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History > 2008 > USA > Terrorism (I)




Henning Wagenbreth


Sensor Deprivation


















Op-Ed Contributors

Sensor Deprivation


January 30, 2008
The New York Times


AT the suggestion of the federal Department of Homeland Security, New York City Council members have drafted legislation requiring anyone who has or uses a detector that measures chemical, biological or radioactive agents to get a license from the Police Department.

The purpose of the bill is to reduce unwarranted anxiety and damage from false alarms of terrorist attacks. Proponents say police officers need to know where detectors are and make sure they’re reliable. But the bill, which appears to be the first of its kind in the country and a model for other cities, could stifle the collection of environmental information vital to the public good.

The problem is that the bill as written would cover all “environmental sensors,” and in the extreme interpretation even laboratory analyses, used by students, teachers, researchers, activists, unions and many other groups. Their work has far more to do with ecology, education, public health and worker safety than with terrorism. These sensors allow them to measure things like greenhouse gases in order to document air pollution.

There are many examples of nongovernmental groups collecting important environmental data based on laboratory analyses. Indeed, the original identification of PCB contamination of the Hudson River did not come from the government but from a study by Sports Illustrated magazine that included data on striped bass collected from the river by a private citizen, Robert H. Boyle.

When a steam pipe exploded in Midtown Manhattan last year, scientists were able to quickly allay fears that asbestos was in the air. In the wake of 9/11, private groups using both hand-held particle sensors and samples that were analyzed in laboratories enabled us to better understand the health risks of the disaster. Future environmental and public health research will rely increasingly on sensors that immediately measure contaminant levels.

The hassle of getting a license that the police could deny or delay on any grounds — or simply not have time to process — could hamper or stop the flow of environmental data. It certainly wouldn’t be a wise use of our tax dollars to have them spent on issuing permits for monitors that have nothing to do with identifying terrorist activities.

Reducing false alarms may be a worthy purpose, but pushing through this legislation without clearly defining standards and policies doesn’t make sense. For example, the bill defines a biological agent as any microorganism or product of a microorganism that can cause “death, disease or other biological malfunction in a living organism, deterioration or poisoning of food or water, or deleterious alteration of the environment.” Such biological agents flood into local waters when rain storms make sewers overflow. So, conceivably, a high school class wanting to measure the presence of fecal matter in river water would need a license. These definitions are simply too broad to be useful.

This bill relies upon judicious enforcement to counterbalance the all-encompassing language. Even though we believe that the current city administration would use the law rationally, once such a vaguely worded statute is passed, it opens the door for abuse. If it passes here, Homeland Security will probably use it as a model for other cities.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the nation has looked to New York City on security issues. We must set the example. Restriction of environmental information is rarely in the public’s interest. The ability of scientists and citizens to gather data quickly and efficiently should be fostered, not suppressed.

The City Council should seek more public input and take its time in refining this legislation. It should expand the definition of detectors into different classes and make it clear that the legislation is applicable only to the class of real-time detectors that measure biological, chemical and radiological agents that would pose a danger to the public from terrorist activities or weapons of mass destruction. All other types of detectors should be exempted.

Indeed, one could consider not having any permits at all, even for those designed to detect terrorist attacks. And instead the legislation should focus on reporting procedures that would keep false alarms from snowballing into panic. That, after all, is what proponents say the purpose is.

Steven Chillrud, Greg O’Mullan and Wade McGillis are research scientists at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia.

    Sensor Deprivation, NYT, 30.1.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/30/opinion/30omullan.html






Mukasey Offers View on Waterboarding


January 30, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey said Tuesday that the harsh C.I.A. interrogation technique known as waterboarding was not clearly illegal, and suggested that it could be used against terrorism suspects once again if requested by the White House.

Mr. Mukasey’s statement came in a letter delivered Tuesday night to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has scheduled for Wednesday its first oversight hearing for the new attorney general. The conclusions of the letter are likely to be a focus of severe questioning by Senate Democrats who have described waterboarding, which creates the sensation of drowning, as torture.

“If this were an easy question, I would not be reluctant to offer my views,” Mr. Mukasey wrote to Senator Patrick J. Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who heads the committee.

