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February 03, 2010

That 4 Week Gap
Posted by Adam Blickstein

As GOP lines of attack dwindle in the face of overwhelming evidence that President Obama's approach to terrorism, especially the successful interrogation of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, is working effectively to keep America safe, it seems they are now focusing on the supposed "4 week gap" between the time Abdulmutallab stopped talking and when he again started providing intelligence. First, it's clear that the GOP's preferred method, military confinement and enhanced interrogation, would have been ineffective:

Those who had access to Abdulmuttalab concluded that "putting him in front of somebody with a military uniform would have made him even more opposed to any type of cooperation," the official said. "The way to get to him is to use family members who are going to be supportive of what we’re trying to do”

Further, we never would have gotten his family to assist had we gone down the GOP's ineffective interrogation road:

“One of the principal reasons why his family came back is because they had complete trust in the US system of justice and believed that Umar Farouq would be treated fairly and appropriately," the senior official said. "And that they would be as well.”
But driving down that political dead end has allowed the GOP to turn around and now bemoan the apparent 4 week gap in intelligence collection as a threat to American security. As Susan Collins ineptly explained today:
Second, the fact is that there was a long gap between Christmas day and late last week when the terrorists started answering questions again. We will never know how much information we lost, we could have acted on during that time. It is not like al Qaeda in Yemen did nothing during that six-week gap.

The key point the GOP focuses on is not that we have garnered useful intelligence from the lawful interrogation Abdulmutallab that is protecting American lives (including leading to the arrests of 10 terrorists in Malaysia), something that should be celebrated across party lines, but the fact that there was an apparent gap in intelligence gathering that could have been mitigated by military interrogation or "other means." Not that they ever elucidate on what those other means entail or point to any evidence that proves whatever it is they advocate has been effective in the past. Yet we do, in fact have evidence that the very system of interrogation and detention the GOP seems to desire has been extremely ineffective before.

In fact, 7 months in military custody as an "enemy combatant," Jose Padilla provided little or no useful intelligence to thwart any potential attacks or uncover any further terrorist activity. From the Director of  Defense Intelligence Vice Admiral Lowell E. Jacoby's own affidavit from January 2003, 7 months after Padilla was transferred to military custody:

The information that Padilla may be able to provide is time-sensitive and perishable. As noted above, any information obtained from Padilla must be assessed in connection with other intelligence sources; similarly, Padilla is a potential source to help assess information obtained from other sources. Any delay in obtaining information from Padilla could have the severest consequences for national security and public safety.

By Jacoby's own account, it is clear that Padilla provided little to no useful intelligence 7 months in. They acknowledge the urgency involved, and that each passing day is another day Padilla becomes a less valuable intelligence asset. But they don't describe any actionable intelligence gained, just that he should not be given a lawyer:
I assess Padilla's potential intelligence value as very high.

Providing him access to counsel now would create expectations by Padilla that his ultimate release may be obtained through an adversarial civil litigation process...Any such delay in Padilla's case risks that plans for future attacks will go undetected during that period, and that whatever information Padilla may eventually provide will be outdated and more difficult to corroborate.

Padilla may hold extremely valuable information for the short-term and long-term security of the United States. Providing Padilla access to counsel risks the loss of a critical intelligence resource, and could affect our ability to detain other high value terrorist targets and to disrupt and prevent additional terrorist attacks.

Jacoby starkly demonstrates the U.S. really had no clue what kind of intelligence Padilla may or may not have because it's not clear we got any useful intelligence from him. Padilla was silent for 7 months, but ironically they used that as an argument for not providing Padilla with any counsel or rights, even though Jacoby also admits that any delay in  intelligence gathering would have grave consequences for American security. Future Attorney General Mike Mukasey actually refuted the Bush administration's assertions that providing Padilla with counsel would inhibit interrogations (which up till now were obviously not working) saying "the interference with interrogation would be minimal or non-existant."

A 7 month gap versus a 4 week gap, which is more egregious? The GOP's "enemy combatant" approach they continue to advocate left America dangerously vulnerable and exposed for at least 7 months in 2002. And it's very telling that we got more out of Abdulmutallab in 4 weeks by following the the rule of law and working within the criminal justice system than we apparently got out of Padilla in 7 months under enemy combatant designation in military custody.

But the GOP would never acknowledge that, because it undercuts their underlying motives: that to them, partisan politics are more important than keeping America safe.


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As much as I criticize Obama for his lack of a liberal/progressive agenda in other areas, it is good to see actual grown-ups in charge for a change. Serious, professional people get things done.I think that is what scares the corporatists the most - that government will actually work.

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