Saturday, October 31, 2009

Protesters On Our Doorstep

Supporters of ousted Honduran president Manuel Zelaya protested this week outside the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa - Washington Post photo

So those supporters of deposed President Zelaya were allowed to conduct their protest right there on the front steps of the U.S. embassy? I hope the embassy's Marine Security Guards were keeping a close eye on them.

Say, that's an awfully strange-looking camera mounted to the wall behind those protesters. Can't the USG afford better security equipment?

Friday, October 30, 2009

$150 Billion Divided by 650,000 = Cause for Embarrassment

The Washington Post is reporting the administration's claim to have "created or saved" some 650,000 jobs.

Reports to be released Friday on the government Web site are expected to show that the $150 billion in grants and loans made so far under the economic stimulus package have created or saved about 650,000 jobs, White House officials said Friday morning.

Let's put aside our questions about how the White House defined "jobs created" and "jobs saved," and about the reliability of self-reporting by grant recipients, and about the absence of any consideration of the employment contraction that must have been caused by the extraction of $150 billion from the U.S. economy to spend on this stimulus program, and just take this claim at face value. Why should the administration be boasting about creating or saving only 650,000 jobs at the cost of $150 billion?

$150 billion in spending divided by 650,000 jobs equals $230,769.231 in stimulus expenditure per job created or saved. According to the Social Security Administration, the United States national average wage for 2008 was 41,334.97.

Other things being equal (I have an economics degree, so I can say that in Latin, too: ceteris paribus), I would have expected the government to create or save at least five jobs for each $230K and change it spent.

Instead of boasting about those results, the White House should be auditing its books.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Al Qaeda Documents Found in Taliban Compound

This is a significant find, if it is verified. The UK Guardian, among other news outlets, is reporting that Pakistani troops have discovered passports belonging to al Qaeda figures in a Taliban compound in South Waziristan.

Some quotes from The Guardian's story, Al-Qaida connection: Foreign passports linked to attacks on west recovered:

Pakistani troops sweeping through the mountains of South Waziristan have discovered startling evidence that appears to show a direct link between the lawless tribal belt and al-Qaida attacks in America and Europe.

Last week soldiers raiding Taliban compounds in Shelwasti village, on the edge of the Mehsud tribal territory, recovered a passport in the name of Said Bahaji, a German national accused of being part of the Hamburg cell that coordinated the September 11 2001 attacks.

They also found a Spanish passport in the name of Raquel Burgos García, whose Moroccan husband, Amer Azizi, is accused of playing a role in the Madrid train bombings of 2004.

-- snip --

If authenticated, the documents provide stark proof of what western allies have insisted upon for years, but which Pakistani officials have only recently accepted – that the tribal belt, particularly South and North Waziristan, is the de facto headquarters of al-Qaida, and that Osama bin Laden is most likely hiding there.

Why Not Sell Visas?

Diplopundit's post on a visa fraud ring that was able to charge Ukrainian visa applicants $12,000 has me wondering, not for the first time, why the U.S. government doesn't simply sell immigrant visas at their actual market value?

There would be ample precedent. The USG charges market prices for other valuable commodities, such as broadcasting licenses and certain agricultural and mineral rights. Clearly, some people believe that a U.S. visa is worth paying quite a bit of money for; provided they are not legally disqualified for entry into the U.S., why shouldn't we sell those people visas on a for-profit basis?

Maybe I'm overlooking some terribly obvious legal, moral, or political reason why we should not do this. But, frankly, a visa auction seems like a good way to put a price on that valuable commodity.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Hillary's Calling the Plays, Says Washington Times

Hillary Clinton only seems to have receded into the background of the Obama administration, according to a story in the Washington Times. She's really in the backfield, being the foreign policy quarterback who hands the ball off to running backs and tosses long bombs to her intended receivers.

'Proxy' diplomats deployed for crises:

If President Clinton was known for political triangulation, his wife is establishing herself as the quarterback of a multidirectional diplomatic offense.

Sen. John Kerry's dramatic insertion into talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai last week marked the third time the Obama administration has used proxy diplomats to resolve major foreign crises.

