Democracy Arsenal

April 22, 2008

Human Rights, Intelligence, Terrorism

What the heck is going on down there?
Posted by Ken Gude

I fail to understand how the Bush administration could have screwed up its detainee policy so badly. Yes, their record is a long catalog of catastrophic failures, from the grossly flawed strategy in Iraq to the complete indifference during Katrina. But the issue of detaining and interrogating suspected al Qaeda terrorists is different--they cared as much or more about it as they did getting rid of Saddam Hussein, but they gave the job to a whole bunch of Brownies, and they sure have been doin' a heck uva job.

The latest evidence comes from a story in today's Washington Post and a book excerpt that ran in the Guardian last Saturday. The Post story details allegations from Guantanamo detainees that they were forcibly drugged during interrogations, transfers, and to restrain them in their cells. While it seems unlikely (though not impossible) that there was widespread use of drugs during interrogations, the most plausible explanations for the consistent accounts from detainees is that they were given chemical restraints to subdue them and those administering the drugs had no idea what they were doing.

Philippe Sands, in his new book Torture Team, portions of which were re-printed in the Guardian over the weekend, uncovered more stories of mind boggling inexperience and incompetence. Topping the list was the revelation that the source of greatest inspiration during the development of interrogations techniques at Guantanamo was none other than Jack Bauer. Yes, the guy from 24, and no, I am not kidding. The junior staff lawyer responsible for approving the list of techniques told Sands that Bauer "gave people lots of ideas."

The Bush administration believed that interrogating terrorist suspects was so important that bedrock principles which formed the basis of our military culture for decades were "obsolete". The reason why they thought it was so important was that they feared we were all going to die in another al Qaeda attack and information gained from interrogations was in some cases our first and only line of defense. But instead of bringing in experienced interrogators and knowledgeable regional and al Qaeda experts, we got Dr. Quinn and Jack Bauer. This is the nature of my confusion.

December 17, 2007


Pakistan: Another Embarassing Terror Suspect Escape on President Bush's Watch
Posted by Brian Katulis

Here in Islamabad, Pakistani authorities are scrambling to explain how Rashid Rauf (pictured here) the alleged mastermind of a August 2006 plot to blow up trans-Atlantic flights from Britain slipped away from Pakistani police this weekend.   

Rashid_raufThough the news media is abuzz about yet another videotape from Ayman Zawahiri (Al Qaeda's second in command probably somewhere in Pakistan or Afghanistan), people should carefully watch what happens in the case of Rashid Rauf' in the coming days and weeks.

The circumstances surrounding Rauf's escape are still murky.  Earlier last week, BBC reported that a Pakistani judge ruled that there was not sufficient evidence to try Rauf, reinforcing skepticism about how real the plot was.  The New York Times reports this morning that Rauf escaped after an extradition hearing on Saturday here.  One Pakistani newspaper reports today more unusual details and circumstances - that the two policemen responsible for Rauf were transporting him back to jail in a private taxi cab and had allowed Rauf to perform prayers at a mosque, where he escaped using the backdoor wearing his handcuffs.

Whatever the circumstances, this incident could be deeply embarrassing for Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who imposed emergency rule in early November using the threat of insecurity and terrorism as the main rationale (and then throwing thousands of mostly secular lawyers, judges, and human rights activists in jail).  The same day emergency rule was lifted a key terror suspect flees.

More broadly, Rauf's escape raises questions about the growing numbers of terror suspects and terrorists that have given authorities the slip over the past four years.  The record is abysmal, and more people should be asking questions.  Few other recent escapes that people should ask about include:

1.  July 2005 Bagram prison escape.   Four detainees escaped from the secretive and supposedly highly secure U.S. detention facility in Bagram.  Omar Al-Faruq, one of the escapees, was reportedly killed in Basra, Iraq in September 2006.  Another escapee, Abu Yahya al-Libi, remains on the loose and returned to his role as a chief Al Qaeda propagandist.  Profiled recently by the Washington Post as one of the key leaders in a revived Al Qaeda network, al-Libi brags about the escape in this video.

2.  Several escapes and releases in Yemen.   In 2003, 10 Al Qaeda suspects escaped from a prison in Aden, Yemen.  Another 23 escaped from a prison in the Yemeni capital of Sana'a in February 2006.  Earlier this year, the United States used the suspension of development assistance to pressure Yemen to detain once again Jamal al-Badawi, one of the 2006 escapees who turned himself in October of this year and reportedly was placed under some form of house arrest by Yemeni authorities.

