What was the first count that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab — the UndieBomber — was found guilty of?
What was the first count that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab — the UndieBomber — was found guilty of?
Particularly given Lindsey Graham’s persistent tweeting yesterday that “the last thing we may want to do is read Boston suspect Miranda Rights,” there was a lot of discussion in the moments after Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured last night about whether he would be read his rights.
At first, there were reports he would be. But then DOJ announced he would not be read Miranda immediately; they would invoke the public safety exception to question him.
“The suspect is en route to the hospital for immediate treatment,” the official tells TPM’s Sahil Kapur. “But we plan to invoke the public safety exception to Miranda in order to question the suspect extensively about other potential explosive devices or accomplices and to gain critical intelligence.”
As of about 40 minutes ago, he had still not been read his rights.
Now, thus far, I’m actually not that worked up about Miranda rights (though I may get there soon). As Orin Kerr explains, the public safety exception is a legally recognized law, and Miranda itself only limits what can be admitted as testimony against Dzhokhar in his trial (I’m betting he’ll plead guilty in any case). The government appears to have so much evidence against him in any case, any confession he makes will likely not be necessary to convict him.
Mind you, as Charlie Savage reported two years ago, the government has been institutionalizing longer delays before they give Miranda warnings, most notably with people they (or foreign proxies) interrogate overseas first, followed by a clean team Mirandized interrogation. And as the reference to “gain[ing] critical intelligence” above suggests, the Obama Administration is stretching the intent of pre-Miranda interrogations to include more substantive interrogation (update: Emily Bazelon also made this point).
But here in the US, the delays on Miranda warnings aren’t that long. The best–quite similar–example is the 2009 UndieBomber, who was interviewed for about 50 minutes under a public safety exception when he was captured. That entire interrogation was deemed admissible and in fact formed a significant part of the opening arguments in his trial (which didn’t get much further than opening arguments before he plead guilty). So the UndieBomber’s case is one reason the Administration is confident they could question Dzhokhar without Mirandizing him at first (though the length of time has gotten far longer than used with the UndieBomber).
There’s a precedent from the UndieBomber I find more troubling though. The judge in that case also allowed the use of UndieBomber’s statements from the hospital after he had been given a fair amount of sedation. While there was a dispute about how much he got and what kind of effect that might have had, conversations he had with a nurse were also used in the opening arguments of the trial. The two issues together — a suspect interviewed without a lawyer after he’s been given serious drugs, both of which will be apply to Dzhokhar, as well — is troubling on legal, humanitarian, and practical grounds. The High-Value Interrogation Group had already been brought in last night, which suggests he may well be asked questions while in precarious medical state.
But the big issue, in my opinion, is presentment, whether he is brought before a judge within 48 hours. In addition to stretching Miranda, the government has also been holding and interrogating suspects for periods — up to two weeks for American citizens and far longer for non-citizens — before they see a judge. Not only does this postpone the time when they will be given a lawyer whether they ask or not (because judges are going to assign one), but it gives the government an uninterrupted period of time to use soft coercion to get testimony and other kinds of cooperation.
In my opinion, two of the most troubling cases like this, both involving naturalized citizens accused of terrorism, are Faisal Shahzad and Manssor Arbabsiar.
Here’s a fairly minor point about the Gregory Saathoff report on Manssor Arbabsiar, the Scary Iran Plotter.
For the 12 day period when he was being secretly interrogated without a lawyer, he was being held at a military base.
Although at times Mr. Arbabsiar smoked inside the room, he often was escorted outside and on at least one occasion took a walk with agents around the military base.
Let me be clear: Arbabsiar’s arrest was approved by a US Magistrate. He was clearly arrested under civilian law.
And I’m not surprised the government held the cousin of a Quds Force member on a military base while they prepared to make an international incident out of his case. I’m sure Arbabsiar was nowhere near the first American citizen interrogated while in civilian custody at a military base.