While critics of the approach say it is undermining Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and regular diplomatic channels, Mr. Kerry and State Department officials say that the secretary fully supported the senator's unusual role.

But doesn't it cause problems to have so many special teams running around?

To supporters, the Obama administration's use of proxies demonstrates a highly pragmatic approach to foreign policy. To critics, it is a short-term strategy that may undermine Mrs. Clinton and her regular diplomats, confuse U.S. allies and embolden the nation's enemies.

Mr. Kerry's sudden elevation to such a crucial role in the region now at the center of U.S. foreign-policy attention raised questions, not only about Mrs. Clinton's role, but that of Richard C. Holbrooke, the administration's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"The secretary of state herself is undermined by a very wide array of special envoys and special advisers," said Nile Gardiner, a foreign-policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank.

With Mr. Kerry's star turn, Mr. Gardiner said, "You even have the extraordinary situation of a special envoy being undermined by a special adviser."


Michael J. Green, a former top adviser on Asian affairs in the George W. Bush White House, agreed that "proxies can confuse people."

In the case of Mr. Webb's trip to Myanmar, also known as Burma [last August, during which he met with dissident Aung San Sui Kyi as well as with the military junta] , Mr. Green said, the senator "ended up confusing the message - leading many in the region to think the administration would lift sanctions on Burma when there was never any chance of that."

You would think that the owner of our foreign policy franchise would at some point either sign those diplomatic free agents or tell them to get off the field.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Holbrooke Surfaces

Ask, and ye shall receive. The day before yesterday I wondered what had happened to Richard Holbrooke, and today he turned up giving an on-the-record press briefing at the State Department.

His answer to the press corps's first question included what may have been either a transcription error or a Freudian slip:

And for those of you who haven’t followed this as carefully as [questioner Daniel Dombey of the Financial Times] did, I want to be very clear: There were different kinds of programs we have in Afghanistan, and some of them ... have proceeded without any effect.

Just as I'd feared.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Where in the World is Richard Holbrooke?

The Washington Times has an interesting story about the curious absence from public view of Richard Holbrooke, United States Special Envoy on Pakistan and Afghanistan. What could be the cause of this low profile, especially for a public figure who is "known for his love of the press?"

President Obama called Richard Holbrooke "one of the most talented diplomats of his generation" when he named the globe-trotting foreign policy expert to be special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. But 10 months later, Mr. Holbrooke was anchored in Washington and far from the front lines of diplomacy that led to Tuesday's Afghan election deal.

The Obama administration used other intermediaries to apply the pressure that got Afghan President Hamid Karzai to agree to a runoff after fraud-tainted elections.

And when Mr. Obama praised his diplomatic team for its success, Mr. Holbrooke's name was pointedly missing. There was high praise for U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry and "great congratulations" to Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, who met with Mr. Karzai.

Could Holbrooke be the scapegoat for an administration that has no path forward on Afghanistan?

Mr. [Steve] Clemons [executive vice president at the New America Foundation who runs a popular foreign policy blog, The Washington Note] said Mr. Holbrooke is being made a fall guy for an "absence of presidential vision and clarity."

"Holbrooke was loyal to the vision that Obama laid out last March, which proved to be an ineffective, incomplete and semidisconnected [vision]," Mr. Clemons said. "Some people are trying to pin on Richard the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and the relationship with Karzai, but all of that was deteriorating before."

It must be a great comfort for Mr. Holbrooke to have a friend and supporter like Steve Clemons who will defend him when he can't speak to the press for himself.

I see that the Board of Directors of Mr. Clemons's New America Foundation includes Kati Marton, an author and journalist (whose book about the assassination of Count Folke Bernadotte, A Death in Jerusalem, I highly recommend, BTW). Kati Marton also happens to be the wife of the curiously quiet Richard Holbrooke.

I get the feeling that Steve Clemons will be channeling a lot of Richard Holbrooke's thoughts in the coming months.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Ex-Gitmo Detainee and Rehab Dropout Killed In Saudi Arabia

A Saudi radical and al Qaeda operative whom we released from Gitmo in 2007 was killed last week in a firefight with Saudi security forces, the Christian Science Monitor reported today:

Two Yemen-based militants dressed as women, one of whom was a former Guantánamo prisoner, were intercepted at a Saudi checkpoint last week.