“But with respect, I believe it is not an easy question,” he said. “There are some circumstances where current law would appear clearly to prohibit the use of waterboarding. Other circumstances would present a far closer question.”

The letter did not define any of the circumstances.

Mr. Leahy said in a statement late Tuesday night that the letter “echoes what other administration officials have said about the use of waterboarding” but that it did not “answer the critical questions we have been asking about its legality.” He said that Mr. Mukasey “knows that this will not end the matter” and that he can expect “to be asked serious questions at the hearing tomorrow.”

The Bush administration has confirmed that the Central Intelligence Agency used waterboarding against a small number of Qaeda figures captured after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The administration has said waterboarding was stopped several years ago in the wake of protests over the practice, in which suspects are placed on a flat surface, cloth or cellophane is put over their faces, and water is then poured over them.

The question of whether waterboarding amounts to torture nearly derailed Mr. Mukasey’s nomination for attorney general. At his Senate confirmation hearings in October, he refused to say whether he considered the technique to be torture or to be otherwise illegal. He said he needed to withhold judgment until he had received classified briefings on the subject if confirmed.

Several Democratic senators said then that his refusal to define waterboarding as torture had led them to oppose confirmation. He was confirmed on a vote of 53 to 40, and the 13-vote margin was the narrowest for a nominee to the post in more than 50 years.

Mr. Leahy and the nine other Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee wrote to Mr. Mukasey last week to insist again that he answer the question of whether waterboarding was torture. The attorney general suggested in comments to reporters at a news conference last Friday that he might never feel compelled to answer the question, no matter how often it was asked by lawmakers and the press.

In his letter Tuesday to Mr. Leahy, Mr. Mukasey said that since arriving at the Justice Department in early November, he had “conducted a thorough and careful review of the department’s legal analysis concerning the techniques that are currently authorized for use in the Central Intelligence Agency’s program for interrogating high-level Al Qaeda terrorists.”

He said that only “a limited set of methods is currently authorized for use in that program,” and added: “I have been authorized to disclose publicly that waterboarding is not among those methods. Accordingly, waterboarding is not, and may not, be used in the current program.”

“I understand that you and some other members of the committee may feel that I should go further in my review and answer questions concerning the legality of waterboarding under current law,” he said. “But I do not think it would be responsible for me, as attorney general, to provide an answer.” He added, “I do not believe that it is advisable to address difficult legal questions, about which reasonable minds can and do differ, in the absence of concrete facts and circumstances.”

He suggested that waterboarding might be reintroduced under the “defined process by which any new method is proposed for authorization” in the C.I.A.’s interrogation program.

“That process would begin with the C.I.A. director’s determination that the addition of the technique was required for the program,” he continued. “Then the attorney general would have to determine that the use of the technique is lawful under the particular conditions and circumstances proposed. Finally the president would have to approve of the use of the technique.”

Mr. Mukasey’s letter appeared to be an effort to deflect some of the harsher questions he may be asked on Wednesday, in his first public testimony on Capitol Hill since his confirmation battle last fall.

“I will answer those questions to the best of my ability, within the limits that I have described,” he said. “I recognize that those limits may make my task today more difficult for me personally. My job as attorney general is to do what I believe the law requires and what is best for the country, not what makes my life easier.”

    Mukasey Offers View on Waterboarding, NYT, 30.1.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/30/washington/30justice.html?hp






US Shift Seen to Pakistan, Afghanistan


January 27, 2008
Filed at 1:10 p.m. ET
The New York Times


WASHINGTON (AP) -- In a shift with profound implications, the Bush administration is attempting to re-energize its terrorism-fighting war efforts in Afghanistan, the original target of a post-Sept. 11 offensive. The U.S. also is refocusing on Pakistan, where a regenerating al-Qaida is posing fresh threats.

There is growing recognition that the United States risks further setbacks, if not deepening conflict or even defeat, in Afghanistan, and that success in that country hinges on stopping Pakistan from descending into disorder.

Privately, some senior U.S. military commanders say Pakistan's tribal areas are at the center of the fight against Islamic extremism; more so than Iraq, or even Afghanistan. These areas border on eastern Afghanistan and provide haven for al-Qaida and Taliban fighters to regroup, rearm and reorganize.

This view may explain, at least in part, the administration's increasingly public expressions of concern.