But it’s coupled with the other part of this where it begins to get unsavory: the part where Arbabsiar had no lawyer and his legal team is now contesting whether he legally waived his right to a lawyer and presentment (and as I’ll explain if I ever get around to writing that post, I think their claim may have more merit than I originally did). And the part where the government didn’t check in with the Magistrate or have Arbabsiar medically examined until a week after he had been arrested.
So if the defense arguments about coerced waivers hold up (remember, we’re still seeing just part of what they’re complaining about), while a busy Magistrate knew he was in custody, Arbabsiar was otherwise in a black hole on a military base (though likely a quite pleasant one, with his own apartment) for a week to 12 days.
During the debate about the NDAA, people insisted we would never see a hybrid kind of detention where US citizens get indefinitely held, but in civilian custody. That’s not what happened to Arbabsiar; again, his detention had been approved by a Magistrate. But we are clearly inching closer to that kind of hybrid.
Troutman, D. (2010, January 13). Email to Virginia Villareal re: Deconfliction (in reference to a national security concern regarding Manssor Arbabsiar), p. 1.
As you’ll recall, the government claims that Arbabsiar first came on their radar in May 2011 when a DEA Informant claimed that Arbabsiar contacted him to arrange a kidnapping.
And yet, according to this, someone was emailing Virginia Villareal (there’s a Customs and Border Patrol Officer currently in San Antonio by that name) in January 2010 about a national security issue involving Arbabsiar?
Deconfliction is the term used for when agencies with overlapping interests sort out their turf–particularly if the agencies are using weapons or informants. The timing indicates that it came during–and probably was part of–Arbabsiar’s naturalization process in 2009-2010.
DHS: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).(2009, June 24). Memorandum subject:IBIS hit resolution for applicant: Manssor Arbabsiar, p. 1.
DHS: USCIS. (2010, April 23). N 652, naturalization interview results, pp. 1-8.
DHS: USCIS. (2010, August 6). N-400, application for naturalization, pp. 1-10.
DHS: USCIS. (2010, August 30). Form N-445, notice of naturalization oath ceremony, pp. 1-2.
And at one level, it’s not all that surprising that there would be a national security concern as Arbabsiar applied for citizenship: his cousin is a high ranking Quds Force member. Indeed that–plus Arbabsiar’s criminal background–is one of the reasons it’s hard to believe he even got citizenship, given that equivalent issues can get a Green Card holder deported. And he appears to have done that without paying for an immigration attorney (he complained to Saathoff he had to pay for an attorney for his son during this period, but not an immigration attorney, though they can be inexpensive).
So at the very least, this suggests at least one other agency was aware of Arbabsiar as he went through the immigration process.
But I do find the timing rather interesting given the way Saathoff describes Arbabsiar’s actions that year. He was taking many trips to Iran–purportedly to bring cash back from real estate investments there and he was living in Corpus Christi, away from his wife. (Note, IBIS is the database the government uses to check people as they cross borders to make sure they’re not terrorists or drug runners, which is presumably why the entry above and a 2012 one were listed as sources.)
In my interviews with Mr. Arbabsiar and in reviewing documents that were not cited by Dr. First at the time of his declaration, Mr. Arbabsiar acknowledged that this was in fact a period of significant international activity. In addition to attaining his United States citizenship, during early 2010 he spent most of his time apart from his wife living mostly in Corpus Christi or travelling overseas. In 2010, he flew to Iran on four separate occasions in order to secure and bring back rental money from his Iranian property holdings. He estimated that during these trips he brought back up to $8,000-$9,000 on each trip.
In his August 4, 2012 interview, he recalled a 2009 trip to Iran where he obtained hair transplant surgery in Iran because it was less expensive than in the U.S. With decreasing revenues in the U.S., he made four separate trips to Iran in 2010 in order to bring back funds from his Iranian investment properties.
In fact, 2010 was a year of significant international activity for Mr. Arbabsiar with more international air travel for him than was recorded for any other year in the previous decade. He took four separate flights to Iran during 2010 and also attained his U.S. citizenship and passport. In his interviews with me, he reported that he would bring back money from Iranian investments as well as Iranian goods for his wife and son.