-- snip --

The two fighters discovered last week, Rayed Abdullahi al-Harbi and Yousef Mohammed al-Shihri, were both on a Saudi government most-wanted list issued in February. Al Shihri is a former Guantanamo detainee, and the brother-in-law of Saeed al-Shihri, the Yemen-based deputy commander of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula who also was at Guantánamo, spokesman Turki said.

The Long War Journal provided some background on al Shahri:

One of the names on the Saudi most-wanted list that matches the list of Saudis repatriated from Guantánamo is Yousuf Mohammed Mubarak Al Jubairi Al Shahri. In the U.S. government's files, one of the repatriated detainee's names is given as Yussef Mohammed Mubarak al Shihri. Yussef allegedly traveled from Saudi Arabia to Afghanistan using al Qaeda's Mashhad transit hub. Once in Afghanistan, he was allegedly trained at the notorious al Farouq camp and fought against the Northern Alliance. Yussef's brother is a "known al Qaeda operative."

If the Yussef Mohammed Mubarak al Shihri identified in the U.S. government's files is the same man who is now one of Saudi Arabia's most-wanted, it is no surprise that he returned to the fight. The U.S. government identified Yussef as a hardcore ideologue who "hates all Americans because they attack his religion." The U.S. government's unclassified files note: "Since Americans are his enemy, he will continue to fight them until he dies."

Yussef al Shihri was one of the "kids of Guantanamo" - teenage battlefield detainees who were held in a separate facility apart from the rest of the Gitmo Gang - and his case received quite a bit of sympathy from the usual quarters.

According to Saudi news accounts:

Al-Shiri was transferred from Guantánamo to Saudi Arabia in 2007. He was immediately put into the Ministry of Interior’s hugely successful rehabilitation program for arrested extremists.

Two years after entering the program, al Shihri had fled to Yemen where he reconnected with his al Qaeda associates, and last week he was sneaking back into the Kingdom bearing four suicide bomb vests when he was intercepted.

That "hugely successful rehabilitation program" still has some kinks to work out, obviously. Perhaps now the Obama administration will have seconds thought about trying to palm off our Yemeni detainees on the Kingdom.

Monday, October 19, 2009

E-Mail Killed the Valedictory Despatch

The BBC has reported on the sad demise of the British ambassador's valedictory despatch:

This centuries-old tradition survived in the Foreign Office through countless changes of government, upheaval and wars - before coming to an abrupt end under Labour in 2006.

Perhaps the remarkable thing was that it lasted so long.

An outgoing British ambassador had absolute freedom to write whatever they wished in their final telegram home: about the post they were leaving, about the governments they had served, about the Diplomatic Service itself.

Especially candid were final valedictories, written by ambassadors quitting their last posting before retirement.

Diplomats finally had an opportunity to be indiscreet, without fear of reprisal, and many seized it with both hands.

They knew that whatever they chose to say - serious foreign policy advice, funny anecdote, or bitter tirade - it would find the widest audience.

The tradition was that valedictory despatches would be widely circulated, with hundreds of copies printed and avidly read across government. Lord Moran wrote his final telegram from Canada in 1984.

The problem was that with the advent of email, confidentiality became harder to keep.

You can read a selection of despatches here.

The despatch I was most curious about is here. Sadly, if there were any juicy sneers or insults in it they seem to have been excised by Her Majesty's Wielder of the Royal Censor Pen, or whatever the title may be for the Red Taper who redacted Sir Robin Renwick's despatch from Washington in 1995.

One despatch that struck a cord with me was Ambassador Roger Pinsent's from Managua in 1967.

Nicaragua is a land of contrasts. The approaches to the towns are squalid to a degree that shocks the visitor from Europe. On arrival we unwittingly caused some offence by enquiring the name of the first village we passed through on leaving the airport, which turned out to be the capital city of Managua.

What traveler to Central America hasn't been in that situation?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Hillary Mis-Speaks In Ireland

From the UK Times on Line, Hillary Clinton suffers ‘mis-speaking’ relapse with Belfast bomb claims:

Hillary Clinton has been caught out “mis-speaking” again in a manner that suggests that she hasn’t learnt from past experiences of her globe-trotting, “lily-gilding” speeches.

