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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Being Terrified is No Way to Fight Terrorism

Judge's gavelWhen it comes to terrorism, the right has a narrative. Barack Obama is terrible at fighting it. If he were more like George W. Bush -- the president who saw the world's most deadly terrorist attack happen under his watch -- then he'd be doing things right. Never mind that, by their own arguments, Obama has been wildly successful in fighting terrorism. The rightwing line in defense of Bush's crimes of torture and wiretapping has always been that we haven't been attacked since 9/11 (which isn't at all true, by the way). Ignore the worst intelligence failure in the history of America -- Bush supposedly did a good job after that. I guess you get a do-over or something when you're a new president -- and a Republican.

But Obama's record is already better than Bush's. He hasn't needed that do-over. The big catastrophic attack we were warned about during the campaign still hasn't happened, meaning that President Obama has already beat Bush's record. Every day after 9/11/09 without a huge, flaming disaster is one more day that this president has kept us safe longer than the previous president managed. But those are facts and logic. We've already established that facts and logic don't fly in rightwing world.

Some, like the perpetually boobish Rep. Pete Hoekstra, argue that a failed attempt at terrorism under Obama counts as a bona fide "terrorist attack." This is proof that Obama's a huge failure. But these same people won't count failed attacks under Bush, which means Bush was a huge success. Yeah, it makes my head hurt too. I think I might be allergic to either stupid or ridiculous. It's hard to pin down which it is, since Bush apologists tend to give you both at once.

But the big proof for the right of President Obama's complete cluelessness about all things terrorist is that the failed underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was read his rights -- after which he clammed up.

Weekly Standard:

The Associated Press has a fascinating blow-by-blow account of the interrogation of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab that adds several new details to previous reports on his handling. Overall, however, this news does not change the disturbing picture of the reflexive, law-enforcement-first approach the Obama administration took with the al Qaeda operative. And with the new details come new troubling questions.

The story tells us that Abdulmutallab was Mirandized approximately 10 hours after he was taken into custody. Before then, he received medical attention and was interrogated twice. The first interrogation was conducted by local FBI agents and included a Customs and Border Protection official and an agent from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. The first interview lasted 50 minutes, and Abdulmutallab reportedly talked freely. The second interview, five hours later, the FBI used a "clean team" that included elements of local joint terrorism task force.  The second interrogation yielded nothing.  When Abdulmutallab was Mirandized, he stopped cooperating altogether.

You know what else is fascinating? The AP got it wrong.

L.A. Times:

The decision to advise the accused Christmas Day attacker of his right to remain silent was made after teleconferences involving at least four government agencies -- and only after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had stopped talking to authorities, according to knowledgeable law enforcement officials.

Among those involved in the hastily called teleconferences were representatives from the Justice Department and the FBI, along with officials from the State Department and the CIA.

So the "terrorist mirandized, terrorist shuts up" scenario is exactly bass ackward. In retrospect, this should've been obvious. I don't care where you're from, if TV exists there, you can recite your Miranda rights verbatim. No one's ever told that, in America, they have the right to remain silent and answers with, "I didn't know that."

But now that he's shut down, we have to torture him, right? That's also a rightwing meme -- it's the only way you can get a terrorist to talk, because they aren't criminals. If you treat them like criminals, you'll fail. These people are magic and torture is like crosses to vampires to them. You have to torture them or they'll never cooperate.

New YorkTimes:

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian man accused of trying to blow up a jetliner bound for Detroit on Dec. 25, started talking to investigators after two of his family members arrived in the United States and helped earn his cooperation, a senior administration official said Tuesday evening.

According to the paper, which spoke to officials in the case, Abdulmutallab "began speaking to FBI agents last week in Detroit and has not stopped."

"With the family, the FBI approached the suspect," said one official. "He has been cooperating for days."

Look at all the torture we didn't do. And look at all the success we had. And what else have we accomplished here?

Well, we've treated him like a common criminal. If you ask most people on the right, this is supposedly a terrible mistake. But this means he's not some hero to extremists, he's not a soldier in a "war on terror," he's just a nut. He's a failed murderer, not a captured soldier. In short, we've cut his propaganda value down considerably. He's not some monster we all have to be terrified of, he is what he is -- some would-be killer who's no better or worse than a common street thug. He's not the honorable enemy in a time of war, he's just the same sort of scum who kills people in a drive-by shooting.

And we've gotten him legally -- without torture. Someone needs to remind the world that we're the good guys here. It's a lot harder to do that when you're strapping people to boards and drowning them. That doesn't actually look like a good guy thing to do. Mostly because it's so obviously evil.

Don't expect the facts to sway anyone though. There will still be calls to try him in military court and, among the most sadistic and stupid, calls to torture him just for the hell of it. But the facts of the case show that the system of law that has protected this nation for more than two centuries miraculously manages to still protect it now. Imagine that.

Keep that in mind the next time some panicked moron argues we have to crap our pants, drop everything we've always believed in and stood for, and give up on the law because some cultists say they want to kill people. There are a lot of reasons why those people are wrong, not the least of which is their shameful cowardice.


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Kevin Camp said...

I wish I could have said it this well myself.

Wisco said...


vet said...

What Kevin said. You have an outstanding voice, Wisco.

But I think you're wrong on one count. Just because the man's arrested and treated humanely, doesn't make him less of a hero to his supporters. We saw this in Britain with the IRA - when their members were captured, tried and imprisoned as the common murderers they were, they were still heroes and martyrs. See the deeply frustrating case of Bobby Sands.

sofa said...

killing them and their village, and pissing on their graves - is how you fight terrorism.

Wisco said...

Yeah sofa, that's a fucking brilliant idea. Kill innocent people, because that won't create more terrorists at all.

Use your head for something other than paranoid fantasies and wet dreams of revenge killing for once.

Anonymous said...

Use your head for something other than paranoid fantasies and wet dreams of revenge killing for once.

That's asking for an awful lot, isn't it? Perhaps you should lower your expectations just a tad ;-)