Choo Choo Track Attacks

I’m bemused by this first report on the intelligence from Osama bin Laden’s compound. Apparently, al Qaeda wants to derail trains.

A new bulletin issued tonight by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security and obtained by ABC News describes the terror organization’s chilling desire to derail a train.

“As of February 2010, al-Qa’ida was allegedly contemplating conducting an operation against trains at an unspecified location in the United States on the 10th anniversary of September 11, 2001,” the document reads, using an alternate spelling for bin Laden’s terror group. “As one option, al-Qa’ida was looking into trying to tip a train by tampering with the rails so that the train would fall off the track at either a valley or a bridge.”

With all due respect to the fuckers that brought down the World Trade Center, really? They want to tip a train off a track?

I’m bemused for several reasons. First, it sort of, kind of, refutes the point Jose Rodriguez is clinging to to justify having stopped the investigation of OBL. That is, OBL is still getting terrorist proposals; he’s not just a figurehead.

That said, really? The US is going to get all hot and bothered over a train derailment? When we manage to derail trains through our own declining rail stock all the time? And al Qaeda, the terrorist organization that scored one of the biggest media coups ever by taking down NYC landmarks wants to topple a train in a valley that doesn’t house major media outlets?

Finally, though, I can’t help but relish in the irony. As I noted earlier, our government seems to have a fondness for analogizing al Qaeda with Native Americans, first to Seminoles and then to Apaches. All this time we’ve been playing Cowboys and Indians. Only we totally misunderstood that we’re now dealing with the equivalent of Jesse James and his nineteenth century attacks on trains, not Indians. Al Qaeda and its current “aspirational” attacks has been degraded to the tactics used by Wild West gangsters.

But apparently, we’re still trying to fearmonger over it.

Administration Continues to Cling to Precedent of Slavery, Genocide, and Illegal Belligerency to Legitimize Its Actions

It has increasingly become clear that the Obama Administration treats the category of “terrorist” more flexibly than the Bush Administration did. With the introduction of the term “countering violent extremism,” for example, the Administration broadened the potential application of terrorist tools to those who were simply, according to them, “extremists.” Then there’s the odd treatment of a bunch of Colombian right wing terrorists, who were extradited on drug charges (but not terrorism), and then entirely disappeared from the docket, with allegations that at least one of them had been freed. And while the Obama Administration has charged some white people with using WMD (a terrorism crime), the disparity in its use is stark.

Carol Rosenberg has been tracking another telling example of the Obama Administration’s flexible interpretations of terrorist-like activity: DOD’s citation of a legally suspect ruling about an attack on Seminoles as precedent for trying material support for terrorism in military commissions.

Pentagon prosecutors touched off a protest — and issued an apology this week — for likening the Seminole Indians in Spanish Florida to al Qaeda in documents defending Guantánamo’s military commissions.

Citing precedents, prosecutors reached back into the Indian Wars in arguments at an appeals panel in Washington D.C. Specifically, they invoked an 1818 military commission convened by Gen. Andrew Jackson after U.S. forces invaded then-Spanish Florida to stop black slaves from fleeing through a porous border — then executed two British men for helping the Seminole Indians.

Navy Capt. Edward S. White also wrote this in a prosecution brief:

“Not only was the Seminole belligerency unlawful, but, much like modern-day al Qaeda, the very way in which the Seminoles waged war against U.S. targets itself violate the customs and usages of war.”

In other words, our government is siding with slavery, genocide of Native Americans, and Andrew Jackson’s illegal belligerency–it is citing our own country’s illegal behavior–to find some support for the claim that material support is a military crime.

Not surprisingly, the Seminole tribe objected (see Rosenberg’s collection of documents in the case here).  And now Jeh Johnson (he of the claim that Martin Luther King would have empathized with the attacks on Afghans) has apologized to the tribe–but reiterated our reliance on the precedent.

The Pentagon’s top lawyer has sent the Seminole Tribe of Florida what amounts to an apology for Guantánamo war court lawyers likening al Qaida to the Native American tribe in 1818.

But Defense Department general counsel Jeh Johnson made clear in the single-page letter that the U.S. government was standing by its precedent from Gen. Andrew Jackson’s Indian Wars in its bid to uphold the life-time conviction of Osama bin Laden’s media secretary at Guantánamo’s Camp Justice.

And so it is that our government clings desperately to one of the darkest chapters of our history to legitimize its current actions. Rather than reflect on what that means–how damning it is that we can point only to Andrew Jackson’s illegal treatment of Native Americans to justify our current conduct–the government says simply, “a precedent is a precedent!”

Apparently, our country has learned nothing in the last 200 years.

Update: Jackson corrected for Johnson, thanks to JTIDAHO.