Then his business partner died and yet, in spite of the fact he was financially strapped, he dropped (or rather, lost) the car business.
By late 2010, following the death of his business partner in July, he had moved from Corpus Christi to Austin in order to live at home with his wife. In our September 26 interview, he recalled: “After Steve died, my life changed a lot. Up until that point I was spending some time in Austin and some time in Corpus. But after he died, I didn’t want to do the car business [in Corpus Christi] any more.
Living in both Austin and Corpus Christi during that year, it was only late in the year and following his friend’s death in July that he finally moved to Austin to live with his wife where he engaged in activities including landscaping around the home and planting fruit trees.
His wife described him during as depressed, sitting at home, in this later period.
For this example, he relies on Ms. Arbabsiar’s wife’s report that “for roughly one year around approximately 2010, Mr. Arbabsiar was severely depressed, isolating himself in his bedroom and rarely getting out of bed except to pace around his bedroom and chain smoke.”
It was after that depression and a period when he was in medical treatment in late 2010 that Arbabsiar reached out to his cousin to build an “export business.”
My life was going bad – I had lost my friend and my dad – my cousin, he took advantage of me. I hate to say that, and I trusted him – my whole family, they should help me. I wanted to do a good business, an export business.
Remember, in addition to talking to Narc about killing the Saudi Ambassador, Arbabsiar was also talking about dealing drugs.
Again, all of this might suggest nothing more than an appropriate awareness of Arbabsiar’s cousin’s identity (but even so, that suggests the myth that Arbabsiar approached Narc out of the blue is just that–a myth).
But Arbabsiar was a very unlikely person to have gotten his citizenship when and how he did, particularly without the apparent assistance of an immigration lawyer. And between the time the government presumably identified Arbabsiar as an Iranian with ties to Quds Force and the time he ultimately got his citizenship, he made a lot of trips to Iran to get cash. Then, once he got citizenship, he lost his business and went into a funk and then–went to, or went back to, his cousin to launch “a good business, an export business,” and once again he returned to the States with thousands of dollars in cash, just like in 2010. During the entire time the FBI was purportedly watching him set up an assassination attempt, according to the Corpus Christi cops, they never once contacted those cops, not even to check the criminal record that their dead tree files showed.
It sure sounds like the government was following Arbabsiar a lot longer than the 18 months they claim.
But then the report also reveals how Arbabsiar first found Narc.
Mr. Arbabsiar stated that the Mexican woman that he contacted to help identify someone to carry out the assassination attempt on the Saudi Ambassador had a younger sister with whom he had a sexual relationship in 1992, while he was married to his third wife.
So maybe his relationship with the DEA goes back to 1992, when he fucked his way into the family?
When last we heard from Dr. Gregory Saathoff, he suggested doing and managed production of a thoroughly hackish report trying to argue that the anthrax case against Bruce Ivins was solid. (See also this post, and Jeff Kaye’s post laying out what other hacks Saathoff recruited for it.) That report took all the FBI’s theories about Ivin’s alleged acts as a factual baseline–even the ones undermined by the National Academy of Science’s scientific review–but then claimed it was not predisposed to support the FBI case.
All that suggests a certain desperation on the part of the FBI, which called on Saathoff to rebut Manssor Arbabsiar’s defense argument that he was manic during the period when he was confessing to the Scary Iran Plot. Yet, in his attempt to do so, Saathoff reveals several new problems with the case against Arbabsiar.
Two things to lay out before I review how Saathoff’s report makes the government case worse. First, here are some of the symptoms that both Saathoff and defense expert Psychiatrist Michael First used in diagnosing whether or not Arbabsiar was bipolar:
Now, in just one way, Saathoff’s report does make the government’s case stronger: an FBI Agent named Mustafa Shalabi (Shalabi was replaced as Arbabsiar’s night guard by Damon Flores the following night for the remainder of his pre-presentment custody; Flores says he would cut off Arbabsiar when he talked about his crime) had a conversation with Arbabsiar in the middle of his third night in US custody. Among the other things Shalabi said Arbabsiar told him was,
He said that his cousin was a “big general”, [who] was “senior” with decision-making powers. [He was] Approached by cousin to then give money to kill the Saudi Ambassador. As he was telling me this, he reflected back on the whole situation. As he told me the story, [as] he said that, he looked upset and [said that he] had been used by his cousin.
