I’m sure that Eric Holder didn’t mean to suggest that the assassination plots purportedly planned by Iran’s Quds Force and Manssor Arbabsiar with the assistance of a DEA informant targeting the Saudi Ambassador to the US, Adel al-Jubeir, as well as Israeli and Saudi figures in Argentina, are legal.
But given the debate between the ACLU’s Anthony Romero and Jack Goldsmith over whether assassinations in this country would be legal, I wanted to look at what he did say.
In their debate on WBUR’s On Point, Romero said something to the effect of Holder’s argument for targeted killing would serve as justification for other countries to target their own “terrorists” in our country. Goldsmith objected, saying such assassinations would only be legal in failed states (implicitly, like Yemen and Pakistan) where a state was unable to apprehend such a figure.
That’s not what Holder said. Here’s what he did say:
Over the last three years alone, al Qaeda and its associates have directed several attacks – fortunately, unsuccessful – against us from countries other than Afghanistan. Our government has both a responsibility and a right to protect this nation and its people from such threats.
This does not mean that we can use military force whenever or wherever we want. International legal principles, including respect for another nation’s sovereignty, constrain our ability to act unilaterally. But the use of force in foreign territory would be consistent with these international legal principles if conducted, for example, with the consent of the nation involved – or after a determination that the nation is unable or unwilling to deal effectively with a threat to the United States.
Furthermore, it is entirely lawful – under both United States law and applicable law of war principles – to target specific senior operational leaders of al Qaeda and associated forces. [my emphasis]
Strip this passage of its American exceptionalism, and here’s what it justifies: Continue reading
Kagro X and I were engaging in a little thought experiment on Twitter to show how easy it would be to solve our dangerous bankster problem by indefinitely detaining them.
It turned out to be pretty easy to do. Here’s how.
First, before you indefinitely detain a bankster, you need to show either that he is,
A person who was part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or who has supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.
another international terrorist group that the President has determined both (a) is in armed conflict with the United States and (b) poses a threat of hostile actions within the United States;
Now, making that case with Jamie Dimon is very easy to do, because his company, JP Morgan Chase, has materially helped Iran. We have several pieces of proof it has done so. First, there’s the Treasury Report showing that JPMC:
We need no further proof that JPMC has done these things. Not only has JPMC admitted to them, but as Janice Rogers Brown has made clear, we cannot question the Executive Branch’s intelligence reports, so all of OFAC’s claims must be accepted as true for the purposes of indefinite detention. And all of that illegal support for Iran happened while Jamie Dimon was President of JPMC.
But there may even be proof–enough, anyway, to satisfy Rogers Brown–that JPMC materially supported an attempt to deploy a WMD in a terrorist attack on American soil. As I have shown, the bank account to which Manssor Arbabsiar transferred almost $100,000 as downpayment for the alleged Quds Force plot to assassinate Saudi Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir was probably a Chase account. And that affidavit should be enough. The FBI, after all, is an intelligence agency. And Janice Rogers Brown does not find redactions–even much more extensive ones–to in any way impair the reliability of Administration claims to justify indefinite detention.
In other words, the Administration has provided sufficient proof that JPMC materially supported Iran to the tune of at least $23 million in illegal financial transactions.
Now, if Chase is indeed the bank that accepted the downpayment for the Scary Iran Plot, we need no further basis to indefinitely detain Jamie Dimon. After all, the government’s Amended Complaint (from the FBI, an intelligence agency whose reports we cannot question) asserts that Abdul Reza Shahlai was the mastermind behind the Scary Iran Plot, and at the time of the plot, he had already been sanctioned as a supporter of the insurgency in Iraq. That was based on a questionable intelligence report, admittedly, but Janice Rogers Brown says we cannot consider such problems. So if Chase did, indeed, play a role in the Scary Iran Plot, then that’s all we need to indefinitely detain Jamie Dimon as head of the entity that materially supported that terrorist attack.
But even if Chase wasn’t involved in the Scary Iran Plot, the Executive Branch can still indefinitely detain Jamie Dimon. After all, the Executive Branch has been claiming that Iran was harboring al Qaeda since 2003. In addition, an official Executive Branch report–a September 12, 2009 diplomatic cable–includes the following hearsay claim, made by Saudi Arabia’s then Minister of the Interior, now the Crown Prince, Nayif bin Abdulaziz:
Iran has hosted Saudis (all Sunnis) — including Osama bin Laden’s son Ibrahim — who had contacts with terrorists and worked against [Saudi Arabia]
And Janice Rogers Brown has said that so long as it appears in an official government document, any hearsay problem is overcome. And as recent reporting makes clear, there’s even some evidence that Iran was at least aware of, and in some ways facilitated, the 9/11 plot itself. That assertion is based on NSA reports which, as official government documents, would meet Rogers Brown’s standard for claims supporting indefinite detention.