-- snip --

Mrs Clinton told assembled politicians at Stormont: “When Bill and I first came to Belfast we stayed at the Europa Hotel ... even though then there were sections boarded up because of damage from bombs.”

-- snip --

However, the last Provisional IRA bomb to damage the Europa was detonated in 1993, two years before President Clinton and his wife checked in for the night.

The last time the Europa underwent renovations because of bomb blast damage was in January 1994, 22 months before the presidential entourage booked 110 rooms at the hotel.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Diversity Lottery is a Safe Bet

The U.S. Diversity Lottery is never a gamble, which will reassure concerned Muslims who are thinking about applying, like the one in the United Kingdom who asked the Imam:

Would you please let me know if participating in US DV Lottery is permissible according to the Islamic Sharia.

The Imam assured him it is religiously permissible.

Now, as for his odds of winning, that depends on which country he is applying from. Wikipedia has a handy chart of winning chances, by which I see that applicants from Asia have the lowest odds of getting a United States Permanent Resident Card, just a bit over one half of one percent.

That's bad luck for the on-line Imam's follower, since I'm guessing that he is a South Asian residing in the U.K., and not a U.K. citizen. The later are not eligible for the lottery because the U.S. Congress figures we have enough of their sort here already. (My family hit the jackpot by getting here from Cornwall before the U.S. started valuing diversity so much!)

So, roll the dice on that DV-2011 application. Place your bets. Maybe double down with a few multiple entries. And you, too, can be the winner of a coveted green card.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Najibullah Zazi Was in Touch With al Qaeda's #2

Details now emerging in the case of Najibullah Zazi, the Afghan immigrant who has been charged with plotting to bomb targets in New York City, suggest that young Mr. Zazi was more than just another run-of-the-mill Jihobbyist caught in an FBI sting. He was in contact with one of al Qaeda's heavy hitters.

The Washington Times reports today:

The airport shuttle driver accused of plotting a bombing in New York had contacts with al Qaeda that went nearly all the way to the top, to an Osama bin Laden confidant thought to be the terrorist group's leader in Afghanistan, U.S. intelligence officials told the Associated Press.

Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, an Egyptian reputed to be one of the founders of the terrorist network, used a middleman to contact Afghan immigrant Najibullah Zazi as the 24-year-old man hatched a plot to use homemade backpack bombs, perhaps on the city's mass-transit system, the two intelligence officials said.

-- snip --

Al-Yazid's contact with Mr. Zazi indicates that al Qaeda leadership took an intense interest in what U.S. officials have called one of the most serious terrorism threats crafted on U.S. soil since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"Zazi working with the al Qaeda core is exceptionally alarming," said Daniel Byman of the Brookings Institution's Saban Center. "The al Qaeda core is capable of far more effective terrorist attacks than jihadist terrorists acting on their own, and coordination with the core also enables bin Laden to choose the timing to maximize the benefit to his organization."

-- snip --

Al-Yazid, 53, also known as Abu Saeed al-Masri and Sheikh Said, is a well-known al Qaeda figure who initially disagreed with bin Laden's Sept. 11 plot, according to the 9/11 Commission Report. Al-Yazid was known at the time of the attack as head of al Qaeda's finance committee.

-- snip --

A member of Egypt's radical Islamist movement, al-Yazid took part in the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat, according to "In the Graveyard of Empires," a book by counterterrorism expert Seth G. Jones. He spent three years in prison, where he joined Ayman al-Zawahri's Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Mr. Jones wrote. Al-Zawahri is considered al Qaeda's No. 2 leader, behind bin Laden.

Interesting that Zazi was an airport shuttle driver in Denver. That seems to be increasingly a foreign-dominated job field. I was in Denver a week ago, and I had Somali immigrant drivers on the airport Super Shuttle for both my arrival and departure days. What's more, all of their radio and cell phone chatter with other drivers was in what I assume was the Somali language. Is this another one of those jobs Americans won't do?

Will Saudi Arabia Become the New Gitmo?