This is as clear as any statement in the complaints in this case that Arbabsiar’s cousin, Abdul Reza Shahlai, did ask him to hire someone to kill Saudi Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir (though Arbabsiar’s comment that he had been used may suggest far more). As with all the evidence in the complaint, it in no way supports that that’s what the money transferred was about (elsewhere the report repeatedly cites Arbabsiar emphasizing no one got killed), but it does provide one more witness implicating Shahlai in a conspiracy to assassinate al-Jubeir. But note, even there,
Shalabi described this brief ten-minute period when Mr. Arbabsiar had chain-smoked several cigarettes and washed his shirt in the bathroom sink using the term “erratic” as defined by “deviating from what is ordinary or standard.”
Shalabi insisted Arbabsiar wasn’t crazy multiple times, but provided clear evidence that Arbabsiar was exhibiting sleeplessness, poor judgment, and grandiosity at the time he offered up a confession, just days after his capture.
The treatment of Shalabi’s interview comes among abundant evidence that Arbabsiar was describing his shitty used car dealership as one of the best dealership in Corpus Christi and being “narcissistic” or a “braggart” (according to jail personnel) about other issues, dealing with insomnia until drugged to treat it, and fighting depression. Saathoff also dismisses Arbabsiar’s practice of bringing lovers to his home as simple long-term “hypersexuality,” not that of a manic. That is, there’s plenty here that to my totally untrained eye sounds like could be symptoms of bipolar, and each Saathoff dismisses (I expect Jeff Kaye will bring a more professional analysis to this shortly). My favorite is the way Saathoff dismisses Arbabsiar gifting airline staffers with duty free fragrance and getting himself a tour of the cockpit.
Around 2004, while on a Lufthansa flight from Europe to Iran, Mr. Arbabsiar spoke with the flight attendant and suggested that he would like to buy her some cologne from the duty-free catalogue. “She was beautiful, and I told her I would do something for her.” When she declined, Mr. Arbabsiar stated that he would also like to do something for the pilot and express his gratitude for their dedication in maintaining a safe flight during the increased flight security following September 11, 2001. He purchased duty-free cologne costing approximately $30 each for only the flight attendant and the pilot, who then both expressed their appreciation for what the pilot termed “the nice gesture.” In fact the pilot, with 25 years of flight experience, personally escorted Mr. Arbabsiar from his economy seating to the cockpit, where he was allowed to sit in the co-pilot’s seat for approximately five minutes as the pilot described and showed Mr. Arbabsiar the controls for operating the plane.
Note, Saathoff doesn’t say he interviewed the pilot (and he doesn’t cite how he learned the pilot had 25 years of experience). But he would have you believe that a man gifting his way into a cockpit after 9/11 is perfectly normal because once he got there he didn’t do anything crazy.
Because coach class passengers manage to gift their way into cockpits during flights all the time.
I’m more interested, though, in two specific details that show Arbabsiar treated his interrogation as grandiose.
First, Saathoff doesn’t find it at all grandiose that Arbabsiar believed his personal interrogator was President Obama’s right-hand man.
Because the crime he is charged with involves the planned assassination of a Saudi official, he felt that it would have the attention of top U.S. leadership, including President Obama. In my interview with FBI Special Agent (SA) # 1, he affirmed that one of the agents told Mr. Arbabsiar that FBI SA # 1 knew the president. This impressed Mr. Arbabsiar, who would then ask the agent about the president’s involvement following the case. Another FBI agent who questioned him, FBI SA # 2, stated to me that, “we portrayed [the other agent] as the president’s right hand man. That impressed him. He wants to be important.”
