Debra Burlingame

President Obama Urged to Properly Resource War Effort in Afghanistan

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 7, 2009
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Jamie Fly – (202) 360-2802, Executive Director, jfly@foreignpolicyi.org
President Obama Urged to Properly Resource War Effort in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON — A distinguished group of Americans active in the foreign policy debate expressed support today for the U.S. effort in Afghanistan, and called upon President Obama to continue to provide the necessary resources requested by his commanders on the ground to ensure success. In an open letter organized by the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), the group offered its appreciation for the president’s decision earlier this year to deploy 21,000 additional U.S. troops to the country, and urged him to continue to properly resource the war effort. Given increasing public concern about the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan, the letter also suggests that the President make it a priority to explain to the American people why it is important to remain committed to winning in Afghanistan, and why such a victory is feasible.

The letter’s signatories write: “The situation in Afghanistan is grave and deteriorating … Since the announcement of your administration’s new strategy, we have been troubled by calls for a drawdown of American forces in Afghanistan and a growing sense of defeatism about the war. With General McChrystal expected to request additional troops later this month, we urge you to continue on the path you have taken thus far and give our commanders on the ground the forces they need to implement a successful counterinsurgency strategy. There is no middle course. Incrementally committing fewer troops than required would be a grave mistake and may well lead to American defeat. We will not support half-measures that repeat the errors of the past.”

The letter’s signers so far are: Steve Biegun, Max Boot, Debra Burlingame, Eliot A. Cohen, Ryan C. Crocker, Thomas Donnelly, Eric Edelman, William S. Edgerly, Jamie M. Fly, David Frum, Abe Greenwald, John Hannah, Pete Hegseth, Margaret Hoover, Thomas Joscelyn, Frederick W. Kagan, Robert Kagan, William Kristol, Tod Lindberg, Herbert London, Clifford May, Robert C. McFarlane, Joshua Muravchik, Sarah Palin, Keith Pavlischek, Beverly Perlson, Danielle Pletka, John Podhoretz, Stephen Rademaker, Karl Rove, Jennifer Rubin, Randy Scheunemann, Gary Schmitt, Dan Senor, Marc Thiessen, Peter Wehner, Kenneth Weinstein, and Christian Whiton.

A response to the Department of Justice ‘Fact Sheet’ on Prosecuting and Detaining Terror Suspects in the U.S. Criminal Justice System

In Washington today and tomorrow, the DOJ’s Office of Justice for Victims of Overseas Terrorism (OVT) is briefing American family members of those murdered by terrorists, as well as those injured during terrorist attacks. The stated purpose of the briefing is to:

…[offer] those interested the opportunity to meet task force members, hear an overview of task force work, and express views about the policy questions the Detention Policy Task Force is studying. Please click on the link for the Detention Policy Task Force to see some of the questions that the task force is considering. [password required] … For those unable to attend the meetings, but still interested in expressing views, we welcome written submissions. Please send your written comments via email (nsd.ovt@usdoj.gov) or fax (202-514-4275) to OVT by June 19, 2009.

In advance of the briefings, the Department of Justice issued a press release on June 9, 2009 that is posted below (in black). A response from 9/11 Families for a Safe & Strong America is interjected in red and blue.

Department of Justice Press Release Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Fact Sheet: Prosecuting and Detaining Terror Suspects in the U.S. Criminal Justice System

