The Problem With Treating Terrorism Like A Law Enforcement Problem

So far, I’ve found the 9/11 hearings to be a partisan joke, but there has been at least one really interesting development that hasn’t gotten the attention it deserved…

“A report compiled by the commission’s staff found that senior officials in the Clinton White House said they had made it clear the CIA had a licence to kill the Saudi fugitive and not just capture him.

But the report said: “If the policy makers believed their intent was clear, every CIA official interviewed on this topic by the commission, from (the CIA director, George Tenet) to the official who actually briefed the agents in the field, told us they had heard a different message.

“What the United States would let the military do is quite different, Tenet said, from the rules that govern covert action in the field.”

The distinction may have made a crucial difference to the hunt for the al-Qaeda leader, who later ordered the September 11 attacks.

“CIA senior managers, operators and lawyers uniformly said that they read the relevant authorities signed by President Clinton as instructing them to capture bin Laden, except in the defined contingency. They believed that the only acceptable context for killing bin Laden was a credible capture operation,” the report said.

It quoted a former chief of the Osama bin Laden unit as saying: “We always talked about how much easier it would have been to kill him.”

As expected, the Clinton people denied that, just as they’ve denied that Clinton was offered Bin Laden by Sudan and turned him down. But, Clinton himself has publicly admitted that is exactly what happened….

“Mr. bin Laden used to live in Sudan. He was expelled from Saudi Arabia in 1991, then he went to Sudan.

“And we’d been hearing that the Sudanese wanted America to start meeting with them again – they released him.

“At the time, 1996, he had committed no crime against America so I did not bring him here because we had no basis on which to hold him, though we knew he wanted to commit crimes against America.

“So I pleaded with the Saudis to take him, ’cause they could have. But they thought it was a hot potato and they didn’t and that’s how he wound up in Afghanistan.”

Of course, this shows how ludicrous it has been for people like Richard Clarke to claim that fighting terrorism was the Clinton administration’s top priority.

However, the more important lesson here is that treating terrorism as a law enforcement problem like the Clinton team did and John Kerry plans to do is a recipe for failure.

How can anyone buy into the idea that we should try to prevent future 9/11s by trying to capture terrorists without killing them in hostile nations like Saddam Hussein’s Iraq or the Taliban’s Afghanistan? Then let’s say that against all odds, we manage to slap the cuffs on a terrorist and somehow get him back to the US. Then, even though they’re probably not going to be US citizens, we’re supposed give them a high powered attorney and try to put them in jail even though we realistically can’t reveal a lot of our intelligence sources and most of the relevant witnesses live in other countries? Keep in mind that in 1996, even after Al-Qaeda had been involved in the first WTC bombings and the Black Hawk Down incident, Bill Clinton still didn’t believe we had a basis on which to hold Osama Bin Laden.

In an age where a nuclear 9/11 is not out of the question, how can we risk engaging in that sort of unworkable strategy? The last thing I want to hear after a suitcase nuke goes off in LA or DC is “Yeah, we knew where the terrorists were, but we didn’t think we could make a case against them in court so we didn’t take any action”.

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