3.  Zarqawi's release in 2004.  Iraqi authorities reportedly detained and released the former leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq Abu Musab al-Zarqawi more than a year before his death in June 2006, giving him time to foment sectarian strife and lead a movement that murdered thousands of Iraqis. 

Nearly everyone knows about how top Al Qaeda leaders were allowed to slip away at the end of 2001 in Tora Bora, and Democrats in Congress understandably complain about the thousands of days that Osama Bin Laden has been on the loose. 

But where is the Congressional oversight hearings on these escapes by terror detainees and suspects?   Where is the investigative journalism into these failures?  And will the applicants to become the next U.S. commander-in-chief move beyond vague campaign rhetoric and offer more concrete plans to address these failures and the continued challenges posed by terror networks? 

December 14, 2007


Pakistan: 'Twas the Night before End of Emergency Rule
Posted by Brian Katulis

On the eve of the end of emergency rule, Pakistan is heading into a four week election campaign fraught with great uncertainties. 

Intelligence agencies are warning of a new round of suicide attacks.  Opposition parties are already complaining of electoral fraud, with some boycotting the January 8th elections and others planning to contest and then protest the results.  And a new poll indicates that President Musharraf's popularity has plummeted since the imposition of emergency rule last month, a view confirmed in a range of interviews with political party leaders, human rights activists, and journalists in Islamabad, Lahore, and Karachi.

For longer pieces on the situation, see posts on U.S. competing interests in Pakistan, how opposition activists marked International Human Rights Day earlier this week under emergency rule, whether Pakistan is the real "central front" in the fight against terrorists, and how the coming months in Pakistan are pivotal for making a course correction in the so-called "global war on terrorism."

August 16, 2007


The Ultimate Asymmetric Advantage
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

From a recent articleby Robert Kaplan (ah, my love-hate relationship with Kaplan) His prose is beautiful here, and the implications of his thesis are as urgent as they are alarming:

"Jihad as practiced, not as theorized, places more emphasis on the “mystical dimension” of sacrifice than on any tactical or strategic objective. Jihad is most often an act of individual exultation rather than of collective action, observes Olivier Roy in The Failure of Political Islam (1994). It is “an affair between the believer and God and not between the believer and his enemy. There is no obligation to obtain a result. Hence the demonstrative, even exhibitionist, aspects of the attacks......

...The suicide bomber is the distilled essence of jihad, the result of an age when the electronic media provides an unprecedented platform for exhibitionism."

AND so much for airpower:

"But our near obsession with finding ways to kill others at no risk to our own troops is a sign of strength in our eyes alone. To faithful or merely nationalist enemies, it is a sign of weakness, even cowardice."

February 21, 2007


Who Says Non-Binding Resolutions Don't Matter?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Nope, this post isn't even about Iraq, except in the way that every darn thing in foreign affairs is now about Iraq.  A non-binding resolution requesting that the Italian Senate reiterate its support for the government's foreign policy (inspired by a repudiation of war and respect for the role of the EU, UN and international alliances) failed and brought down the tenuous post-Belusconi government. 

Why?  In a word, Afghanistan, and discontent on the left of the coalition with Italy keeping troops in the NATO mission there.

One of my European correspondents has been telling me for months that we Americans underestimate how unhappy our European allies are with the Afghanistan mission and its potential to create serious casualties.  Well, folks, the Prodi government is a serious casualty.  And coming on the same day as the British, Danish and Lithuanian announcements of troop withdrawals from southern Iraq...

February 20, 2007


Al Qaeda, the Franchise
Posted by Rosa Brooks

Today's NYT has a piece on terrorism in North Africa. No, there's nothing new about the existence of terrorist groups in North Africa-- but what's new is that local terrorist groups are recasting themselves as al Qaeda franchises. 

Algeria's Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (G.S.P.C.) used to stick to murder and mayhem at home, but now their ambitions are reportedly regional and even global: according to Henry Crumpton, US Ambassador at large for counterterrorism, “The G.S.P.C. has become a regional terrorist organization, recruiting and operating" throughout Northern Africa, even sending some recruits off to Iraq.

