ADDRESSES DRONE STRIKES & GITMO IN SPEECH
CIA unmanned Drone Aircraft being prepped at secret base
President Obama delivered an important speech outlining
the future of the war on terrorist as he envisions it.
(Friday May 24, 2013 New York, New York) Yesterday President Barack Obama delivered a much anticipated major address at the National Defense University in Washington DC in which he outlined his Administrations redefinition of the “Global war on Terror” and some of its most controversial tactics and practices. Much of the President’s speech seemed intended for a foreign audience as he spoke about the costs to “America’s image” in the eyes of the world given the current drone policy and the “detainees” who remain in legalistic limbo in the Guantanamo Base Detention Center (GITMO) in Cuba. This address was perhaps the most cogent and concise explanation of the Administrations intentions as they seek to shift from a “perpetual war footing” to a more measured and nuanced response to the terroristic threats that remain.
Obama’s speech was both informative as it was philosophical in that he expressed his concern for how the manner in which the War on Terror (WOT) that has been waged by the United States since September 11, 2001 will be viewed historically. While some have commented the President offered few “definites” he did, at least, signal that this is the beginning of the end regarding some of the methods employed by the Military and CIA in the on-going battle against extremists determined to carry on Jihad with us and our Allies. Up to now the President has been stymied by mindlessly partisan opposition in the Congress to making any significant changes to the “detainee” policy of indefinite incarceration at GITMO and other efforts to scale back some of our Military efforts in many countries around the world known to harbor terrorists.
HOW WE GOT HERE
After four hijacked jet airplanes piloted by al-Qaeda operatives inflicted the horrific damage on New York City, Washington DC, Shankseville Pennsylvania, and in the corridors of power as well as our collective sense of security, the Cheney/Bush Administration immediately developed and implemented the strategic and tactical templates for what would soon become their “Global War on Terror.” Largely predicated on shaky legal footing measures from The Patriot Act to covert operations in Afghanistan the neo-cons installed at every level of the Cheney/Bush Administration turned on the engine that would drive their global war machine and run roughshod over such institutions as The Geneva Conventions, The War Powers Act, Congressional oversight, international legal precedent and virtually every aspect of our nation’s 200 plus years of military intervention and history. So shaken were the powers that be that Cheney/Bush and their team were able to function with impunity. Their legacy will be an indelible stain on America and, sadly, the Obama Administration picked up were the previous Administration left off. The history of the last twelve years has been exhaustively documented. It is what it is.
After securing his electoral victory and taking office in January 2009 President Obama confronted the harsh realities of his Office and became acquainted with just how little actual “power” our President wields in our tripartite federal government. On his second day in Office he sought to make good on one of his most prominent campaign promises which was to close the detention center at GITMO. Now just four months into his second term is he once again attempting not only to close GITMO but demonstratively recalibrate our government’s approach to combating global terror in the form of extremists networks scattered across the globe as well as the “lone wolf” and small cell actors within our midst.
DEFENSE, DETENTION AND DRONES
President Obama managed to draw down and ultimately remove all troops from Iraq. The ill-conceived “preemptive war” based on outright lies from the Cheney/Bush Administration had done more harm than good as far as American national security is concerned and by extricating the United States from that troubled country we have witnessed the end of one of the darkest chapters in our history.
Our engagement in Afghanistan, a mission that began with the insertion of covert CIA operative and Special Forces Units on the ground just weeks after the September 11, 2001 attacks, remains to this day a very “hot” war indeed. That perpetually ungovernable land of fiercely loyal tribes and clans continues to claim American lives and tremendous amounts of financial aid that seems to go directly to the corrupt politicians and drug lords. While the initial efforts in that country quickly defeated the ruling Taliban and had al-Qaeda corned in Tora Bora by December 2001, it is still a central front in our asymmetrical battle with Muslim extremists.
Across the rugged eastern border of Afghanistan lies Pakistan, a country with nuclear capabilities and a military and security apparatus is that more than sympathetic to the cause of the Taliban. It was in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad that Osama bin Laden was killed by Navy SEALS in May 2011. Aside from the daring and successful foray of the Navy SEALS into Pakistan, the war we have been waging has essentially been a “drone campaign.” Rather than having “boots on the ground” we have “eyes in the skies”; a fleet of highly sophisticated and lethal unmanned aircraft that have killed hundreds of proven and suspected terrorists. This drone policy has become as controversial in the global society as is our indefinite detention of those we hold in GITMO.
For every “surgical strike” made by a drone controlled by military personnel hundreds if not thousands of miles from the combat theatre there is a disproportionally steep price we must pay in public opinion in the country’s we operate drones in as well as the wider world. For every “targeted killing” there may have been several “signature strikes” meaning the targets identities were not necessarily known to the CIA but they followed a “pattern of behavior” consistent with terrorists in the specific area they lived so they met the criteria of possessing the “signature” of known terrorists and therefore became viable targets. This approach has been widely condemned both home and abroad and has elevated anti-American sentiment in the countries where these strikes have taken place.