The administration continues to make progress, of a sort, on its commitment to close Gitmo. They have now resorted to begging the government of Saudi Arabia to accept our Yemeni detainees, who are the most problematic of the Gitmo Gang, into Saudi Arabia's deradicalization program. Good try, but it doesn't look like the Saudis will agree.

From today's Washington Post:

The [Saudi's success at the] rehabilitation of militants ... has convinced the Obama administration that Saudi Arabia is the ideal place to send dozens of Yemenis being held at Guantanamo.

-- snip --

As President Obama's promised January deadline to close Guantanamo approaches, the fate of 97 Yemenis remains the administration's biggest obstacle to closing the facility and forging a new detention policy. They are the largest community left at Guantanamo, roughly half of the prisoners who remain there, and are viewed as among the most radicalized, with deep jihadist roots inside Yemen, Osama bin Laden's ancestral homeland.

-- snip --

Publicly, Saudi officials have said they will accept the Yemenis only if they come willingly. Privately, Saudi officials interviewed here say they would like to find a different solution. If Saudi Arabia were to accept the Yemenis -- a decision that most observers say will require the blessing of King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz -- it risks becoming a greater al-Qaeda target. The kingdom also has close ties to Yemen's government, which would probably consider the detainees' transfer to Saudi Arabia a public embarrassment. Yemen has publicly declared that it wants its detainees to return home.

If the Yemenis participated and then rejoined al-Qaeda, it would be a severe blow to the program as well as to the kingdom's pride.

"It's a no-win situation for the Saudis. They can't rehabilitate these guys, and they don't want to become America's jailor," said Christopher Boucek, an analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who has studied the rehabilitation program.

Apparently, the Saudi deradicalization program depends upon a kind of social surveillance that wouldn't be available in the case of foreigners like Yemenis.

Saudi officials say their success with former [Gitmo] detainees such as [Khalid al] Jehani lies in members of his family and tribe, who keep constant watch over him, and cannot be duplicated with those whose social networks and roots lie outside Saudi Arabia.

"If I try to do something bad, my family will tell the government about me," said Jehani, who joined a radical Islamist movement in the Philippines and trained al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan. "How can you trust that will happen with a family living in Yemen?"

How, indeed?

Jehani is echoing - unconsciously, I'm sure - the Victorian English politician J. A. Roebuck, who memorably nailed that same point when he argued in the parliamentary debates on the Second Reform Act of 1867, "if a man has a settled house, in which he has lived with his family for a number of years, you have a man who has given hostages to the state, and you have in these circumstances a guarantee for that man’s virtue."

Without the guarantee that would be provided by such hostages, why should the Saudis agree to take any of our Yemenis off our hands?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Gitmo's Loss is Kuwait's and Belgium's Gain

Closing Gitmo just got a tiny bit closer to reality, as two more detainees were released.

From the U.S. Department of Justice press release:

WASHINGTON — The Department of Justice today announced that two detainees have been transferred from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay to the control of the governments of Kuwait and Belgium.

-- snip --

Khalid Abdullah Mishal al Mutairi, a native of Kuwait, was transferred to the Government of Kuwait ... Another detainee was transferred from Guantanamo Bay to the Government of Belgium. Pursuant to a request from the Government of Belgium, the identity of this individual is being withheld for privacy reasons.

The press release notes that more than 550 detainees have been release since 2002. By my count, that leaves 224 more detainees to go.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

An Excellent Suggestion Obama Won't Take

Mickey Kaus has posted an excellent suggestion regarding What Obama Should Do With His Nobel Peace Prize:

Turn it down! Politely decline. Say he's honored but he hasn't had the time yet to accomplish what he wants to accomplish. Result: He gets at least the same amount of glory--and helps solve his narcissism problem and his Fred Armisen ('What's he done?') problem, demonstrating that he's uncomfortable with his reputation as a man overcelebrated for his potential long before he's started to realize it.

I think that would indeed be Obama's best course for dealing with his 'all hope and no change' Nobel. But I also think there is no chance that he'll decline it. Nothing in his career suggests that he is the least bit uncomfortable with being "overcelebrated for his potential."