“He wants to be important” sure sounds like grandiose.
And then Saathoff dismisses Arbabsiar’s references to starting World War III as a joke.
Mr. Arbabsiar made references to World War III (WWIII) that were sarcastic in nature, according to FBI SA# 1. Exasperated with his Iranian handlers and their directives to him to avoid sending emails, Mr. Arbabsiar would say, “If I start WWIII, I start WWIII.” In fact, Mr. Arbabsiar indicated to the agents that he believed that the Iranian handlers were overcautious and was confident that even if sending incriminating emails from his address was wrong: “One mistake will not start WWIII.”
One curious detail about this passage: Saathoff doesn’t describe whether this was a reference to sent email before he was arrested or after. But there’s no reference to email in the complaint, suggesting the FBI may have been trying to get Arbabsiar to exchange email with Gholam Shakuri while he was in custody. If so, that would suggest Arbabsiar “joked” about starting WWIII for the actions he was doing while in custody, not before.
In any case, this exhibits the same lack of caution Arbabsiar used when first talking about avoiding transferring large sums, but then transferring two almost $50,000 sums.
And note that elsewhere, Saathoff insists on contextualizing Arbabsiar’s comments in the interrogation techniques the FBI Agents were using. Yet, having laid out Arbabsiar’s seeming flouting of his handler’s caution about email (and also money laundering, which Saathoff doesn’t mention), Saathoff makes this claim.
In fact, Mr. Arbabsiar’s ability to successfully and appropriately engage his Iranian contact during three phone conversations, using prearranged code words at times, on three separate days demonstrates an absence of mania in that he demonstrated the ability to interact appropriately in a novel situation. To conduct three separate phone calls and converse in code without arousing the suspicion of his Iranian contact required a significant amount of emotional and cognitive control.
Now, I’m not sure why Saathoff claims that Arbabsiar’s calls didn’t arouse his Iranian contact–Shakuri’s–suspicion. In spite of FBI efforts, Arbabsiar never succeeded in getting Shakuri to transfer additional money (and therefore almost the only evidence against Shakuri the FBI has is Arbabsiar’s confession), which suggests either the plot(s) weren’t all that important to Shakuri or he was suspicious (though he may have been already, since he advised Arbabsier not to go to Mexico in the first place). Moreover, the FBI’s claims about the codes never matched the actual syntax of the calls as quoted in the complaint (the FBI conflates “the building” and “the Chevrolet”–though I still suspect that suggests there was a drug deal that may have been a priority), so it’s totally unclear Arbabsiar did get the codes right. That is, Saathoff’s claim reflect a very flimsy reading of the complaint, which he cites among his sources.
And note one more detail about Saathoff’s review. Among the other resources he relied on, he cites this:
Walsh, J. F. (2011, October 10). FBI post arrest statements made by Manssor Arbabsiar from September 29-October 10, 2011, pp. 558-633
James F. Walsh Jr is the FBI Agent who wrote the first of two complaints in this case. Saathoff may have interviewed Walsh, but he did, it’s sekrit (he lists interviews with Special Agent 1 and 2, but not interviews with Walsh or Robert Woloszyn, the author of the other complaint; but it’s almost certain that’s just a dumb ruse to hide Walsh and Woloszyn’s identities as Arbabsiar’s interrogators).
But it seems that Saathoff has only referred to 75 pages out of at least 633 recording Arbabsiar’s statements. If that’s right, not only does Saathoff not deal with the bulk of First’s evidence, Arbabsiar’s speech (though it seems likely the references to Obama and WWIII were among the redacted citations First included), but he never looked at at least 88% of Arbabsiar’s comments.
Now all these details just assess Saathoff’s interpretations about people who think they’re going to start WWIII. His report damns the government’s claims that this was a consensual interview in some other ways, which I’ll describe in a follow-up post.
