Friday, May 24, 2013

Obama's drone speech

Well, at least Obama has addressed the drone issue. At least he's now willing to talk about one of the most infuriating aspects of his presidency. At least he seems willing to chart a new course.

But as I look at the reaction to the President's latest Big Speech, one question keeps resounding in my head: Don't these people know about the dichotomy between Obama's words and deeds? After all, this is the guy who, back in 2008, said that he was going to renegotiate NAFTA. Without that promise, he wouldn't have won a couple of key primaries -- in fact, he probably would not be President. Did he keep his word? No, he did not.

Maybe Obama is sincere about winding down his administration's reliance on the "death from above" approach. Maybe he has changed his tune because he knows damned well that Al Qaeda is a ghost of its former self.

Here's the NYT's take on the drone speech:
The targeting of citizens of other countries will now be subjected to the same conditions the administration uses to kill American citizens abroad. They must be shown to pose “a continuing, imminent threat to Americans,” as Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. wrote in a letter to Congress that was made public on Wednesday. In addition, the letter said, lethal force can be used only when capture is not feasible and there are “no other reasonable alternatives to effectively address the threat.”
Much of the problem comes down to the concept of imminence. It's hard to demonstrate conclusively that Awlaki -- even if we take the official "Theory of Awlaki" at face value (which I do not) -- was much more than a propagandist and a rabble-rouser. Even if we concede that the man was evil, how did he qualify as an imminent threat? 

This letter from AG Holder tries to make the "imminence" argument against Awlaki. Frankly, I don't find his words very persuasive. Nevertheless, the document is important. In it, Holder helpfully names the other three Americans killed by drone strikes:
The United States is further aware of three other U.S. citizens who have been killed in such U.S. counterterrorism operations over that same time period: Samir Kahn, 'Abd al-Rahman Anwar al-Aulaqi, and Jude Kenan Mohammed. These individuals were not specifically targeted by the United States.
So the fact that those guys were collateral damage makes the extra-judicial killing of Americans acceptable?

Samir Kahn was the editor of Inspire, the jihadist magazine; he was born in New York and his family lives in North Carolina.

The second name is that of Awlaki's son. We are now told that his death was an accident. Previous news reports conveyed the impression that he had been targeted.

The third man hailed from North Carolina and entered into the world of extreme Islam via an unusual route...
When Jude Kenan Mohammad was about 18 and living in Raleigh, N.C., according to people who knew him, he came under the influence of an older man, Daniel Patrick Boyd, who taught him a violent, radical version of Islam.

Mr. Boyd would be charged in 2009 and eventually imprisoned as the ringleader of a group of North Carolina residents who had vowed to carry out a violent jihad both in the United States and overseas. Mr. Mohammad was also charged, but by then, partly at the direction of Mr. Boyd, he had traveled to Pakistan, where he had joined a group of militants in that country’s tribal area.

On Wednesday, the United States government officially acknowledged for the first time what had long been rumored among his friends in Raleigh: that Mr. Mohammad was killed in a C.I.A. drone strike on a compound in South Waziristan, Pakistan, on Nov. 16, 2011. He was 23.
If "Daniel Patrick Boyd" strikes you as an unusual name for an Islamic terror teacher, well, you're not the first person to think that way. His father was a captain in the Marines and he grew up in Alexandria, VA. As a young man, he traveled to Afghanistan to join the mujahideen's war against the Soviets.

His later terror cell in North Carolina has become a lint trap for spooky speculation. Wayne Madsen (whom I do not trust, though he is sometimes right) says that the group received aid from the CIA.

If you have a few grains of salt handy, feel free to check out Mr. Madsen's take on the NC ring. I would feel a lot more comfortable with his allegations if I could find non-Madsen sourcing for them; alas, the best I've been able to come up with is this profile published in the San Diego Union Tribune:
Authorities believe Boyd's roots in terrorism run deep. When he was in Pakistan and Afghanistan from 1989 through 1992, he had military-style training in terrorist camps and fought the Soviets, who were ending their occupation of Afghanistan, according to the indictment.
He must have come to the Agency's attention at that time.
In 1991, Boyd and his brother were convicted of bank robbery in Pakistan. They were also accused of carrying identification showing they belonged to the radical Afghan guerrilla group, Hezb-e-Islami, or Party of Islam. Each was sentenced to have a foot and a hand cut off for the robbery, but the decision was later overturned.

A former CIA official who was stationed in Pakistan at the time said the agency intervened and quickly persuaded the Pakistani intelligence service to help free the Boyd brothers. The former official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly about the incident.
Looks like we have the basis of a quid pro quo arrangement, wouldn't you say? 
It is unclear when Boyd and his family returned to the United States, but in March 2006, Boyd traveled to Gaza and attempted to introduce his son to individuals who also believed that violent jihad was a personal religious obligation, the indictment said. The document did not say which son Boyd took to Gaza.

The indictment said some of the defendants took trips to Jordan, Israel and Pakistan to engage in jihad, but only discussed the results of one of those trips. After traveling to Israel, Boyd and his two sons returned to the United States in July 2007 "having failed in their attempt," according to the documents.
It's quite possible that Mr. Boyd -- who owed a longstanding debt to the CIA -- might have been sent to that part of the world with a directive to scope out and scoop up potential troublemakers. At this same period in his life, he was operating a small Middle Eastern grocery store in North Carolina. Since he cannot have earned much from that endeavor, one wonders where he got the money for his travels.

Boyd is in prison now for inciting people to commit acts of terror. Or so we are told. If nothing else, he, Samir Kahn and Jude Kenan Mohammed help to cement the impression that Al Qaeda is a strangely American phenomenon. For more on that, see the post directly preceding this one.

(As before, please pay strict attention to our second rule for Cannonfire comments.)

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