All of which would seem to reach the bar of making Iran a force associated with al Qaeda. I don’t necessarily buy these reports, mind you, but again, it’s not for me to question these official government records. And helping such an associated force access $23 million of funding sure seems to qualify as “substantial support.”
Now let me be clear. I don’t advocate indefinitely detaining Jamie Dimon–or anyone else either, particularly not American citizens, no matter how loathsome or dangerous to the United States. But given that our country maintains it is more important to “incapacitate” terrorists and those who support them than to punish those who did trillions of dollars of damage to our economy, we may well have to treat Jamie Dimon as a material supporter of terrorism to get some justice.
And Jamie? If I were you I would report to an Embassy or some other official government office right away, as the government claims Anwar al-Awlaki should have. Because while Obama seems uninterested in indefinitely detaining American citizens, he has been known to kill those he claimed were particularly dangerous.
Having MoDo vouch for the “sangfroid” of Saudi Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir (who, she notes, once saved her from being punished by Saudi religious police for dressing inappropriately) is about as amusing as having David Ignatius announce the Scary Iran Plot must be true because the CIA is involved.
Jubeir stayed cool even when American officials informed him several months ago about the latest stunning chapter in the Saudi Arabia-versus-Iran Great Game for supremacy in the Middle East: an outlandish plot by an Iranian-American used-car dealer in Texas who said his cousin was a senior member of the Iranian Quds Force.
MoDo’s piece seems to do little but foster the illusion that a real plot had developed, as she describes al-Jubeir straining in secret to hide the news that a DEA Narc completely directed by the US government proposed bombing his favorite restaurant.
He had to force himself to live a normal existence for months, not telling family or staff, until a criminal complaint was unveiled and the Texas car dealer was before a judge.
MoDo’s piece also allows al-Jubeir to rebut a detail about him that the US Government’s own plot has emphasized–that he practically lives at Cafe Milano.
Over lunch at the embassy in his first interview since then, he told me in his whispery voice that he was surprised the plotters had assumed he’d be hanging at modish restaurants. These days, the slender, smartly tailored ambassador is more of a nester, spending time with the twins and his 9-month-old son.
“I work so much, I enjoy sitting at home doing nothing,” said the diplomat with the rough commute — 12-hour flights to Riyadh several times a month.
No wonder al-Jubeir chose this–rather than an interview with a real journalist–to be his first interview after the revelation of the plot.
Though there is this close for the piece.
As I left, I asked the ambassador about the painting in his office of Arab tribesmen riding horses and camels.
“It’s artistic license,” he noted with amusement. “Camels don’t ride with horses. They ride separately. Horses go faster and camels go longer.”
It’s as if, in addition to countering the common knowledge he lives at Cafe Milano, al-Jubeir also wants people to know that both Arabian ponies and camels can survive by eating aspen leaves that grow connected at the root.
I’m working on a big post that raises more questions about the government’s interpretation of the Scary Iran Plot.
But for the moment I want to raise an issue that might provide a nugget of plausibility for the larger story. And that’s Gholam Shakuri’s urgency.
According to the complaint, Arbabsiar confessed that when he traveled back to Iran (I’ve taken this to be sometime after July 20, but as I explained here, it may have happened earlier) Shakuri told him the kidnap or kill operation had to happen quickly.
ARBABSIAR was asked to have [Narc] kidnap or kill the Ambassador of Saudi Arabia to the United States, and told that it would need to be done fast.
Because the government has sealed evidence explaining on what terms Arbabsiar is cooperating, I find his confession to be suspect. But Shakuri does repeat that urgency in the recorded call on October 5 (though note I also find the government’s interpretation of the “code” here suspect, both because it derives from Arbabsiar’s confession and the syntax suggests the FBI Agent is reading a multiplicity of codes to all refer to the assassination).
[After discussing “the Chevrolet”] SHAKURI urged ARBABSIAR “[j]ust do it quickly, it’s late, just buy it for me and bring it already.”
I find the urgency interesting because of several events that would implicate Quds Force power, like the push to sell Bahrain weapons, the negotiations on leaving troops in Iraq and–most notably–the negotiation of a prisoner swap between Hamas and Israel on the very day the plot was announced. And remember, the US managed the timing of this, drawing out its denouement over two months after money got transferred and 12 days after Arbabsiar was arrested. I don’t know what role Adel al-Jubeir had in this prisoner swap (Egypt is a key player), but the exchange certainly seems like it would serve Saudi goals of giving Palestine some relief while serving Israeli-dictated US goals of thwarting the PLO UN statehood bid, all while lessening Iranian influence with Hamas.
Frankly, that’s all just based on the coincidence between the announcement of the plot and the prisoner swap.
But it seems that one key to understanding who really sponsored this plot–if there really was one–is understanding Shakuri’s urgency.