As the NYT and TPM have reported, Manssor Arbabsiar–the accused plotter in the Scary Iran Plot–has moved to have his indictment dismissed because he is bipolar. His lawyers are basing that motion on the diagnoses of Clinical Neuropsychologist Joel Morgan and Psychiatrist Michael First. First cites six passages from his interrogation (all redacted) to support his assertion that Arbabsiar was likely cycling in and out of manic episodes during his confession.
And while I highly doubt a judge is going to dismiss the case against the Scary Iran Plotter because he is bipolar, it is worth noting that the confession given–First says–while he was probably manic, is central to four out of five charges against Arbabsiar.
But I’m more interested in the other documents filed in the last few days. In addition to the doctors’ declarations, there are declarations addressing the other reasons–Arbabsiar’s team argues–why some of the evidence and possibly the entire indictment against him should be thrown out. A declaration from his public defender, Sabrina Shroff, references 5 exhibits (all redacted) describing why the judge should “dismiss the Indictment, or, in the alternative, to suppress statements made by Mr. Arbabsiar and other evidence improperly obtained by the government.” And then there’s a declaration from Arbabsiar himself, though its 29 paragraphs remain entirely sealed; it’s unlikely that Arbabsiar would submit a declaration to support his own bipolar diagnosis (and the declarations don’t reference any comments he made, though it does reference comments from his family). So it must offer other reasons to throw out the charges or some of the evidence.
So it’s not just that Arbabsiar’s lawyers are saying he’s mentally ill, and that illness influenced both his decision to waive his Miranda rights but also the confession that is critical to most of the charges against him. But there seem to be around 5 other reasons or pieces of evidence that Arbabsiar’s team alleges were improperly collected.
Of course, we’re not allowed to know what they are, cause that would make it more clear whether the government invented Scary Iran Plot entirely or just made a big deal out of another aspirational plot.
I’m agnostic about how many of the plots attributed to Iran in this WaPo story are real. Certainly, there are hints, even from Joby Warrick’s sources, that the insinuation that “Iran and Hezbollah” are behind the attacks–which were reportedly led by criminal gangs, not by actual Hezbollah or Quds Force members–might be overblown.
“The idea that Iran and Hezbollah might have worked together on these attempts is possible,” said a senior U.S. official who has studied the evidence, “but this conclusion is not definitive.”
But the entire story loses credibility with this sentence.
U.S. intelligence officials believe that Americans would probably have been killed if an alleged Iranian plot to kill Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Washington last year had succeeded.
That’s because the outlines of that “plot”–the Scary Iran Plot hatched by bumbling car salesman Manssor Arbabsiar–were dreamt up by our own DEA informant. The explosives in the “plot” were fictional C4 that may well have been offered up by the informant when Arbabsiar suggested guns.
So if this “plot” with its hypothetical American dead is treated seriously, then how real are the other “plots” described in the article, particularly the “plots” targeting Americans in Azerbaijan that are the centerpiece of the article?
The whole article reads very differently if you consider the possibility that the previously unreported “plots” might be, like the Scary Iran Plot, stings led by our–or another country’s–intelligence services.
Two more questions about this story. First, it makes no mention of Atris Hussein, the Lebanese-Swedish fan and fertilizer merchant arrested in January in Bangkok–based on Israeli intelligence–as an alleged terrorist. Hussein plead not guilty in March. Have the fear-mongers since decided that shipping fertilizer might not be a good terrorism story?
Also, on May 18, the House passed an Amendment to the NDAA mandating an investigation into the people who leaked–among other things–the allegations in this article, describing “Israel’s secret staging ground” in Azerbaijan. The story (which presumably must be true if senior Israeli officials are complaining to Congressional delegations that the US is leaking “classified operational information and capabilities” about the Israelis) describes how Israel is “buying airbases” in Azerbaijan.
In particular, four senior diplomats and military intelligence officers say that the United States has concluded that Israel has recently been granted access to airbases on Iran’s northern border. To do what, exactly, is not clear. “The Israelis have bought an airfield,” a senior administration official told me in early February, “and the airfield is called Azerbaijan.”