The drone war has significantly increased during the Obama Administration and is a military simile to a football strategy: The best defense is a good offense; clearly drones are offensive weapons and it is difficult to justify this tactic as “defensive”. This distinction transcends the bounds of semantics and is not merely a rhetorical summersault. It is, at least for the time being, our stated policy.
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In the initial CIA and Special Operations engagements in Afghanistan beginning in October 2001, the progress was so swift and decisive that only a ragtag cadre of mostly young, inexperienced al-Qaeda fighters remained in the forbidding mountainous border region between a complex cave complex at Tora Bora and passage into Pakistan. Despite repeated efforts, (almost begging from the CIA’s Gary Bernsten, the commander of Operation Jawbreaker), for additional troops to seal off the escape routes into Pakistan, the Pentagon – Secretary Rumsfeld and his neo-cons – along with Cheney/Bush, refused the requests because they had already turned their Messianic, myopic gaze to Sadaam Hussein and Iraq. In the weeks of often intense fighting with Taliban and al-Qaeda forces prior to Tora Bora, the United States, aided by the Northern Alliance, had killed and captured literally thousands of the foes they faced on the far-flung plains and foothills of central and eastern Afghanistan. Suddenly, General Tommy Franks the Allied Military Commander had a real logistical problem on his hands. What was he to do with thousands of those captured and held in primitive make-shift detention centers on military outposts?
As General franks was asking this question so were many in the secretive Office of the Vice President, the White House Office of Legal Counsel, The Pentagon, State Department and lawyers of every stripe employed by these departments and agencies. This was not an easy question. There were other equally vexing questions regarding novel issues from what the status of those captured was, did the Geneva Conventions apply to them, were they to be tried in criminal courts, military tribunals or international venues? Ultimately the answer became the detention center at the Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay Cuba. The road to GITMO was paved with anything but careful consideration or good intentions. It was the result of backroom bartering in and out of the White House, a huge usurpation of extra-Constitutional power by The President, an end run around legal precedent at the highest level of government. This process has been well documented in the press and books with the most recent account provided by Kurt Eichenwald in his brilliant book titled “500 Days – Secrets And Lies In The Terror Wars” ( Touchstone, 2012).
By mid-January 2002 first of what would be several hastily constructed detention structures, Camp X-Ray, was open for business receiving men captured during the fighting in Afghanistan. There was even debate on how they should be classified and, in many, many cases, exactly who they were, where their loyalties existed, and whether or not they had even been involved in combat or had simply been arbitrarily rounded up or turned over by greedy neighbors to the American forces for quick cash payments. Were these men prisoners of war (POW), “enemy combatants”, “detainees”, “terrorists” and what, if any, legal protections were they to be afforded? Once again questions that required careful consideration were made by a handful of the closest aides to Cheney/Bush despite the fact they had no legal authority to do so. It was this genesis of a program that remains in existence today and now, with most of the remaining detainees conducting a hunger strike is no further along towards an equitable resolution than it has been up to this point.
What to do about GITMO was a primary plank in Obama’s speech; he acknowledged that GITMO has served as a great recruitment tool for terrorists, stands as an embarrassment to the United States and is in direct conflict with the core rights, principles and elements of jurisprudence we have stood for since our founding in 1776. Hopefully the President will find a reservoir of resolve to finally close GITMO and that his speech yesterday will translate into action rather than gather dust as just another “policy realignment speech” that results in more of the same. Naturally the opponents of Obama, primarily the rabidly partisan Republican denizens on Capitol Hill wasted no time blasting the speech as just “capitulation” and “giving in to the enemy.” Apparently their obstructionist status quo further illustrates their profound inability to govern in a manner commensurate with the real interests of America foremost in their addled minds.
MEN, JUST MEN
Detainees at GITMO guarded during recreation
It is true that some of the remaining 200 hundred or so detainees still held in GITMO some are proven killers who still harbor a level of hatred towards America and her interests that they may in fact pose a threat were they be released to their country of origin or another sympathetic nation. Though the GITMO population has significantly been diminished since its heyday as the home for upwards of 600 prisoners, many who remain have been cleared to return to their native land, Yemen. Yemen has once again emerged as a hotbed haven for radical extremists of all kinds although the Yemeni central government has tried to cooperate with America as much as they can without suffering widespread discontent from their public. 56 of the 86 Yemenis still held have been “cleared” for release but a host of legal maneuvers have thus far prevented their transfer.