But here's what should keep you up at night: further evidence that al Qaeda's no longer an organization, but a brand. The Times reports that "Last year, on the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Al Qaeda chose the G.S.P.C. as its representative in North Africa." As befits the proud owners of a new franchise, G.S.P.C. promptly engaged in a little rebranding: as of January, the G.S.P.C.'s new name is "Al Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb."


February 19, 2007


Oh, Great
Posted by Rosa Brooks

The NYT reports: Al Qaeda Chiefs are Seen to Regain Power.

And they really appreciate the fact that we've been too busy in Iraq to bother them.

February 05, 2007

Defense, Intelligence, Iraq, Middle East, Potpourri, Terrorism

Counterinsurgency warfare as military malpractice
Posted by Rosa Brooks

Edward Luttwak of CSIS has a piece in this month's Harper's called "Counterinsurgency warfare as military malpractice." Luttwak begins with a critical analysis of the Army's new counterinsurgency field manual, FM 3-24 DRAFT, written by David Petraeus, among others, then moves on apply this to Iraq. He concludes that the new counterinsrgency manual's "prescriptions are in the end of little or no use and amount to a kind of malpractice. All its best methods, all its clever tactics, all the treasure and blood that the United States has been willing to expend, cannot overcome the crippling ambivalence of occupiers who refuse to govern, and their principles and inevitable refusal to out-terrorize the insurgents...."

Read it (it's not available online-- you'll have to buy the magazine! Sorry).

January 11, 2007

Middle East, Terrorism

A new Cold War?
Posted by Zvika Krieger

Yale professor Ian Shapiro has published an interesting op-ed that argues for the revival of containment as a post-Iraq strategy for the Middle East. Drawing on parallels from the Cold War, he predicts that the dysfunctional states of the Middle East will implode of their accord, and our interventions are only making things worse (while saddling ourselves with a massive military burden).

While I am hesitant to swallow his full equivalence of communism and radical Islamism, the point in the article that most resonates for me is his analysis of why containment worked: "So long as the USSR did not stage a military attack, containment...would guarantee security." In other words, containment necessitates patience. Americans had patience for it during the Cold War because they realized that there was not an immediate threat to their security. So that forces us to ask the question today: Are we, as Americans, really in that much danger of attack? Or, more precisely, how much safer have we become as a result of our interventions in the Middle East?

I would argue, as are an increasing amount of security analysts, that our interventions have made us less safe. In the most immediate sense, they have put our troops in the line of fire. But in a larger sense, they have provided a common enemy for secularists and fundamentalists -- America -- and are thus preventing the internal clashes (or what some might call "soul searching") that are necessary for actual democracy to emerge in the Middle East.  We have to remind ourselves that the war against radical Islamism -- like the war against communism -- is much more of an internal battle for the countries of the Middle East than it is our battle. While we may have felt some its affects on 9/11, we can't let that distract us from the fact that the war can only be won by the people of the Middle East themselves. 

So there are two lessons from the Cold War: We only hurt ourselves by intervening, and that we will only have the confidence not to intervene when we acknowledge that there is little direct threat to American security. We can't use the abstract threat of "terrorism" to justify hasty and aggressive action in the Middle East anymore. We have to recapture that Cold War confidence that authoritarian states will collapse as a result of their own dysfunction, and that "the best way to spread democracy is to demonstrate its superiority" rather than "ramming [it] down people’s throats."

September 12, 2006


"No One Would Come"
Posted by Shadi Hamid

On Saturday, I heard Edward Gnehm - who was US ambassador to Jordan when 9/11 happened - speak on a very interesting panel on "the War on Terrorism Five Years In." Gnehm recalled how on September 11, 2001, a crowd had begun to gather outside the US embassy (in Amman). By then, it had become clear – America had been attacked by Muslim terrorists on its own soil. With this in mind, Gnehm and the embassy staff worried that the gathering crowd was a presage to another attack, perhaps part of some coordinated offensive. They were wrong. The crowd was there to express its solidarity with America after its great loss. Over the course of the next week, Gnehm recalled, 3800 Jordanians came to the embassy to express their grief and condolences. And then he concluded: if another 9/11 had happened today, claiming thousands of American civilians, no one would come. No one would come. Unfortunately, he is right.

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