The classic question about counter-terrorism strategy is law enforcement v. military action. After 9/11 we saw a strong shift toward the military option, but that seems to be shifting on several fronts. All three branches of our government are involved with this and a lot of checking and balancing has occurred between them as we work out how we will capture, try and detain terrorists.
We currently operate the facility at Guantanamo Bay, another at Bagram airbase and others where we detain captured terrorists for interrogation and in some cases simply to prevent them from committing future atrocities. In April of this year a US District Court judge ruled that several prisoners held at Bagram could challenge their detention using Habeas Corpus. Now we hear that the FBI is taking an increasing role in the interrogation of terrorists there and is reading them Miranda rights. This tells the terrorists that they get a lawyer and don't have to answer questions. This might be a good thing if your main goal is to be able to try them in US Courts, it is much less so if your goal is to gather actionable intelligence to prevent future attacks.
This means that the government must produce evidence acceptable for admittance is US courts to hold them over for prosecution. This is a very high standard and one that will certainly cause difficulties. In the case of terrorist captures it is often not possible to gather evidence in a fashion that will be acceptable in US court. Classified methods and sources can be involved and the very capture itself will often occur under dangerous circumstances hardly conducive to a CSI style sweep of the area for incriminating evidence. In addition the military personnel who conduct these operations are not FBI agents or Federal Marshals trained to follow evidentiary procedures that will withstand the scrutiny of the court and attacks from defense lawyers.
Terrorists operate all over the globe and in order to interdict future attacks we must conduct both covert intelligence gathering and operations to capture or kill them. In many or even most cases it will not ever be possible to gather sufficient evidence to construct a case that is winnable in US courts. This is especially true if we wish to stop attacks from happening. Every day we continue to investigate and gather evidence is one day closer to an attack happening. Our lack of human intelligence assets means we rarely have inside information as to the exact plans of a terror group. We are often lucky to simply be able to locate a particular terrorist leader. If we can do that we have an obligation to capture or kill him as attempting to simply track or trace him is beyond our ability to guarantee. The alternative is to jeopardize the safety of Americans everywhere.
The farther the bar moves towards giving captured terrorists the full rights of US criminal defendants the less likely it is we will be able to capture them and either prosecute them or preventatively detain them successfully. That requires some major decisions from those tasked with counter-terrorism in the field. First whether capturing terrorists is worth the risk to our own personnel. A raid to capture a prisoner is exponentially more difficult and dangerous than one to simply kill him. The best example of that is the targeted killings of al Qaeda and Taliban leaders using UAVs and missiles. There is almost no risk to our personnel who are hundreds or even thousands of miles away in complete safety. As long as the information about the intended target is accurate, this is a nearly risk free operation. The problem is that there can be civilian casualties associated with these strikes and that has a large effect on our ability to turn the local populace against the terrorists. A step closer to the target puts a team on the ground to positively ID the target either ensure there are no civilians or to take the target out with a very precise strike or a rifle shot. This is much riskier as it puts our personnel in enemy territory.
If the capture of a terrorist is attempted the risks and attendant difficulties skyrocket. This is the most dangerous mission of this type we can conduct. Simply coordinating the operational and logistical concerns is a staggering chore. An immense number of things have to go perfectly for a successful conclusion. To add the task of evidence collection risks the lives of all those involved. There will be occasions where there is evidence readily available and the capability to bring it out with the target, but to have that as a requirement makes the job near impossible. There is no time to linger during a raid rifling through desks or poking around in closets to find that damning receipt proving the target's complicity in a federal crime.
Al Qaeda is at war with the United States and they have said so categorically. We need to ensure that our strategies and tactics in response acknowledge that. If there are occasions where there exists evidence that can be put out in a federal court and shared with defense lawyers without compromising our intelligence efforts and sources then we should use that option. But the majority of times we have the opportunity to kill or capture a known terrorist that will not be the case and we need a process for dealing with those we do capture reflecting that reality.
