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Conservatives Following Right Wing Leadership of Dick Cheney

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Report 16 February 2010

Terrorism & National Security Terrorism & National Security counter-terrorism Dick Cheney Pakistan


Yesterday, it was revealed that Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar -- the number two in the Afghan Taliban and the de facto leader of the insurgency -- was captured in Pakistan.  This is the most recent in a trend of success in the Administration's counterterrorism efforts at home and abroad that utilizes diplomacy, intelligence, law enforcement and armed force to disrupt and dismantle terrorist organizations and plots.  Successful elements of this comprenhesive approach have included working with allies to close Guantanamo Bay, successful drone strikes taking out the leadership of Pakistani Taliban, disrupting the largest terrorism plot since 9/11 through our criminal justice system, and pursuing a global manhunt for terrorists based on intelligence we gained from the Underwear Bomber.  Yet simultaneously, conservatives have gone to Dick Cheney for leadership and actually heightened their criticism, opting for an ideological, not reality-based approach to America's security.  These criticisms are out of line with mainstream American politics, and to the right of Bush administration counterterrorism policy.  As Senator McConnell has said explicitly, these conservatives see counter-terrorism policy as simply a means to attack the administration - not the foundation of American security. 

Obama administration captures top Taliban commander in joint CIA - Pakistani operation in Karachi. The New York Times reports: "The Taliban's top military commander was captured several days ago in Karachi, Pakistan, in a secret joint operation by Pakistani and American intelligence forces, according to American government officials.  The commander, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, is an Afghan described by American officials as the most significant Taliban figure to be detained since the American-led war in Afghanistan started more than eight years ago. He ranks second in influence only to Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban's founder and a close associate of Osama bin Laden before the Sept. 11 attacks." According to the Times, "officials said his capture had provided a window into the Taliban and could lead to other senior officials," including Taliban leader Mullah Omar.  RAND Corporation Taliban expert Seth Jones commented on the capture to the Washington Post, saying that Baradar "makes the Taliban run."  Bruce Riedel, who led the Obama administration's first Afghanistan and Pakistan policy review, told the Times that Baradar's capture could deal a significant blow to Taliban military operations in the near term.  Besides his role in directing the Taliban's military operations, "Mullah Baradar runs the group's leadership council," or Quetta Shura, "which includes more than a dozen of the Taliban's best-known leaders, charts the overall direction of the war, assigns Taliban "shadow governors" to run many Afghan provinces and districts, and chooses battlefield commanders," while also overseeing subcommittees on political, religious and military affairs, according to the Times. 

The Times also notes that "the participation of Pakistan's spy service could suggest a new level of cooperation from Pakistan's leaders, who have been ambivalent about American efforts to crush the Taliban." Riedel told the Times that Pakistan's cooperation in the raid "constituted a "sea change in Pakistani behavior."  Furthermore, "Western and Afghan officials familiar with the workings of the Taliban's leadership have described Mullah Baradar as one of the Taliban's most approachable leaders, and the one most ready to negotiate with the Afghan government," indicating his capture may pay dividends in NATO-ISAF efforts aimed at brokering a political solution to the conflict. [NY Times, 2/16/10. Washington Post, 2/16/10]

Administration's overall counterterrorism strategy continues to be successful. Decisions taken by President Obama as part of the broader U.S. counter terrorism strategy have led to several key accomplishments.    

Building partnerships and working with allies to thwart terrorism.  The Obama administration's revamped efforts to work with allies has proven fruitful.  Just yesterday, Spain announced that it will accept five Guantanamo Bay detainees, boosting the administration's efforts to close the controversial detention center. [Washington Post, 2/16/10]

Utilizing advances in technology to go after more terrorists.  During the past year, the Obama administration executed key military operations that either disabled or disrupted extremist organizations in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen, including killing Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, and his successor Hakimullah Mehsud. The Administration has increased the number of drone attacks, using the unmanned CIA aircrafts to strike a widened list of U.S. targets-such as the Mehsuds.   [Washington Post, 2/12/10]

Increasing successful intelligence gathering.  Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball report this weekend that, "In late January, an Al Qaeda operative headed from Pakistan on his way to Yemen was arrested in the Persian Gulf country of Oman, a U.S. counter-terrorism official confirmed."  And as a result, "U.S. intelligence officials appear to have obtained access to what could turn out to be a significant trove of phone numbers, photographs and documents detailing the links between Al Qaeda's leaders in northwest Pakistan and the terror group's increasingly menacing affiliate in Yemen, two counter-terrorism sources tell Declassified." [Newsweek, 2/14/10]

Enhancing efforts to disrupt domestic plots.  Last year, the administration foiled a terrorism plan by Najibullah Zazi, in a case the New York Times called "the most serious in years." [NY Times, 9/24/09]

Combining judicial and intelligence work to extract information - and then pursuing a global manhunt. As the Washington Times reported, "U.S. and allied counterterrorism authorities have launched a global manhunt for English-speaking terrorists trained in Yemen who are planning attacks on the United States, based on intelligence provided by the suspect in the attempted Christmas Day bombing after he began cooperating." [Washington Times, 2/15/10]

Conservatives toe Cheney line, repeat key untruths.  Conservatives have turned to Dick Cheney, one of the most unpopular figures in his party, as their ideological leader on terrorism and are peddling three untruths:  that the Administration has no counterterrorism strategy, that its methods are unsuccessful, and that they are not supported by the public.  On all three claims, the evidence says otherwise.  