Currently the remaining population of detainees at GITMO, 166 non-Yemenis, have 103 participating in a hunger strike with 30 being shackled to beds and force fed via nasogastric tube. Already held without charges, indictment, robust legal representation or even knowledge of their alleged “crimes”, they are now enduring the ultimate humiliation of not being allowed to die as they wish. This is obviously an untenable situation and is being loudly condemned by international watchdog and human rights groups including Amnesty International, The Red Crescent (the worldwide Red Cross), the ACLU, Doctors without Borders, just to mention a few.
Opponents of closing GITMO and perhaps transferring those deemed most dangerous to maximum security penitentiaries across the United States blather specious, utterly ridiculous rationale for their staunch opposition. To suggest that our most secure “Super Max” federal prisons are, in some way deficient and not up to the task of housing these men, is beyond comprehension. These are men, mortal men not endowed with supernatural abilities. Already there are a number of al-Qaeda operatives and terrorist held in our Super Max prison in Florence Colorado. Many of the loudest Congressional opponents to transferring these detainees proclaim a hollow variant of the NIMBY mindset: Not In My Backyard”. Such fear mongers clearly demonstrate their idiocy every time they proffer that argument.
FOLLOW THEIR LEADS
Every day of the week very dangerous criminals among them convicted murders, sexual predators, anarchists, and ultraviolent sociopaths are paroled from prison. The majority of these ex-cons reenter society under some form of “supervised release” meaning they must report to a parol officer, live in a halfway house or other rigidly controlled transitional housing for various periods of time until they are fully release by the Departments of Corrections in each state.
Sending some of these detainees back to their native land could proof to provide us with invaluable intelligence; they can be tracked and monitored by the security apparatus in their homelands as well as by technological means by the CIA. Such tracing is well within the capabilities of the CIA, NSA and the lesser known National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). If they chose to re-associate with know terrorist groups or cells by tracking their movements they could lead us to even a better understanding of the location and composition of such groups. Why this is not so much as a sidebar to the debate is puzzling. Our “fear” of these men seems disproportionate to the risk they pose particularly since so much of the terrorist landscape has been altered since they were captured. Yes, al-Qaeda central has given way to what some analysts call “al-Qaeda 2.0”. The highly organized centrally controlled days of groups such as al-Qaeda are a thing of the past. Now, diffusely spread throughout an estimated 93 nations around the world, these groups are more independent contractors motivated by an ideology rather than by the operational imperatives of a figure like Osama bin Laden.
REALIGNMENT LONG OVERDUE
The articles and structure of Obama’s realignment in what has been thus far perpetual war without end was long overdue. As long as controversies such as the drone wars and GITMO remain in the international spotlight our moral standing will continue to erode. Our government simply cannot espouse adherence to fundamental beliefs in the rights of all men as long as we continue to infringe in the most dangerous ways on those of others. Additionally we cannot afford in national treasure and blood to function on a permanent “war footing” without becoming victim to the laws of unintended consequences and the virulent brand of “blowback” that continues to put our national security at risk.
Each day we continue to engage our adversaries in the manner we have serves only to extend what is already the longest “war” in American history and it is a war laden with ambiguities, uncertainties, and repercussions we have yet to fully imagine let alone contemplate and address.
Since our formation in September 2007 The Brooding Cynyx have often expressed our views on terrorism, security, intelligence and any number of topics associated with September 11, 2001. We have never been shy about our observations, opinions and some of our original reporting has only served to bolster our collective perspective. We are not in any way “soft on terror” nor are we reluctant to support engagement of all types with our adversaries both here and abroad. But, we are also realists and cannot help but recognize the inherent dangers and perils of the current conduction of our engagements around the world. We, especially, as native New Yorkers many of whom responded to the World Trade Center on 9-11-2001 seek justice for all those responsible and have had muted celebrations of a sort as the hierarchy of al-Qaeda, including the death of Osama bin Laden, has been decimated. We are also acutely aware of the hazards that remain and support the efforts of NYPD and their Counter terrorism and Intelligence Units as well as the robust surveillance methods they employ. Yes, the battles continue to be fought the world over and here, in New York City, still the most “target rich environment” for terrorists of every affiliation and delusion, are waging our own brand of war against some of the very same foes.
But we also honor and respect the rule of war and are of the opinion that the President’s stated objectives will promote, in the short term and long run, the security of our country and of our City and our People.
TAGS: PRESIDENT OBAMA’S SPEECH NATIONAL WAR COLLEGE, REALIGNED WAR ON GLOBAL TERROR, CLOSING GITMO, CIA DRONE STRIKE POLICY, MILITARY REVIEW OF WAR ON TERROR, AMERICA’S IMAGE IN THE WORLD, RULE OF LAW, DETAINEES, ENEMY COMBATANTS, Kurt Eichenwald “500 Days – Secrets And Lies In The Terror Wars” ( Touchstone, 2012).
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