I. Terror Prosecutions in the Southern District of New York
Since the 1990s, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) has investigated and successfully prosecuted a wide range of international and domestic terrorism cases — including the bombings of the World Trade Center and U.S. Embassies in East Africa in the 1990s.
FACT: From 1993, starting with the first World Trade Center bombing, to the attack on the USS Cole in 2000, Al Qaeda killed 265 people and injured another 5,496. In the same period, a total of 29 people were convicted in major terrorism trials, only a handful of which were high-level operatives. Many of those responsible for the deaths of Americans and others were never apprehended. Those who were tried received platinum due process. And yet, 9/11 occurred. 3,000 more deaths in one day. The criminal justice system is not designed to protect American citizens from future terrorist attacks by covert, militant wahhabi organizations operating in global networks, carrying out martyrdom operations, with assistance from foreign states (Sudan, Saudia Arabia, Syria, Iran, Somalia, former Iraqi regime) and like-minded terrorists organizations (Hamas, Hezbollah). These are not street criminals who plague individuals. These are committed jihadists who pose an existential threat to the United States. When captured, Al Qaeda members are dedicated to continuing jihad, whether through propaganda or physical assaults on their captors. They are proud of their crimes, and are not interested in American justice. They are interested in undermining American justice. They are war criminals. Criminal indictments issuing from U.S. federal grand juries in the 1990s did not stop Osama Bin Laden or make the world a safer place.

Major Historical Cases in SDNY:
1993 World Trade Center Bombing: After two trials, in 1993 and 1997, six defendants were convicted and sentenced principally to life in prison for detonating a truck bomb in the garage of the World Trade Center, killing six people and injuring hundreds more. One of the defendants convicted at the second trial was Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the attack.
1994-95 Manila Air Plot: Ramzi Yousef and two others were convicted in 1996 for plotting to plant bombs aboard a dozen U.S. commercial aircraft that were timed to go off as the planes were flying over the Pacific. The defendants were sentenced to substantial prison terms. Yousef concocted the plan with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is currently detained at Guantanamo Bay and has been indicted in SDNY for the Manila Air conspiracy since 1996.
1995 “Blind Sheikh” Trial: Ten defendants associated with a mosque in Brooklyn, N.Y., were convicted of plotting to blow up the World Trade Center, United Nations headquarters, and various bridges, tunnels and landmarks in and around New York City. The lead defendant, Omar Abdel Rahman, also known as the “Blind Sheikh,” was sentenced to life in prison, while his co-defendants were sentenced to prison terms ranging between life and 25 years.
Bin Laden Indictment and Embassy Bombings Trial: Shortly after the August 1998 bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, SDNY indicted Usama Bin Laden and approximately 20 alleged al-Qaeda loyalists for conspiring to murder Americans worldwide. Many of the defendants were also charged for their roles in the attacks on the U.S. Embassies in East Africa, including three defendants who were convicted after a six-month trial in early 2001. Those three defendants, and a fourth al-Qaeda member who was tried with them, were all sentenced to life in prison.
FACT: The conspicuous absence, after nearly nine years, of any USS COLE prosecutions. The imminent trial of ABD AL-RAHIM AL-NASHIRI under the Military Commissions Act was suspended by President Obama.FACT: The total number of convictions in major terrorism cases in federal court, after hundreds of millions of dollars in litigation costs, from 1993 to 2001, was 29 people, most of whom held small roles in the larger conspiracies. In fact, some of those who participated in the bombings were never apprehended or tried. There was virtually no intelligence value to these prosecutions. Indeed, due to federal discovery rules, sensitive classified information deemed “material to the defense,”was ordered by the presiding judge to be handed over by prosecutors. In the Rahman “Blind Sheikh” case, a list of 200 un-indicted co-conspirators was given to the defense and in Osama Bin Laden’s hands within days. This told Al Qaeda who was known to U.S. law enforcement authorities, and who was not. See, former SDNY prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy, “The Intelligence Mess: How the Courts Forced Me to Give Osama Bin Laden Sensitive Information,” Wall Street Journal, Sept. 20, 2006
FACT: The federal rules for handling classified evidence in criminal trials continues to be a problem for prosecutors. The Classified Information Procedures Act (CIPA) was written to prevent defendants in espionage cases from engaging in “graymail,” threatening to reveal classified evidence in open court in order to pressure the government to drop charges. Prosecutors were faced with the choice of “disclosing or dismissing.” The current problem involves terrorism defendants who use discovery rules to force the government to disclose classified information which can be conveyed to their confederates. Disclosure of classified evidence, e.g. sources, methods, names of infiltrators, strains relationships with foreign intelligences services who want their counterterrorism operations and cooperation with the U.S. to remain secret..