Senior U.S. intelligence officials are increasingly concerned that Israel’s military expansion into Azerbaijan complicates U.S. efforts to dampen Israeli-Iranian tensions, according to the sources. Military planners, I was told, must now plan not only for a war scenario that includes the Persian Gulf — but one that could include the Caucasus. The burgeoning Israel-Azerbaijan relationship has also become a flashpoint in both countries’ relationship with Turkey, a regional heavyweight that fears the economic and political fallout of a war with Iran. Turkey’s most senior government officials have raised their concerns with their U.S. counterparts, as well as with the Azeris, the sources said.
If one of the key pieces of evidence in this plot is some criminal moving weapons across the Iranian border, why are we so sure it’s the Iranians and not the Israelis–whom Iran has accused of targeting its nuclear scientists from Azerbaijan?
The Iranians may well have sent out a bunch of incompetent terrorists to avenge the Israeli attacks on their scientists (if so, why aren’t we hailing the shocking decline in skills of Hezbollah?). Or maybe we’re getting disinformation.
But at the very least, we ought to distinguish between the details of “plots” that come from real intelligence and the details that were invented by our own informants.
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
I’ve always been skeptical of the Scary Car Broker Plot–the suit against a bunch of used car brokers and others based on the claim that the entire thing is a money laundering operation for Hezbollah. At the core of the complaint is the allegation that entities that weren’t listed on Treasury’s sanctions list until early last year transferred money between 2007 and early last year (that is, until they were listed) to purchase used cars in the US.
Between approximately January 2007 and early 2011, at least $329 million was transferred by wire from accounts held in Lebanon at LCB, Federal Bank of Lebanon (“Federal Bank”), Middle East and Africa Bank (“MEAB”), and BLOM Bank (“BLOM”) to the United States through their correspondent bank accounts with U.S. financial institutions located in the Southern District of New York and elsewhere for the purchase of used cars.
But one of the main targets of the complaint–one they don’t actually get to until page 46 of a 65-page complaint–are thirty seemingly Lebanese-American owned car brokers in the US.
In describing these brokers, the complaint seems to offer little perspective on how this business–a perfectly legitimate business designed to get clunkers into countries where they still have market value–normally operates.
The businesses of these Car Buyers typically have little or no property or assets other than bank accounts that are used to receive wires from overseas to buy cars, and to purchase used cars at auction. These cars are then transported to shipping ports, where they are shipped to West Africa. The Car Buyers typically do not have offices, car lots, or an inventory of used cars other than cars that are in transit to the ports. Some of the Car Buyers purchase cars for their own account, but others simply retain a fee of a few hundred dollars for each car that they buy.
That is, the complaint suggests that the marginal nature of these businesses, by itself, makes these businesses sketchy. But it offers no proof for that fact (and I believe that a lot of these businesses are sketchy by design–they’re the automotive equivalent of recyclers who pick through trash to try to find things with ongoing value).
In the section laying out the individual descriptions of the middle men who dealt with the car brokers, there are a lot of assertions of direct and more attenuated ties to Hezbollah with little or no proof.
Nevertheless, the goal of this complaint is to seize money from the auto brokers, about whom the complaint makes no claims of knowledge of ties to Hezbollah.
Since the complaint, I’ve just been assuming that maybe the government has better evidence to tie the American businesses they’re effectively shutting down to Hezbollah (nevermind that the ties have always been closer to Colombian drug cartels).
“Absolute nonsense!” Israel has responded to Mark Perry’s “False Flag” claim that Mossad agents recruited Jundallah members by posing as CIA officers. They’ve responded clearly, they claim, because they don’t want US-Israeli intelligence cooperation to get as bad as it did when we caught Jonathan Pollard spying for Israel.
But I’m just as interested in the “proof” Israel offers that this didn’t happen: that Meir Dagan is still welcome in Washington.
The senior Israeli government official said that if there were any truth the claims in Perry’s report, Meir Dagan, the head of the Mossad at the time of the alleged operation, would have been declared a persona non grata in the U.S. and that “Dagan’s foot would not have walked again in Washington”.