Friday, October 9, 2009

Some Dissenting Opinion On the Nobel Peace Prize

(image from al Jazaeera)

You know that things are getting weird when you can't tell news from parody without checking the original source. This afternoon, I saw a Canadian newspaper report that a Taliban spokesman had denounced the Nobel peace prize committee for its award to Barack Hussein Obama, but there is such an outpouring of jokes today about that award ("Obama wins Eurovision Song Contest" ... "Obama declared winner of Florida 2000 recount" ... "Obama tugs on Superman's cape" ... "Dan Brown announces Obama is the son of Jesus and Mary Magdalene" ... "Obama wins all the gold medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics" and so on and on) that I had to go to to make sure the story was genuine.

It was. Here are the key quotes:

In Afghanistan, the Taliban mocked the award, saying it was absurd to give it to Obama when he had ordered 21,000 extra troops to Afghanistan this year.

"The Nobel prize for peace? Obama should have won the 'Nobel prize for escalating violence and killing civilians'," Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, told the Reuters news agency.

In the Middle East, Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, was more sceptical. Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas prime minister in Gaza, said: "Unless real and deep-rooted change is made in American policy towards recognising the rights of the Palestinian people, I would think such a prize would be useless."

Liaqat Baluch, a senior leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami, a religious party in Pakistan, said: "It's a joke. How embarrassing for those who awarded it to him because he's done nothing for peace. What change has he brought in Iraq, the Middle East or Afghanistan?"

Most of the on-line reader comments that I browsed through shared the Taliban's sentiments.


Update - Matthew Rothschild, editor of The Progressive, doesn't sound much happier than the Taliban's spokesman over Obama's Nobel prize.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

U.S. Embassy Islamabad Taking Heat Over Security Measures

Consumer Notice: This post is certified 100% free of Matters of Official Concern that are not referenced from publicly available sources of information.

I've been following the news about the legal troubles of Inter-Risk, a security contractor to the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan, and the related troubles the embassy itself is having over the Pakistani perception of our large security footprint in their country.

The Washington Times had an exclusive story on this yesterday (U.S. security firm's Pakistan role questioned):

A firm providing security for U.S. diplomats in Pakistan was equipped with sophisticated weaponry that appears more suited to Special Forces commandos, raising questions about its real role in a country facing a serious terrorist threat.

Two police raids last month on Inter-Risk - a subcontractor for the big U.S. firm DynCorp International - turned up dozens of unlicensed weapons including 61 assault rifles, police officials told The Washington Times.

Islamabad Police Senior Superintendent Tahir Alam said police also briefly detained the head of the security firm, retired Capt. Syed Ali Jaffer Zaidi, a veteran of more than a decade in the special forces of the Pakistani army.

The raids appear to have exposed mixed signals within the Pakistani government and the lack of trust that continues to plague U.S. relations with Pakistan, an on-and-off ally in the war against Islamic extremism.

Police took action against Inter-Risk six months after U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Anne W. Patterson wrote a letter to Interior Minister Rehman Malik asking for licenses for normally prohibited high-caliber weapons. [TSB note: these "prohibited bore" weapons, to use the Pakistani legal term for them, are merely AK-47 rifles, not anything truly sophisticated or commando-esque. Any rifle with a bore diameter greater than .222, or any automatic weapon, is normally prohibited to non-government parties but licenses may be issued for them by the approval of the Prime Minister of Pakistan, which is what Ambassador Patterson was requesting.]

-- snip --

[A] senior Pakistani defense official, who has knowledge of the situation but was not authorized to speak on the record about it, said there has been "extraordinary concern among government officials and the people of Pakistan regarding DynCorp, as well as other U.S. security operations firms in our country."

Regarding that "extraordinary concern" among the government and public, at least some of the local news media think it is misplaced. The Pakistani daily English-language newspaper Dawn had a very sensible editorial on the topic last week, which said in part:

First, American officials in particular face serious threats in Pakistan and they certainly need extra security. Since the possibility of marines protecting American officials has been vociferously rejected by the media and denied by the government only recently that leaves the option of private security guards.

Second, private security companies operate by the dozen in Pakistan, protecting countless private citizens and properties, and every company trains its employees and provides them with weapons. So unless there is something in particular that the security firm assisting the Americans is doing wrong, there is little sense in opposing a firm that is after all providing jobs and training to Pakistanis.