Obama and the 9/11 Families; The president isn’t sincere about ‘swift and certain’ justice for terrorists

In February I was among a group of USS Cole and 9/11 victims’ families who met with the president at the White House to discuss his policies regarding Guantanamo detainees. Although many of us strongly opposed Barack Obama’s decision to close the detention center and suspend all military commissions, the families of the 17 sailors killed in the 2000 attack in Yemen were particularly outraged.

Over the years, the Cole families have seen justice abandoned by the Clinton administration and overshadowed by the need of the Bush administration to gather intelligence after 9/11. They have watched in frustration as the president of Yemen refused extradition for the Cole bombers.

Now, after more than eight years of waiting, Mr. Obama was stopping the trial of Abu Rahim al-Nashiri, the only individual to be held accountable for the bombing in a U.S. court. Patience finally gave out. The families were giving angry interviews, slamming the new president just days after he was sworn in.

The Obama team quickly put together a meeting at the White House to get the situation under control. Individuals representing “a diversity of views” were invited to attend and express their concerns.

On Feb. 6, the president arrived in the Roosevelt Room to a standing though subdued ovation from some 40 family members. With a White House photographer in his wake, Mr. Obama greeted family members one at a time and offered brief remarks that were full of platitudes (“you are the conscience of the country,” “my highest duty as president is to protect the American people,” “we will seek swift and certain justice“). Glossing over the legal complexities, he gave a vague summary of the detainee cases and why he chose to suspend them, focusing mostly on the need for speed and finality.

Many family members pressed for Guantanamo to remain open and for the military commissions to go forward. Mr. Obama allowed that the detention center had been unfairly confused with Abu Ghraib, but when asked why he wouldn’t rehabilitate its image rather than shut it down, he silently shrugged. Next question.

Mr. Obama was urged to consult with prosecutors who have actually tried terrorism cases and warned that bringing unlawful combatants into the federal courts would mean giving our enemies classified intelligence — as occurred in the cases of the al Qaeda cell that carried out the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and conspired to bomb New York City landmarks with ringleader Omar Abdel Rahman, the “Blind Sheikh.” In the Rahman case, a list of 200 unindicted co-conspirators given to the defense — they were entitled to information material to their defense — was in Osama bin Laden’s hands within hours. It told al Qaeda who among them was known to us, and who wasn’t.

Mr. Obama responded flatly, “I’m the one who sees that intelligence. I don’t want them to have it, either. We don’t have to give it to them.”

How could anyone be unhappy with such an answer? Or so churlish as to ask follow-up questions in such a forum? I and others were reassured, if cautiously so.

News reports described the meeting as a touching and powerful coming together of the president and these long-suffering families. Mr. Obama had won over even those who opposed his decision to close Gitmo by assuaging their fears that the review of some 245 current detainees would result in dangerous jihadists being set free. “I did not vote for the man, but the way he talks to you, you can’t help but believe in him,” said John Clodfelter to the New York Times. His son, Kenneth, was killed in the Cole bombing. “[Mr. Obama] left me with a very positive feeling that he’s going to get this done right.”

“This isn’t goodbye,” said the president, signing autographs and posing for pictures before leaving for his next appointment, “this is hello.” His national security staff would have an open-door policy.

Believe … feel … hope.

We’d been had.

Binyam Mohamed — the al Qaeda operative selected by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) for a catastrophic post-9/11 attack with co-conspirator Jose Padilla — was released 17 days later. In a follow-up conference call, the White House liaison to 9/11 and Cole families refused to answer questions about the circumstances surrounding the decision to repatriate Mohamed, including whether he would be freed in Great Britain.

The phrase “swift and certain justice” had been used by top presidential adviser David Axelrod in an interview prior to our meeting with the president. “Swift and certain justice” figured prominently in the White House press release issued before we had time to surrender our White House security passes. “At best, he manipulated the families,” Kirk Lippold, commanding officer of the USS Cole at the time of the attack and the leader of the Cole families group, told me recently. “At worst, he misrepresented his true intentions.”

Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder told German reporters that 30 detainees had been cleared for release. This includes 17 Chinese fundamentalist Muslims, the Uighurs, some of whom admit to having been trained in al Qaeda and Taliban camps and being associated with the East Turkistan Islamic Party. This party is led by Abdul Haq, who threatened attacks on the 2008 Olympics Games in Beijing and was recently added [April 20, 2009] to the Treasury Department’s terrorist list. The Obama administration is considering releasing the Uighurs on U.S. soil, and it has suggested that taxpayers may have to provide them with welfare support. In a Senate hearing yesterday, Mr. Holder sidestepped lawmakers’ questions about releasing detainees into the U.S. who have received terrorist training.

What about the terrorists who may actually be tried? The Justice Department’s recent plea agreement with Ali Saleh al-Marri should be of grave concern to those who believe the Obama administration will vigorously prosecute terrorists in the federal court system.

Al-Marri was sent to the U.S. on Sept. 10, 2001, by KSM to carry out cyanide bomb attacks. He pled guilty to one count of “material support,” a charge reserved for facilitators rather than hard-core terrorists. He faces up to a 15-year sentence, but will be allowed to argue that the sentence should be satisfied by the seven years he has been in custody. This is the kind of thin “rule of law” victory that will invigorate rather than deter our enemies.

Given all the developments since our meeting with the president, it is now evident that his words to us bore no relation to his intended actions on national security policy and detainee issues. But the narrative about Mr. Obama’s successful meeting with 9/11 and Cole families has been written, and the press has moved on.

The Obama team has established a pattern that should be plain for all to see. When controversy erupts or legitimate policy differences are presented by well-meaning people, send out the celebrity president to flatter and charm.

Most recently, Mr. Obama appeared at the CIA after demoralizing the agency with the declassification and release of memos containing sensitive information on CIA interrogations. He appealed to moral vanity by saying that fighting a war against fanatic barbarians “with one hand tied behind your back” is being on “the better side of history,” even though innocent lives are put at risk. He promised the assembled staff and analysts that if they keep applying themselves, they won’t be personally marked for career-destroying sanctions or criminal prosecutions, even as disbelieving counterterrorism professionals — the field operatives and their foreign partners — shut down critical operations for fear of public disclosure and political retribution in the never-ending Beltway soap opera called Capitol Hill.

It worked: On television, his speech looked like a campaign rally, with people jumping up and down, cheering. Meanwhile, the media have moved on, even as they continue to recklessly and irresponsibly use the word “torture” in their stories.

I asked Cmdr. Kirk Lippold why some of the Cole families declined the invitation to meet with Barack Obama at the White House.

“They saw it for what it was.”

—— Editor’s notes ——

Debra Burlingame, a former attorney and a director of the National September 11 Memorial Foundation, is the sister of Charles F. “Chic” Burlingame III, the pilot of American Airlines flight 77, which was crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, and the co-founder of 9/11 Families for a Safe & Strong America.

This commentary by her appeared today on the opinion page of the Wall Street Journal. The supporting links and video only appear here.

May 9, 2009: See additional (98 so far) comments here. A sample:

Fri May 08, 2009 10:15 ‘Red Fred‘ said: “Mr. Obama responded flatly, ‘I’m the one who sees that intelligence. I don’t want them to have it, either. We don’t have to give it to them.’ Well case closed. He can withhold whatever information from defense he darn well pleases. Mr. Constitutional scholar strikes again.”

NY Times hides NYC Tea Party crowd numbers

Today’s New York Times fails to mention that NYC had thousands at its event. I understand Atlanta, GA had ten thousand yet they did not mention it at all. Just a hundred here, 500 there. But the New York Post is reporting 5,000 people were at the New York City tea party. It was at least that. The New York City Police Department announced today they estimated the crowd count at 12,500!

I was in the middle of the crowd, with people as far as the eye could see. These are pictures I took as I was arriving — before the crowd grew and spilled over. The police kept having to move the barriers, finally shutting down lanes of traffic as the participants spread across the street.

Click on image.