At a Pentagon news conference last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that while the U.S. respects the Pakistani government's right to decide what actions are needed to defeat extremists on its soil, there are reasons to worry that al-Qaida poses more than an internal threat to Pakistan.

''I think we are all concerned about the re-establishment of al-Qaida safe havens in the border area,'' Gates said. ''I think it would be unrealistic to assume that all of the planning that they're doing is focused strictly on Pakistan. So I think that that is a continuing threat to Europe as well as to us.''

The Pentagon says it has fewer than 100 troops in Pakistan, including personnel who are training Pakistan's paramilitary Frontier Corps in the western tribal region along the Afghanistan border.

The U.S. military has used other means, including aerial surveillance by drones, to hunt Osama bin Laden and other senior al-Qaida leaders believed to be hiding near the Afghan border. Ground troops on the Afghan side sometimes fire artillery across the border at known Taliban or al-Qaida targets, and U.S. officials have said special operations forces are poised to strike across the border under certain circumstances.

In recent days, administration officials have said they would send more U.S. forces, including small numbers of combat troops, if the Pakistani government decided it wanted to collaborate more closely.

It is far from certain that U.S. combat troops will set foot in Pakistan in any substantial numbers. On Friday, Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, said his country opposes any foreign forces on its soil. ''The man in the street will not allow this -- he will come out and agitate,'' he said. Musharraf said the U.S. instead should bolster its combat forces in Afghanistan.

The top two U.S. intelligence officials made a secret visit to Pakistan in early January to seek Musharraf's permission for greater involvement of American forces in trying to ferret out al-Qaida and other militant groups active in the tribal regions, a senior U.S. official said Saturday. Musharraf was said to have rebuffed an expansion of an American presence in Pakistan at the meeting, either through overt CIA. missions or by joint operations with Pakistani security forces.

The number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan has grown over the past two years from about 20,000 to the current total of 28,000. That is the highest number of the war, which began in October 2001. The total is to jump by 3,200 this spring with a new influx of Marine reinforcements, including 2,200 combat troops who will bolster a NATO-led counterinsurgency force in the south.

''There is strong pressure now from the international community to find some solution to Afghanistan because of the fear that this could quickly go south,'' said Ashley J. Tellis, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. In 2006-07, he was an adviser to Nicholas Burns, the undersecretary of state for political affairs.

''We haven't lost the war yet, but we could be on our way to doing so,'' Tellis said in a telephone interview Friday. He strongly recommends strengthening the U.S. military presence in southern Afghanistan.

The vast majority of deployed U.S. troops are still in Iraq, although the force of nearly 160,000 is set on a downward trend. In recent weeks U.S. officials have spoken of Iraq as moving toward stability, with al-Qaida-affiliated fighters weakened and possibly forced to make a last stand.

So there is no wholesale shift of U.S. military firepower from Iraq to Afghanistan. Gates recently rejected a Marine Corps proposal to move the 20,000-plus Marine contingent in Iraq to Afghanistan, reflecting a worry that Iraq's progress is still fragile.

Just last month Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress that the war in Afghanistan is a secondary priority. ''In Afghanistan we do what we can. In Iraq we do what we must,'' he said.

Yet it is apparent that as security conditions in Iraq improve, the administration is looking closer at what needs to be done in Afghanistan to counter recent gains by the Taliban. The Taliban ruled the country in the late 1990s and provided haven and support for bin Laden as his global terrorist network laid the groundwork from Afghanistan for the Sept. 11 attacks.

Gates is leading a NATO effort to produce a statement of goals for Afghanistan that spells out clearly what is at stake. The purpose is to bolster NATO governments' efforts to convince their publics that fighting and dying in Afghanistan is an investment worth making. The statement is supposed to be ready for adoption by President Bush and other NATO leaders at a summit meeting in April.

Also, the administration is showing more interest in deepening its involvement in Pakistan.

Teresita C. Schaffer, director for South Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Friday that an important indicator of that approach was the recent visit to Pakistan by Adm. William J. Fallon, the commander of American forces in that region. Fallon met with senior officials, including the new chief of the Pakistani army, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani.

''Why is that happening now?'' Schaffer asked. ''It suggests to me that the administration is taking this much more seriously than it was.'' That has meant more attentiveness to the needs of U.S. commanders in Afghanistan, including officers' concerns about countering the threat inside Pakistan.