It appears though that the ‘wrongs’ allegedly committed are less about legalities and technicalities and more about politics and turf wars. There is zero risk of Islamabad being overrun by ‘American’ security. This isn’t Iraq or Afghanistan, there is no occupation and, frankly, it is embarrassing to suggest that the state and national assets could be at risk from a handful of private guards.

But the leaks of ‘suspicious’ activities are sustained enough to suggest that a faction in the government or the intelligence/security apparatus is worried. Perhaps because the state has not fully worked out what is and isn’t permissible for the growing number of foreign nationals to do inside Pakistan and the tendency for the Americans to push the envelope on occasion to see how far they can go has some Pakistani officials trying to push back through the media. If that is indeed the case, then it needs to be sorted out at the earliest at the highest levels of officialdom.

If Dawn is correct, the U.S. Embassy is on the receiving end of a propaganda campaign that is raising exaggerated concerns about legitimate security measures it is taking, with the likely goal of forcing the U.S. government to pull back its expanding presence in Pakistan.

Monday, October 5, 2009

No Death Penalty Sought for Bomber of U.S. Embassy Dar es Salaam

Attorney General Eric Holder has decided not to seek the death penalty against Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, the Tanzanian who was part of the al Qaeda cell that planned and carried out the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in 1998. Eleven people were killed in that attack.

According to, which had the most detailed story I've seen so far:

The proceedings in the Ghailani case had been stalled as U.S. prosecutors weighed whether to seek the death penalty. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in New York said in a court filing today that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder had instructed him not to do so.

“You are authorized and directed not to seek the death penalty against Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani,” Holder wrote in an Oct. 2 letter to Bharara that was included in the filing. Bharara forwarded the Holder letter to U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan, who is presiding over the case.

“Other defendants in the embassy bombings case have either already either received life sentences or will not be subject to the death penalty because the United States agreed not to seek it as a condition of their extradition,” the Justice Department said today in a statement. “Given those circumstances and other factors in this case, the attorney general authorized the U.S. attorney to seek a life sentence.”

So AG Holder thinks it would be improper to seek the death penalty in Ghailani's case because some of the mutt's co-defendants cannot be subjected to the same penalty? It wouldn't be fair, I suppose is the way Holder sees the situation.

Screw fairness. Fairness is not the same thing as justice. Since when did fairness drive the U.S. criminal justice system? It was Ghailani's own decision to hide out in Pakistan after the bombing, where he was arrested, and where the authorities do not go weak-kneed at the prospect of rendering a foreign terrorist to a death penalty state.

I'm certain that a man who cold-bloodedly participated in an act of mass murder for political and religious motives is willing to accept the full consequences of his actions. Why isn't the U.S. government willing to impose them?

Ghailani did the crime (here's a summary of the evidence presented in his Combatant Status Review Tribunal, and here's his tribunal transcript), it carries the death penalty under U.S. law, and justice - the kind with a lower-case "J" - demands that he be tried accordingly. But, Justice with a capitol "J" has wimped out.

When Ghailani was transferred from Gitmo to New York last June for prosecution on 286 counts of terror-related charges, I feared that he might escape the hangman, but only because I figured a New York City jury might not pull the trigger. I didn't expect that the U.S. Justice Department would lack the moral fortitude to even seek the death penalty.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Another Fortress Here, Another Fortress There ...

Speaking of Fortress Embassies, on this the first day of the new fiscal year, the U.S. Department of State announced that it has awarded contracts for the design and construction of four more of those architectural wonders.

They are:

A New Consulate Compound (NCC) in Monterrey, Mexico

A New Embassy Compound (NEC) in Bujumbura, Burundi

A New Office Annex (NOX) and housing in Kabul, Afghanistan


A New Office Annex (NOX), housing, and support facilities in Sana’a, Yemen

Interesting that two of the four awards - Kabul and Sana'a - are for additional new facilities at posts that already have new (or in the case of Sana'a, not so very new) and secure chanceries. It demonstrates how prioritization by risk is driving this business that State will revisit those two extremely dangerous posts with new construction projects before it will replace its old and inadequate facilities in about 200 or so less risky countries.