Debra Burlingame

French Justice: Train with al-Qaeda, Get Out of Jail Free

Please see this important piece by John Rosenthal, revealing the outrageous consequences of repatriating detainees to European appeasers:

Last Tuesday, a Parisian appeals court overturned the convictions of five former Guantanamo inmates who had been found guilty on terrorist conspiracy charges in 2007. The development should give pause to wonder not only about the wisdom of plans to transfer Guantanamo inmates to European countries (see my earlier New Majority piece here), but more fundamentally about the very idea of treating the “disposition” of Guantanamo inmates as an issue for civilian courts, whether in the US or abroad. The five French Gitmo detainees were repatriated to France in 2004 and 2005. They were tried and convicted on charges of belonging to a “criminal association formed for the purpose of undertaking a terrorist act.” The definition of this crime in French law is exceptionally broad. Not only does it permit what are, in effect, preventive detentions, but a suspect may be convicted by virtue of merely having had “regular contact” [relations habituelles] with one or more other persons who form part of such a terrorist enterprise.

The five former Gitmo detainees, however, did not merely have casual contact with members of a terror group. All five have admitted to receiving military training in Al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan. They were taken prisoner in the Afghan-Pakistani border region in late 2001, while fleeing the Battle of Tora-Bora. The five men — Brahim Yadel, Mourad Benchellali, Nizar Sassi, Redouane Khalid, and Khaled ben Mustafa — have provided various far-fetched alibis that are supposed to explain how they could have found themselves training in Qaeda camps, but still somehow not be implicated in Qaeda’s wars. Undoubtedly, the most amusingly incongruous of these alibis comes to us by way of none other than the New York Times, which in June 2006 published an “op-ed” signed by Mourad Benchellali. In the article, Benchellali claims that he left France for Afghanistan in early summer 2001 to go on a “dream vacation.”


Don’t Let Terror Win in Our Courts

Two weeks ago, I was among a small group of USS Cole and 9/11 victims’ families who met with President Obama at the White House. Despite President Obama’s assurances that the safety and security of the American people is his number one priority, I left the meeting with little confidence that the President appreciates the grave consequences of shutting down Guantanamo or the complex problems associated with adjudicating detainee cases in the federal court system. Indeed, he told us that he is “not at all concerned” about the security issues of bringing the detainees to the U.S. His rationale for this is simple: whether detainees are held in a federal prison or a military facility, either location would present a “hard target” for future terrorist attacks aimed at freeing them. He believes the detainees will be forgotten by their fellow militants.

They will not be forgotten, however, by an army of elite defense lawyers who have declared that nothing less than a platinum standard of due process is acceptable for men who killed 3,000 innocent people, even if that means letting them and other dangerous terrorists go free. Indeed, the most real and immediate risk posed by bringing detainees to U.S. soil is that federal judges will do what al-Qaeda cannot: order that committed jihadists be released. Last year, in habeas corpus proceedings, a federal judge ordered the release of 17 Chinese Muslims who were training in Afghanistan with the East Turkestan Islamic Movement to carry out terrorist attacks in mainland China. That case was recently reversed, but will no doubt be appealed. Does it make sense to release these individuals to suburban Virginia?

How will the federal courts handle evidentiary matters involving classified information being demanded by the likes of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed representing himself? Will prosecutors be forced to disclose crucial battlefield intelligence or dismiss their cases?

The Pentagon has identified some 61 former detainees who have returned to the battlefield, among them Abdullah al-Ajmi, a Kuwaiti who carried out a suicide attack in Mosul that killed 12 Iraqi soldiers. Last September, al-Qaeda bombed the American embassy in Yemen, killing six people, including an 18-year-old Muslim-American teenager from upstate New York. That attack is believed to have been planned by a former detainee, now the leader of al-Qaeda in Yemen and a graduate of Saudi Arabia’s terrorist “rehabilitation” program. Though touted by the U.S. State Department as a model program, Saudi Arabia has reached out to Interpol after losing track of some 85 admitted members of al-Qaeda, including 11 former Gitmo detainees.

Nearly 100 of the current detainees are from Yemen, a country whose president, who previously released two of the men responsible in the USS Cole attack, refuses to make guarantees that repatriated detainees will be prevented from engaging in future terrorist activities. Indeed, he recently released 170 admitted militants in furtherance of a truce with al-Qaeda.

President Obama made an important admission in that White House meeting with victims’ families. He said that, “the world saw what happened at Abu Ghraib and mixed that up with Guantanamo.” The detention center has become a symbol, he said, of American injustice, and “fair or not,” it has to be shut down. Going forward, the President has a solemn obligation not to allow the safety and security of the American people to be put at risk to correct a misperception elsewhere in the world, particularly when terrorism is a global problem. Nor should the President allow alien enemy combatants to propagandize our justice system simply to satisfy the same civil rights absolutists who will be first in line, as they were after 9/11, to decry the government’s institutional failures when the next catastrophic attack occurs.

The Supreme Court has affirmed the right of the United States to hold enemy combatants in preventative detention until the end of hostilities. We cannot expect our military to risk their lives fighting the enemy, then to risk them again to secure criminal evidence in the midst of war. Congress should step up and fulfill its responsibility to create a balanced, reasonable and consistent legal framework for trying detainee cases which recognizes that criminal courts, operating in a vacuum, can hurt us far more than world opinion.

It’s been said that the war on terror won’t be won on the battlefield. No, but if the ACLU has its way, it will be lost in the courts.


Editor —

This commentary originally appeared in the Washington Post on February 21, 2009 as part of a series entitled ‘After Guantanamo’. If you go there, you will find a variety of related opinions, to incude this one by Colonel Lawrence Morris

Debra Burlingame, a former attorney, is co-founder of 9/11 Families for a Safe & Strong America.

Eric Holder for AG should not be put forward: Debra Burlingame

Statement of Debra Burlingame
Co-founder, 9/11 Families for a Safe & Strong America
January 15, 2009
Senate Judiciary Committee Confirmation Hearing for Eric Holder

Chairman Leahy, Ranking Member Specter and Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee:

I am writing to share my views about the nomination of Eric Holder to the position of United States Attorney General.

For the last seven years, I have taken a keen interest in the workings of my government. After the widespread institutional failures of the U.S. government to protect the lives and property of its citizens from terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, it was no longer acceptable to me to be a passive observer, to accept at face value what public officials tell us about the policies and decisions they make. 9/11 reminded us all that the decisions made in Washington have real world consequences for those far removed from the center of power.

On September 11, 2001, my brother, Captain Charles F. Burlingame, III, was murdered in the cockpit of his hijacked commercial airliner which was then crashed into the Pentagon, killing all 59 of its passengers and crew, and 125 men and women working at the Department of Defense. After that difficult day, I made a personal vow to become a better citizen, which starts with becoming better informed. Since then, I have contributed in the best way I know how, sharing what I have learned with others. It is in that spirit which I write to you today.

I am well aware of Eric Holder’s academic credentials, his record of accomplishments and the high regard in which he is held by some of his colleagues and associates. His qualifications for the position to which he has been nominated are plainly evident. However, Mr. Holder’s record is clouded by actions which even his supporters admit constitute serious errors in judgment, most notably, the role he played in a series of highly controversial Presidential pardons which issued while he held the position of deputy attorney general at the Department of Justice (DOJ).

I believe the facts surrounding Mr. Holder’s conduct with respect to these pardons seriously call into the question his judgment, character and independence, and cast doubt about his willingness or ability to serve both the President and the American people with equal dedication and vigor.