''The sense I get is that at least in military terms they are getting a response from Washington which they weren't getting all along,'' said Schaffer, a career foreign service officer who was deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asia in the administration of former President Bush.

    US Shift Seen to Pakistan, Afghanistan, NYT, 27.1.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/us/AP-Terror-War-Turns.html






U.S. says threat against airlines remains high


Fri Jan 25, 2008
12:16pm EST
By Dominic Evans


DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) - The United States is likely to keep a high threat designation for the airline industry because militants still see air travel as a target, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said.

Chertoff said the orange, or high, threat level assigned to the airline sector -- one level higher than the overall alert level for the United States -- was based on a general assessment rather than a specific threat.

"We've seen again and again interest in this sector," he said, pointing to an alleged British-based plot to blow up transatlantic flights using liquid explosives in 2006 and an attempted car bomb attack on Glasgow airport last year.

"So people think of aviation not only in terms of the aircraft but the whole infrastructure including the airports," Chertoff told Reuters at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.

The Department of Homeland Security was itself created in response to the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, when al Qaeda hijackers commandeered four planes, slamming two into New York's World Trade Centre and one into the Pentagon outside Washington, and crashing the fourth in a field in Pennsylvania.

More than six years after the attacks which killed nearly 3,000 people, "there continues to be a focus on air travel as a target," he said, adding the threat level was unlikely to be changed in the near future.

Chertoff, who warned last week that one of the biggest threats to U.S. security could come from Europe, said European counter-terrorism authorities acknowledge their countries "are both a target and a platform" for militants.

But over the last year he and his European counterparts had broadly agreed on what measures needed to be put in place including exchange of information about potential attackers and greater border security.

In an effort to stem militant recruitment, they had sought to understand the process of radicalization which could lead towards militancy, Chertoff said.

Highlighting one perceived difference between the United States and Europe, Chertoff said Muslims in the United States were well integrated into society. "I don't think there is a perception that they are marginalized and we want to make sure they don't feel marginalized," he said.

But he said U.S. authorities were paying particular attention to the potential for militant recruiting inside jails.

"Prisons are always a fertile area for recruitment of all extreme groups, whatever the ideology," Chertoff said.

    U.S. says threat against airlines remains high, R, 25.1.2008, http://www.reuters.com/article/domesticNews/idUSL2560829820080125






Padilla Sentenced

to More Than 17 Years in Prison


January 22, 2008
The New York Times


MIAMI — Jose Padilla, a Brooklyn-born convert to Islam who became one of the first Americans designated “an enemy combatant,” was sentenced to 17 years and four months in prison by a federal judge in Miami on Tuesday for his conviction on charges that he conspired to help Islamic terrorists around the world.

The judge also sentenced Adham Amin Hassoun, one of Mr. Padilla’s two co-defendants, to 15 years and eight months. The second co-defendant, Kifah Wael Jayyousi, received 12 years and eight months. All three men were convicted last August of conspiracy to murder and kidnap people in a foreign country, and of two lesser counts of material support.

The sentences, imposed by Judge Marcia G. Cooke of Federal District Court in Miami, fell far short of government prosecutor’s requests that each defendant be sentenced to life in prison. “There is no evidence that these defendants personally, killed maimed or kidnapped” anyone, said Judge Cooke before announcing her sentencing decision.The sentences followed a three-month trial and a seven-day sentencing hearing, and brought to a close the latest chapter in Mr. Padilla’s extraordinary legal journey, which began with his arrest in May 2002 at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.

John Ashcroft, who was then the attorney general, announced Mr. Padilla’s capture a month later, saying that Mr. Padilla was part of an “unfolding terrorist plot to attack the United States by exploding a radioactive dirty bomb” intended to cause “mass death and injury.”

Mr. Padilla was held in isolation in a military brig in South Carolina for three and a half years, and subjected to intensive interrogations, before being transferred to civilian custody in Miami in 2006 and added to the conspiracy case against Mr. Hassoun and Mr. Jayyousi.

The three were charged with belonging to a North American terrorism support cell that provided money, recruits and supplies to Islamic extremists around the world.

