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September 23, 2006

Flashback: Clinton Refused To Give Unambiguous Authorization To Kill Bin Ladin

Via Allah at HotAir, an old WaPo article (from 2004), but so utterly damning as to be worth reading in full. Twice.

Here are some of the key bits, but do read the whole thing.

Between 1998 and 2000, the CIA and President Bill Clinton's national security team were caught up in paralyzing policy disputes as they secretly debated the legal permissions for covert operations against Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan.

The debates left both White House counterterrorism analysts and CIA career operators frustrated and at times confused about what kinds of operations could be carried out, according to interviews with more than a dozen officials and lawyers who were directly involved.

There was little question that under U.S. law it was permissible to kill bin Laden and his top aides, at least after the evidence showed they were responsible for the attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998....

Yet the secret legal authorizations Clinton signed after this failed missile strike required the CIA to make a good faith effort to capture bin Laden for trial, not kill him outright.

Beginning in the summer of 1998, Clinton signed a series of top secret memos authorizing the CIA or its agents to use lethal force, if necessary, in an attempt to capture bin Laden and several top lieutenants and return them to the United States to face trial.

...

Tenet and his senior CIA colleagues demanded that the White House lay out rules of engagement for capturing bin Laden in writing, and that they be signed by Clinton. Then, with such detailed authorizations in hand, every one of the CIA officers who handed a gun or a map to an Afghan agent could be assured that he or she was operating legally.

...

Some of the most sensitive language concerned the specific authorization to use deadly force. Clinton's national security aides said they wanted to encourage the CIA to carry out an effective operation against bin Laden, not to burden the agency with constraints or doubts. Yet Clinton's aides did not want authorizations that could be interpreted by Afghan agents as an unrestricted license to kill. For one thing, the Justice Department signaled that it would oppose such language if it was proposed for Clinton's signature.

The compromise wording, in a succession of bin Laden-focused memos, always expressed some ambiguity about how and when deadly force could be used in an operation designed to take bin Laden into custody. Typical language, recalled one official involved, instructed the CIA to "apprehend with lethal force as authorized."

What?!!? What does that mean? Nothing, that's what it means. As Clinton preferred it.

At the CIA, officers and supervisors agonized over these abstract phrases. They worried that if an operation in Afghanistan went badly, they would be accused of having acted outside the memo's scope. Over time, recriminations grew between the CIA and the White House.

It was common in Clinton's cabinet and among his National Security Council aides to see the CIA as too cautious, paralyzed by fears of legal and political risks. At Langley, this criticism rankled. The CIA's senior managers believed officials at the White House wanted to have it both ways: They liked to blame the agency for its supposed lack of aggression, yet they sent over classified legal memos full of wiggle words.

...

[Clinton] also authorized the CIA to carry out operations that legally required the agency's officers to plan in almost every instance to capture bin Laden alive and bring him to the United States to face trial.

...

Some CIA managers chafed at the White House instructions. The CIA received "no written word nor verbal order to conduct a lethal action" against bin Laden before Sept. 11, one official involved recalled. "The objective was to render this guy to law enforcement." In these operations, the CIA had to recruit agents "to grab [bin Laden] and bring him to a secure place where we can turn him over to the FBI. . . . If they had said 'lethal action' it would have been a whole different kettle of fish, and much easier."

Tenet is to blame too-- if the Commander in Chief is too feckless and cowardly and calculating to give an unambiguous order to kill bin Ladin, either resign in protest or man up and authorize a kill yourself.

Related: DNC Chariman Howard Dean, and other sources in the Democratic Party, don't seem to be as eager to make national security the number one issue in this campaign anymore, as they once promised.

A return to the "pocketbook issues" that won the 2002 and 2004 elections for them.

Sheesh, you'd think there was some kind of fundamental shift of the electorate's focus to security issues that the Democrats are disfavored on, or something.

A Moratorium On The Blame Game? Such is called for by Captain Ed, who notes, truthfully, there's a lot of blame to go around.

Allow me to disagree with his conclusion, however. Clinton himself just made this an issue again, by 1) claiming Bush "did nothing" for the seven months and 21 days he was in office to get bin Ladin, and 2) blaming his fecklessness, cowardice, and gross malfeasance on "rightwingers."

I don't bash Clinton an awful lot. I have MovedOn.org. Largely, anyway.

But this cowardly shit scuttled every one of his chances to kill bin Ladin back when he wasn't hidden immobile in a cave and entirely "off the net." If he wants to defend his choices, fine -- I'll criticize those, too, but without so much rancor.

If he wants to claim that "rightwingers" -- such as myself -- blocked him from getting bin Ladin, well, fuck that noise and fuck him sideways. I was enraged throughout the late ninteties that we weren't going after bin Ladin. He had every opportunity to kill him, but insisted on only giving authorization to "apprehend with lethal force" -- which just means "apprehend using guns rather than bolas and nets and Nerf bats."

This miserable coward couldn't even risk the insignificant political blowback of a mission going wrong, and he blames others for his well-nigh-criminal malfeasance?

We didn't elect you to get blowjobs from zoftig interns, asshole. And I know, because I did vote for Clinton in 1992, and I'm pretty sure "Let terrorists attack us with impunity while wetting your dick in the help" wasn't one of the top ten reasons for my vote.

In fact, now that I think about it, had he announced that as a campaign promise I probably would have voted for Bush.

Full Transcript Of Interview: Awesome. Compare his claims about authorizing people to kill bin Ladin with the article above.

It's also amusing that he says he "had a plan" to invade Afghanistan. Yes yes yes. Dude, we have "plans" to invade Britain, should that ever become necessary.

His only defense is Richard Clarke, over and over again.

Newsflash: Richard Clarke is a Democratic hack who advises Democratic candidates.

He questions the timing, too:

CLINTON: well every even number year right before an election they come up with some security issue. In 2000 right before the election …In 2002 our party supported them in undertaking weapon inspections in Iraq and were 100% behind them in Afghanistan and they didn’t have any way to make us look like we didn’t care about terror. And so they decided they would…the homeland security bill that they opposed and they put some pill in it that we wouldn’t pass like taking the job rights away from 170,000 people and then say that we were weak on terror if we weren’t for it… This year I think they wanted to make the question of prisoner treatment and intercepted communications the same sort of issue until John Warner came and Lindsey Graham got in there and it turns out there were some Republicans who believe in the constitution and their convictions…some ideas about how best to fight terror.

...

We’re going to win a lot of seats if the American people aren’t afraid. If they’re afraid and we get divided again then we’ll only win a few seats.

WALLACE: Do you think the White House and the Republicans want to make the American people afraid.

CLINTON: Of course they do. They want another homeland security bill and they want to make it not about Iraq but some other security issue. Where if we disagree with them we are by definition endangering the security of the country. And it’s a big load of hooey..

Imagine -- making security a political issue during political campaigns largely about security.

Odd that Democrats wanted to make security the number one issue in this campaign -- until recently -- and that wasn't hitting below the belt then.

It's only hitting below the belt when the issue seems to favor Republicans, I guess.

Thanks to Larwyn.



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posted by Ace at 03:01 PM

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