Dick Cheney on ABC's This Week: "So I'm not saying it's an easy task, but by this point, when they've made all the decisions they've had, closed Guantanamo, end the high-value detainee program and so forth, I think those are all mistakes. Those were the tools we put in place to deal with this kind of situation. They should have had something to put in lieu of those programs, and it would look like they do not have -- have that kind of capability yet." [Dick Cheney, This Week, 2/14/10]

Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL), the Deputy Republican Whip, on Meet the Press this weekend: "whether it's closing Guantanamo Bay and moving it to the heartland of America, whether it's the, the--trying these folks in downtown New York, whether it's Mirandizing terrorists who come to this country to attack us,  the majority of Americans have not bought, do not believe that Obama and his administration is right on these policies." [Aaron Schock, Meet the Press, 2/14/10]

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Senate Majority Leader: "It's clearly a case for the military and for our intelligence people, not for the U.S. court system. What happened? He was given a 50 minute interrogation, probably Larry King has interrogated people longer and better than that. After which he was assigned a lawyer who told him to shut up. That is not the way to deal with someone in the war on terror." [Mitch McConnell, 2/4/10]

Sarah Palin, at the Tea Party Convention in Nashville falsely declared that reading  Abdulmutallab his rights made him stop talking: "We have a choice in how to do this. The choice was only question him for 50 minutes and then read his Miranda rights. The administration says then there are no downsides or upsides to treating terrorists like civilian criminal defendants. But a lot of us would beg to differ. For example, there are questions we would have liked this foreign terrorist to answer before he lawyered up and invoked our U.S. constitutional right to remain silent." [Sarah Palin, 2/6/10]

Sen. Susan Collins, (R-ME) last month in a weekly radio address derided the Administration's counterterrorism efforts -like Palin -falsely claiming that Abdulmutallab stopped talking once he was Mirandized: "Less than one hour. That's right, less than one hour. In fact, just fifty minutes. That's the amount of time that the FBI spent questioning Abdulmutallab, the foreign terrorist who tried to blow up a plane on Christmas Day. Then, he was given a Miranda warning and a lawyer, and, not surprisingly, he stopped talking..."  [Susan Collins, 1/30/10]

Yet this approach is out of the mainstream in American politics, far to the right of the Bush administration's policies.  Richard Reid, for example, "the 'shoe bomber' - was read or reminded of his Miranda rights four times in two days, beginning five minutes after being taken into custody," according to Mike Allen of Politico.  In addition, the Bush administration prosecuted over 300 terrorists in civilian courts, according to its own Justice Department records.  Finally, the interrogation guidelines that Cheney conservatives knock as too soft were first implemented by Bush administration in 2008, according to John Brennan, who served in senior intelligence positions in both the Obama and Bush administrations.  [Politico, 2/2/10. Mark Hosenball, Newsweek, 2/9/10. John Brennan, Meet the Press, 2/7/10]

What We're Reading

US Marines and the Afghan Army are making steady progress against the Taliban in the battle for Marjah.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused Iran of drifting toward military dictatorship, intensifying criticism of the Islamic Republic as the Obama administration and its allies step up efforts on several fronts to enact fresh sanctions against Tehran.

Pakistani lawyers boycotted court and rival political groups clashed in many cities in a renewed confrontation between the government and the Supreme Court over the appointment of judges.

The U.S. military is continuing its multiyear search for a futuristic, self-powered, intelligence-gathering airship.

Missionary groups in Haiti jockey for access to best help Haitians, but tensions are rising from their efforts to coordinate relief.

The Philippine military, stung by new criticism over reported human rights abuses, brought to court 43 health workers who are accused of being insurgents trained in bomb-making.

As European finance ministers refused to name specific measures to rescue Greece, opposition grew among Germans to bailing out what they consider spendthrifts to the south after years of belt-tightening at home.

China has been developing port facilities in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar, and it is planning to build railroad lines in Nepal, alarming Indian officials about Beijing's intentions with its neighbors.

Commentary of the Day

The New York Times applauds Secretary Gates' decision to open up the appropriations process of the F-35 fighter and the US Army's decision to offer emergency contraception to female soldiers.

Eugene Robinson is surprised, but supportive, of former Vice President Dick Cheney's tentative support of President Obama's review of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

The Los Angeles Times calls on the Obama administration to continue to resist pressure for military commissions and try 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in a federal civilian court.