Mr. Padilla’s detention became the centerpiece of a heated debate about the Bush administration’s approach to prosecuting terrorism.

Administration officials had long maintained that some terrorism suspects could be properly handled only with military detention and trials by military commissions, not in the civilian justice system. But the verdict against Mr. Padilla seemed to undercut the administration’s insistence and, in the eyes of critics of the administration’s approach, proved that the criminal justice system should have handled the case in the first place.

The three-month trial included dozens of witnesses and transcripts of wiretapped phone calls between the defendants.

Prosecutors contended that Mr. Hassoun, 45, a computer programmer of Palestinian descent, recruited Mr. Padilla, 37, at a mosque in Broward County. The government argued that both Mr. Hassoun and Mr. Jayyousi, 46, an engineer and school administrator originally from Jordan, provided supplies, recruits and money to radical Islamic jihadists abroad

Defense lawyers contended that the men were involved in humanitarian missions to help persecuted Muslims in places like Bosnia, Chechnya, Lebanon and Somalia.

On Friday, during the final day of the sentencing hearing, Mr. Hassoun and Mr. Jayyousi told the court that their intentions were never malevolent. “We didn’t want to kill anybody,” Mr. Hassoun said. “I spent my life helping people. And I will never end it hurting people.”

In a separate statement, Mr. Jayyousi said, “I promised no support to kill, kidnap or maim anyone.”

The government’s main evidence against Mr. Padilla, a former Chicago gang member with a lengthy criminal record, was an application form that prosecutors said he had filled out to attend an Al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan in 2000. Defense lawyers argued that Mr. Padilla had traveled to the Middle East to study Islam and Arabic, not to participate in a violent Islamic jihad.

At the hearing on Friday, Brian Frazier, an assistant United States attorney, said, “It’s a wide-ranging conspiracy that enveloped many locations and many groups and took on many forms.” He pointed to Mr. Padilla’s long criminal record prior to his conversion to Islam and called him “a terrorist diamond in the rough.”

Following the defendants’ convictions last Aug. 16, some legal experts said the success of the Justice Department’s strategy cemented a new prosecutorial model in terrorism cases by relying on a little-used conspiracy law that required very little in the way of concrete evidence showing Mr. Padilla’s intent or ability to carry out the crimes.

During the sentencing hearings, which began two weeks ago and included seven days of arguments and witness testimony, defense lawyers argued for lesser sentences, saying that there was little evidence linking the three defendants to actual terrorism attacks or groups.

But Judge Cooke rejected these arguments and found that enhanced terrorism penalties could be applied, making all three eligible for life sentences. She said the evidence showed that Mr. Padilla intended to participate in violent jihad.

“He was an instrument of the scheme itself,” Judge Cooke said last week, according to The Associated Press. “He responded to the all to go overseas.”

The terrorism enhancement label is a provision of federal law that imposes stricter penalties for proof of a terrorism crime that seeks to change governments into radical Islamic states.

    Padilla Sentenced to More Than 17 Years in Prison, NYT, 22.1.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/22/us/22cnd-padilla.html?hp






Appeals Court Rules Against Ex - Detainees


January 11, 2008
Filed at 12:18 p.m. ET
The New York Times


WASHINGTON (AP) -- A federal appeals court on Friday ruled against four British men who allege they were systematically tortured throughout their two-year detention at Guantanamo Bay.

In a lawsuit against individual U.S. military officials, the four British men ''do not allege that the defendants acted as rogue officials or employees who implemented a policy of torture for reasons unrelated to the gathering of intelligence,'' the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said in a 3-0 decision.

The defendants in the case include retired Gen. Richard Myers, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The four who sued are Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal, Rhuhel Ahmed and Jamal Al-Harith, all British citizens and residents. They were released from the Guantanamo Bay facility and returned to Great Britain in 2004.

The appeals court ruling comes at a time when the Supreme Court is considering whether other prisoners still detained at Guantanamo Bay have a right to challenge their confinement in U.S. courts.

The case is Rasul v. Myers, 06-5209.


On the Net:

Court of appeals ruling: http://pacer.cadc.uscourts.gov/docs/common/opinions/200801/06-5209a.pdf

    Appeals Court Rules Against Ex - Detainees, NYT, 11.1.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/us/AP-Guantanamo-Appeals.html



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