Senior lawyers in the Obama administration are deeply divided over some of the counterterrorism powers they inherited from former President George W. Bush, according to interviews and a review of legal briefs. The rift has been most pronounced between top lawyers in the State Department and the Pentagon, though it has also involved conflicts among career Justice Department lawyers and political appointees throughout the national security agencies. – Obama Team Is Divided on Tactics Against Terrorism
As blasts ripped through a Russian subway station today, we’re finding out some interesting details about the Administration’s battles over fighting terrorism, including how or whether Pres. Obama will utilize former Pres. Bush’s unlimited scope definition of commander in chief. But first, the news out of Russia, which is immediate and reveals the continuing fractious violence all leaders face today.
Russian investigators combing two subway stations attacked by female suicide bombers think Chechen rebels may have been behind the rush-hour strike that killed dozens of people.
“Our preliminary assessment is that this act of terror was committed by a terrorist group from the North Caucasus region,” said Alexander Bortnikov of the Federal Security Service, in reference to the investigation at one of the blast sites.
“We consider this the most likely scenario, based on investigations conducted at the site of the blast,” Bortnikov said. “Fragments of the suicide bombers’ body found at the blast, according to preliminary findings, indicate that the bombers were from the North Caucasus region.”
Two female suicide bombers set off explosions that rocked the two subway stations in central Moscow during rush hour Monday morning, killing at least 38 people and wounded more than 60 others, officials said. […]
Here at home, even though Pres. Obama has clearly altered some of the techniques utilized in fighting terrorism, there is still a very vigorous debate going on, according to a report today in the New York Times:
[…] But behind closed doors, the debate flared again that summer, when the Obama administration confronted the case of Belkacem Bensayah, an Algerian man who had been arrested in Bosnia – far from the active combat zone – and was being held without trial by the United States at GuantÃ¡namo. Mr. Bensayah was accused of facilitating the travel of people who wanted to go to Afghanistan to join Al Qaeda. A judge found that such “direct support” was enough to hold him as a wartime prisoner, and the Justice Department asked an appeals court to uphold that ruling.
… That view was amplified after Harold Koh, a former human-rights official and Yale Law School dean who had been a leading critic of the Bush administration’s detainee policies, became the State Department’s top lawyer in late June. Mr. Koh produced a lengthy, secret memo contending that there was no support in the laws of war for the United States’ position in the Bensayah case.
Mr. Koh found himself in immediate conflict with the Pentagon’s top lawyer, Jeh C. Johnson, a former Air Force general counsel and trial lawyer who had been an adviser to Mr. Obama during the presidential campaign. Mr. Johnson produced his own secret memorandum arguing for a more flexible interpretation of who could be detained under the laws of war – now or in the future.
… “I think the change in tone has been important and has helped internationally,” said John B. Bellinger III, a top Bush era National Security Council and State Department lawyer. “But the change in law has been largely cosmetic. And of course there has been no change in outcome.”
Enter targeted killings using drone strikes, which Mr. Koh spoke on last week, via the Times: His remarks, however, focused on issues like whether it was lawful to single out specific enemy figures for killing – not defining the limits of who may be deemed an enemy.
But Mr. Feldman, the Harvard professor, said the detention debate also had “serious consequences” for the targeted killings policy because, “If we’re at war with you, then we can detain you – but we can also try to kill you.”
That said, he cautioned, additional factors complicate the analysis of selecting lawful targets. Among them, it is not clear whether Mr. Obama is more willing in classified settings to assert that, as commander in chief, he can use drone strikes to defend the country against perceived threats that cannot be linked to the Congressionally authorized war against Al Qaeda.
Non-state threats continue to put our democratic republic, but also countries like Russia, in a constant state of deliberation about freedoms, government control, and the reality that the world is getting more complex for leaders to navigate every day. It’s also obvious that uncontrollable violence from zealots, including females, who are willing to die for their cause is unstoppable.
One wonders how long it will be before the United States becomes part of the world chaos; the militia raids hardly in the same league. We’ve not been hit since 9/11, and before that never in the way Russian experienced today, as Timothy McVeigh struck a government facility not a populated civilian hub, the U.S. far away from understanding what Israel has experienced over decades.
On a side note regarding Israel, which ties into the general national security theme of Pres. Obama; turns out what many of us have been writing about Netanyahu is manifesting. Via Palestine Note (and Twitter):
These last figures are very telling. Contrary to what the PM and his supporters want us to believe, applying pressure on an extreme Israeli government does bring results. Until the recent confrontation with the US Netanyahu and Barak were riding high in the polls and Kadima was losing ground and getting torn by internal politics; but now the public is concerned by the idea of losing American support (48 percent saying that “Israel’s international statue is deteriorating”) and is not happy with the road Netanyahu is leading this country.
More important, even though most of the public still thinks there is no partner for peace on the other side, 46.2 of Israelis are now accepting the idea of splitting Jerusalem between Israel and Palestine (that’s more than those objecting it) – not at all the consensus around the idea of a “united Jerusalem” like Netanyahu and AIPAC would like us to believe.
President Obama might not be very popular with Israelis these days, but they are certainly listening to what he has to say.
Subtle, but certainly change, because anyone can ascertain that what’s currently being done by the Netanyahu government isn’t working.
This concludes a rather wide-ranging foreign policy brief this Passover Monday. Thanks for following the thread, assuming you did.