Friday, March 8, 2013

Abu Ghaith capture

The US Government has captured Osama bin Laden's son-in-law and will put him on trial. In a civilian court. A few observations here. 

1) The suggestion that Abu Ghaith had been detained in Iran should surprise nobody. The Iranians and Al Qa'ida hate each other and like to kill each other. However, they do have two shared affinities - killing civilians and an embedded sympathy for brutal theological authoritarianism.

2) Although the news reports are currently lacking in detail, it seems apparent that Abu Ghaith was the subject of a rendition operation. As the Washington Post put it- Sulaiman Abu Ghaith was initially detained in Turkey but was taken into U.S. custody in Jordan while he was in the process of being deported to Kuwait, according to U.S. officials. Rep. Peter King's congratulatory message to the CIA would seemingly give weight to this theory. If true, I have no problem with this action. In fact, it would be good news. It would indicate that President Obama has retained rendition as a crucial tool of US counter-terrorism efforts (see my piece from yesterday on CIA-Brennan-Rand).

3) Unfortunately, this story isn't entirely positive. If, as reports indicate, the Obama Administration is intending to try Abu Ghaith in New York, they're making a serious mistake. Abu Ghaith is an obvious member of Al Qa'ida core. Under the post 9/11 Congressional AUMF, Al Qa'ida members are recognized as military adversaries of the United States - illegitimate adversaries but also non-civilian. As such, under Federal law they should be tried under military authority. For all it's previous negative PR, Guantanamo Bay should remain open and men (or women) like Abu Ghaith should be tried under US military jurisdiction. By prosecuting Abu Ghaith in civilian court, the President would entertain the false delusion that terrorism is a form of criminality. It isn't. In it's character of action and it's corollary strategic aims, Al Qa'ida's terrorism is a true manifestation of Clausewitz's abiding definition of war - 'the continuation of politics by other means'. A civilian trial would also conflict with the President's March 2011 decision to re-activate the military court system.

On August 7th 1998, Al Qa'ida declared war on the United States. The laws of war and American strategic interest both demand that Al Qa'ida face the consequences of their chosen course.

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