Yesterday, I pointed out some oddities of the docket for Manssor Arbabsiar, the accused plotter in the Iran assassination plot. Most notably, the docket for this crime starts with the amended complaint. That indicated there was an original complaint. But the numbering on the docket–which starts with the amendment complaint–suggested the original complaint might relate to an entirely different crime.
bmaz called the court house to try to figure out the oddity. And court personnel did some checking–and consulted directly with the AUSA trying this case–they explained only that there had been a prior complaint in SDNY which Chief Judge Loretta Preska had approved having sealed. The court house offered no insight on when all this happened.
The government’s unwillingness to unseal that original complaint is just another weird aspect of this case, as it suggests Arbabsiar might have been arrested for totally different charges. Or he might have been charged months ago.
To add the curiosity, consider this quote from Arbabsiar’s public defender, Sabrina Shroff.
Mr. Arbabsiar, who has lived in Texas for many years, made a brief appearance in federal court in Manhattan on Tuesday afternoon, dressed in a blue checked shirt and with a pronounced scar on his left cheek. He did not enter a plea, but his lawyer, Sabrina Shroff, said after the hearing that “if he is indicted, he will plead not guilty.” [my emphasis]
Arbabsiar’s lawyer isn’t sure he’ll be indicted? She’s not sure this will ever be presented to a grand jury?
That may indicate the government is already talking plea deal with Arbabsiar (and why not, since he’s been chatting freely about this for two weeks and apparently would prefer to stay in jail than go free).
Which, if that were to happen, would mean–barring the unlikely extradition of Shakuri–none of this questionable evidence would ever be challenged by an antagonistic lawyer a nor evaluated by a jury.
And if that were to happen, then the whole wacky plot, with all its dubious aspects, would serve nothing more than to cause an international incident and keep Arbabsiar in US government custody, potentially on easier terms than the prison term he might have expected for whatever he was charged with in his first complaint.
Saudi officials advised Argentina four months ago of an alleged Iran-backed plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington and possibly attack the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Buenos Aires, an Argentine diplomatic source said on Thursday.
“The Saudis advised us four months ago, at the request of the United States,” the Argentine source told Reuters on condition of anonymity, without providing further details.
President Barack Obama was briefed in June about the alleged plot, soon after U.S. law enforcement agents were tipped off by a paid informant, according to court documents.
But it seems to introduce more questions than credibility.
Four months ago–assuming the anonymous Argentine diplomat is correct–would mean they were tipped off in mid-June. As Reuters points out, that may be around the time Obama first got briefed on the purported plot.
According to the complaint, the only piece of evidence the US had at that time was one unrecorded meeting between Manssor Arbabsiar and Narc. The complaint only supports that Narc learned Arbabsiar wanted to attack an embassy–consistent with the possibility of attacking the Saudi Embassy in Argentina–or maybe wanted to kidnap Adel Al-Jubeir, not kill him.
Perhaps the anonymous diplomat is off by a few weeks, and she was tipped by the Saudis in late June, after Arbabsiar had returned to Mexico on June 23, and after Arbabsiar had had another unrecorded meeting or more with Narc.
Even if that were the case, the Argentines (and Saudis) were purportedly warned before any recordings of Arbabsiar’s statements were made and before any money got transferred–in spite of the fact that sources say the Administration didn’t really believe in this plot until that transfer.
Law enforcement and intelligence officials penetrated the alleged plot from the start. But American officials said Wednesday that what persuaded them they were tracking something much more than just idle talk between an Iranian American used-car salesman and a Drug Enforcement Administration informant was the transfer of $100,000 from Iran in July and August as a down payment to set the assassination in motion.
Note, the reference to a July transfer must refer to the receipt of the money by “Individual 1” before Narc had even provided bank data to Arbabsiar, as the actual transfers through NYC happened in August, which also supports the completely unsurprising conclusion that we didn’t need to hear about the transfer from Arbabsiar because we were tracking it electronically.
Nevertheless, do we customarily tell other countries of seemingly improbable plots before we start collecting any hard evidence on those plots?
There are some explanations for this, even setting aside more tinfoil possibilities (like the Saudis dreamt up the plot and then got Arbabsiar to perform it). The government might, for example, have tape from that May 24 meeting between Narc and Arbabsiar, either taken by Narc or by surveillance in Mexico, that they haven’t revealed in the complaint. The government may have a lot more Sigint from Arbabsiar’s conversations with Quds Forces figures in Iran, though if that’s the case, it means our role performing this plot is even more overdetermined than it already seems. Or it may be we knew directly from Arbabsiar what he was purportedly planning on doing without him having explained it to Narc.
There’s one more interesting aspect of this revelation, if true. Why did we outsource informing Argentina to the Saudis rather than telling them ourselves? Meanwhile, the Argentines remain officially mum about the plot.