Now, it is true that Dagan ran Mossad at the time–2007-2008–when the recruitment in question is alleged to have taken place. And it is true that under Dagan Mossad got rather embarrassingly caught using
US (and other Western allies’ passports to facilitate their assassination squads in the Dubai assassination of Quds Force surrogate Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.
But it is also notable that Dagan has made a series of increasingly strident remarks against war with Iran and for the kind of engagement that the latest scientist assassination seems designed to undercut. And then there’s the presumably intentional irony in the statement: Dagan’s ability to travel is limited not by his welcome among Western allies, but because Bibi Netanyahu revoked Dagan’s diplomatic passport last summer in response to his efforts to prevent war against Iran. Since traveling without diplomatic immunity would expose him to arrest for acts that include the al-Mabhouh assassination, Dagan, the former head of Israel’s assassination agency, cannot travel freely to prevent such assassinations in the future.
In other words, this is a very witty but nevertheless quite serious reminder that the same people now trying to find a peaceful path forward are themselves thoroughly implicated in the same crimes they now disown. This is Bibi’s camp reminding that everyone has been breaking the rules in ways that could cause significant legal trouble.
Right on cue, Iran has sent diplomatic notes to both the US and Britain, claiming that the CIA is behind the most recent assassination.
The message addressed to the U.S. government, read, “According to authentic documents and reliable information, the assassination plot was directed, supported, and planned by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and was carried out with the direct involvement of the agents affiliated with this organization, and the government is directly responsible for it and should be answerable based on international regulations and rights and bilateral commitments.”
[snip]In the protest note, Iran also said, “The Islamic Republic of Iran condemns the inhumane assassination, calls on the U.S. government to provide an immediate explanation, seriously warns about its repercussions, and calls on the (U.S.) government to stop supporting any kind of anti-humanitarian terrorist action against the lives of Iranian citizens, which is in contravention of international rights and the relevant commitments and pose a serious danger to international peace and security. In addition, the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran reserves the right to pursue the issue.”
In the note addressed to the British government, the Foreign Ministry pointed to the remarks that MI6 chief Sir John Sawers made on October 28, 2010, in which he said, “Stopping nuclear proliferation cannot be addressed purely by conventional diplomacy. We need intelligence-led operations to make it more difficult for countries like Iran to develop nuclear weapons.”
The note read, “The Foreign Ministry of the Islamic Republic of Iran takes into consideration the fact that the assassinations of Iranian scientists began right after the announcement of the very attitude of the British government by Mr. John Sawers, the head of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, and once again expresses its protest about the repercussions of the mentioned attitude of the British government and holds the country responsible for such terrorists acts.”
Gosh, Iran could have drafted these letters using the letters the US issued after it busted the Scary Iran Plot allegedly involving Manssor Arbabsiar as a model! (Which reminds me. Has anyone checked in on the Saudi involvement to defeat Iran, of late? And what they–and the Pakistanis–think about Israelis purportedly running terrorists out of Pakistan?)
Remember, too, according to Perry’s “False Flag,” the recruitment of the Jundallah members–by whomever–largely took place in London, “under the nose of U.S. intelligence officers.” So if Perry’s piece was meant as preemptive inoculation against evidence his sources knew might be revealed, it would not be surprising if such evidence implicated both the US and Britain.
Now, if it weren’t for the latent lethality behind all this posturing (and if weren’t so clear that, whatever Iran has, Israel surely has evidence of our complicity here, if they ever feel the need to reveal it), this might be a somewhat amusing and overdue spat between Israel and the US.
But as it is, it seems the winner of this conflict between Israeli and US neocon Hawks (some of who presumably remain in government positions) on one side, and those trying to avoid war (if not regime change) on the other threatens may depend most on who wins the infowar that has broken out. Clearly, all sides have the goods on the others, but no one can risk having all this damning information come out.
Update: Corrected post to reflect that Mossad did not use US passports in the Dubai hit.