Former Paratrooper and Army Officer, "Blackfive" started this blog upon learning of the valorous sacrifice of a friend that was not reported by the journalist whose life he saved. Email: blackfive AT gmail DOT com
Retired Special Operations Master Sergeant, Jim Hanson ("Uncle Jimbo") is now focused on writing about the military, politics, intelligence operations and foreign policy. Email: jimbo AT unclejimbo DOT com
Writer, photographer, and raconteur C. Blake Powers is the Laughing Wolf. He is independent in politics and covers topics including journalism, military, weapons, preparedness, space, science, cooking, food and wine, product and book reviews, and even spirituality. Email: wolf1 AT laughingwolf DOT net Laughing Wolf's Amazon Wish List
Bill Paisley, otherwise known as Pinch, is a 22 year (ongoing) active and
reserve naval aviator. He blogs over at www.instapinch.com on a veritable
cornucopia of various and sundry items and will bring a tactical naval
aviator's perspective to Blackfive. Readers be warned: any comments of or
about the F-14 Tomcat will be reverential and spoken in low, hushed tones.
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Mr. Wolf has over 26 years in the Army, Army NG, and USAR. He’s Airborne with 5 years as an NCO, before becoming an officer. Mr. Wolf has had 4 company commands. Signal Corp is his basic branch, and Public Affairs is his functional area. He recently served 22 straight months in Kuwait and Iraq, in Intel, PA, and senior staff of MNF-I. Mr. Wolf is now an IT executive. He is currently working on a book on media and the Iraq war. Functional gearhead.
In Iraq, he received the moniker of Mr. Wolf after the Harvey Kietel character in Pulp Fiction, when "challenges" arose, they called on Mr. Wolf...
Email: TheDOTMrDOTWolfAT gmail DOT com
Deebow is a Staff Sergeant and a Military Police Squad Leader in the Army National Guard. In a previous life, he served in the US Navy. He has over 19 years of experience in both the Maritime and Land Warfare; including deployments to Southwest Asia, Thailand, the South Pacific, South America and Egypt. He has served as a Military Police Team Leader and Protective Services Team Leader and he has served on assignments with the US State Department, US Air Force Security Police, US Army Criminal Investigation Division, and the US Drug Enforcement Administration. He recently spent time in Afghanistan working with, training and fighting alongside Afghan Soldiers and is now focused on putting his 4 year Political Science degree to work by writing about foreign policy, military security policy and politics.
McQ has 28 years active and reserve service. Retired. Infantry officer. Airborne and Ranger. Consider my 3 years with the 82nd as the most fun I ever had with my clothes on. Interests include military issues and policy and veteran's affairs.
Email: mcq51 -at - bellsouth -dot- net
Tantor is a former USAF navigator/weapon system officer (WSO) in F-4E Phantoms who served in the US, Asia, and Europe. He is now a curmudgeonly computer geek in Washington, DC, picking the taxpayers pocket. His avocations are current events, aviation, history, and conservative politics.
Twenty-three years of Active and Reserve service in the US Army in SF (18B), Infantry and SOF Signal jobs with operational deployments to Bosnia and Africa. Since retiring he's worked as Senior Defense Analyst on SOF and Irregular Warfare projects and currently ensconced in the emerging world of Cyberspace.
Major Pain --
A Marine who began his blog in Iraq and reflects back on what he learned there and in Afghanistan. To the point opinions, ideas and thoughts on military, political and the media from One Marine’s View. Email: onemarinesview AT yahoo DOT com
Uber Pig was an Infantryman from late 1991 until early 1996, serving with Second Ranger Battalion, I Corps, and then 25th Infantry Division. At the time, the Army discriminated against enlisted soldiers who wanted use the "Green to Gold" program to become officers, so he left to attend Stanford University. There, he became expert in detecting, avoiding, and surviving L-shaped ambushes, before dropping out to be as entrepreneurial as he could be. He is now the founder of a software startup serving the insurance and construction industries, and splits time between Lake Tahoe, Boonville, and San Francisco, CA.
Uber Pig writes for Blackfive a) because he's the proud brother of an enlisted Civil Affairs Reservist who currently serves in Iraq, b) because he looks unkindly on people who make it harder for the military in general, and for his brother in particular, to succeed at their missions and come home in victory, and c) because the Blackfive readers and commenters help keep him sane.
COB6 spent 24 years in the active duty Army that included 5 combat tours with service in the 1st Ranger Battalion and 1st Special Forces Group . COB6 was enlisted (E-7) and took the OCS route to a commission. COB6 retired a few years back as a field grade Infantry officer.
Currently COB6 has a son in the 82nd Airborne that just returned from his third tour and has a newly commissioned daughter in the 4th Infantry Division.