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July 06, 2011

The Right’s Rigid Response to Warsame
Posted by James Lamond

A lot has been made over the handling of Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame. Warsame, was arrested in April held by in U.S. custody for two months.  He was interrogated by the High-Value Interrogation Group – in accordance with the Geneva Convention. This is reported to have yielded significant intelligence, including information establishing a stronger connection between the Somali-based al Shabaab and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) than previously thought. Over the weekend, he was transferred to the Southern District of New York, and was charged with nine counts related to accusations that he provided support to the Shabab in Somalia and AQAP. The Southern District of New York has the most terrorism convictions of any of the over 200 convictions in federal courts since 9/11 – considerably more than the six in a military commission.  

But taking a terrorist off the battlefield, collecting valuable intelligence and placing him in the venue most likely to put him behind bars was not enough to make conservatives happy.

Senate Majority Mitch McConnell responded saying

“This ideological rigidity being displayed by the Administration is harming the national security of the United States of America….The administration’s actions are inexplicable, create unnecessary risks here at home, and do nothing to increase the security of the United States.”  

Senator Lindsay Graham similarly stated

“They are so afraid to use Gitmo that they are basically making decisions around not having to use Gitmo, rather than what’s best for the country… What’s best for the nation is to treat these foreign fighters as enemy combatants.”

Senator Susan Collins, said:

"A foreign national who fought on behalf of al-Shabaab in Somalia – and who was captured by our military overseas – should be tried in a military commission, not a federal civilian court in New York or anywhere else in our country." 

And Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Buck McKeon said that: 

“The transfer of this terrorist detainee directly contradicts Congressional intent and the will of the American people. Congress has spoken clearly multiple times — including explicitly in pending legislation — of the perils of bringing terrorists onto U.S. soil."

To summarize: The right thinks the Obama administration is wrong because with its “ideological rigidity” the administration is not making the decisions that are best for the country, which creates risk at home and undermines the will of Congress.

But the ideological rigidity is clearly coming from the other direction. Conservatives in Congress have two responses to anything terror-related: Obama got it wrong and how can we use military commissions/Guantanamo more. 

Ken Gude at CAP rightly points out, this case “has provoked the now-typical reaction from conservatives who reflexively oppose every Obama administration action as a radical departure from U.S. norms that threatens the security of the nation.” Every time there is either a terrorism case, or a policy decision that is in line with what has been done over past adminstrations from both parties the right acts as if it is some radical departure from the norm. For example, it was never considered controversial to read terrorism suspects their Miranda rights.  After all it was done under the Bush administration in cases including Richard Reid, the “shoe bomber.” Yet when a nearly identical case occurred in December of 2009 and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab the “underwear bomber” was read his Miranda Rights, the right was up in arms.  Similar outcries came a few months later with the Times Square case. 

But besides the political ideology of “Obama has it wrong” there is also an ideology on the policy. There is consistently a move towards a more extreme policy of why we should use Guantanamo more – even though almost all national security experts agree and the Bush adminstration stated it should be closed – and that we need to use military commissions – despite the fact that they have been drastically less effective than their civilian counterparts. There is pending legislation, introduced in the House by Rep. Buck McKeon, that would require military detention or military commissions for terrorism suspects.  Even Ben Wittes, a proponent of the legitimacy of military commissions, responded conservatives’ comments on the use of military commissions that: “They are not the only tools. And in many cases, they will not be the best tools.” What remains most astonishing is that civilian courts have proven time and again to be more effective than military commissions, yet conservatives continue advocate on their behalf.  

Talk about ideological rigidity. 

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