009 that “A Muslim is not allowed to work in the American Army unless he intends to walk the steps of our Brother Nidal.” Asked whether he recruited Major Hasan, al-Awlaki responded that he “did not recruit Nidal Hasan, but America did with its crimes and injustice, and this is what America does not want to admit,” according to the NEFA Foundation.

The day before Christmas, on December 24, 2009, news outlets such as Al Jazeera and Reuters had reported that cleric al-Awlaki was thought to be among the dead from an air raid in Yemen. The Associated Press reported on Christmas day that a relative of al-Awlaki told the AP that the cleric was still alive.

CBS reported this February that Abdulmutallab told federal investigators that cleric al-Awlaki “directed him to carry out the attack…” This same month cleric al-Awlaki said in an Al Jazeera interview that he did not issue a fatwa for Abdulmutallab’s action but he “support[s] what Umar Farouk has done after I have been seeing my brothers being killed in Palestine for more than 60 years, and others being killed in Iraq and in Afghanistan.”

Liz Cheney pointed out at CPAC that the Obama Administration announced that it sent six Yemeni Guantanamo detainees back to their home country shortly before Christmas. The Department of Justice news release, dated Dec. 20, 2009, indicates that twelve Guantanamo detainees were transferred to their home countries: six to Yemen, four to Afghanistan, and two to Somalia.

Ironically, a January report from the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations indicates that it was researching al Qaeda’s activities in Yemen and Somalia shortly before the failed Christmas Day bombing. “Law enforcement and intelligence officials told the Committee staff in interviews in December in Yemen and other countries in the region that as many as 36 American ex-convicts arrived in Yemen in the past year, ostensibly to study Arabic,” it states. “The officials said there are legitimate reasons for Americans and others to study and live in Yemen, but they said some of the Americans had disappeared and are suspected of having gone to Al Qaeda training camps in ungoverned portions of the impoverished country.”

In addition, “Similar concerns were expressed about a smaller group of Americans who moved to Yemen, adopted a radical form of Islam and married local women.” They write that so far there is “no evidence” that any of these Americans “have undergone training” but “they [officials]” indicated they were on “heightened alert because of the potential threat from extremists carrying American passports and the related challenges involved in detecting and stopping homegrown operatives.” They then add that “The staff interviews were conducted just before the failed Christmas Day plot.”

It is useful also to note that AQAP’s deputy “is a Saudi citizen who was released from Guantanamo in November 2007,” under the Bush Administration, and that he completed a Saudi rehabilitation program and then “slipped south into Yemen and returned to militancy.”

Let us hope that the twelve Guantanamo detainees transferred to their home countries last December do not follow suit.

Bethany Stotts is a staff writer at Accuracy in Academia.


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