Saturday, January 9, 2010

On Sarah Palin and the Underwear Bomber

I really don’t enjoy responding to Sarah Palin’s asinine comments.

It’s like rebutting the drunk, retarded guy you find yourself sitting next to on the bus. The guy’s obviously off his rocker, and the more he talks, the crazier he gets. But you just don’t have the heart to explain to the guy how reality really works. So you just sit there, try to listen to your iPod, look up and nod when he starts to get too rambunctious.

But today I feel the need to respond to Sarah Palin’s latest Facebook post. And, yes, that last sentence made me feel extremely ridiculous. I’m responding to Sarah Palin’s Facebook post. Good God.

But here’s the thing. Unlike the guy on the bus, people actually take Sarah Palin seriously. Millions of Muslim-hating Evangelical Christians throughout the country actually take their marching orders from Sarah Palin. So I’m left with no choice. Really.

In her post, Sarah berates President Obama for his refusal to designate Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (a.k.a. the underwear bomber) an enemy combatant:

It simply makes no sense to treat an al Qaeda-trained operative willing to die in the course of massacring hundreds of people as a common criminal. Reports indicate that Abdulmutallab stated there were many more like him in Yemen but that he stopped talking once he was read his Miranda rights. President Obama’s advisers lamely claim Abdulmutallab might be willing to agree to a plea bargain – pretty doubtful you can cut a deal with a suicide bomber. John Brennan, the President’s top counterterrorism adviser, bizarrely claimed “there are no downsides or upsides” to treating terrorists as enemy combatants. That is absurd. There is a very serious downside to treating them as criminals: terrorists invoke their “right” to remain silent and stop talking. Terrorists don’t tell us where they were trained, what they were trained in, who they were trained by, and who they were trained with. Giving foreign-born, foreign-trained terrorists the right to remain silent does nothing to keep Americans safe from terrorist threats. It only gives our enemies access to courtrooms where they can publicly grandstand, and to defense attorneys who can manipulate the legal process to gain access to classified information.

So, according to Sarah, granting terrorist suspects such constitutional protections as habeas corpus, the right to an attorney, and the right to remain silent precludes the possibility of garnering valuable, potentially life-saving information from them. Because, she claims, once terror suspects are given these rights, they’ll just shut up, refuse to plea-bargain. But surely she must know that people charged with even the most heinous crimes are generally willing to plea-bargain, to divulge important information, even sell-out their buddies for reduced sentences. Why an al-Qaeda suspect would be different isn’t clear. And Sarah, in typical Sarah fashion, never gives us an argument.

Had she bothered to do a simple Google search, she would have learned that al-Qaeda guys aren’t all that different in this regard. For example, take the case of Bryant Neal Vinas, an American-born al-Qaeda operative captured in Pakistan in 2008. Instead of whisking him away to Guantanamo Bay and subjecting him to “enhanced interrogation,” the Bush administration decided to grant Vinas the same protections afforded to other American criminal suspects. And Vinas ended up providing the FBI with what one law enforcement official called “an intelligence gold mine.” Another official claimed that Vinas provided a “treasure trove” of information. Among other things, Vinas told authorities about various al-Qaeda plots and even provided them with “the locations of safe houses and suspected terrorists.”

And Vinas’ story is not unique. Former FBI special agent Ali Soufan has testified how he was able to get Abu Jandal, Osama bin Laden’s body guard, to open up just by offering him some sugar-free cookies (h/t Raw Story). “While Abu Jandal was venting his spleen, Soufan noticed that he didn't touch any of the cookies that had been served with tea: ‘He was a diabetic and couldn’t eat anything with sugar in it.’ At their next meeting, the Americans brought him some sugar-free cookies, a gesture that took the edge off Abu Jandal’s angry demeanor. ‘We had showed him respect, and we had done this nice thing for him,’ Soufan recalls. ‘So he started talking to us instead of giving us lectures.’”

But Sarah Palin would send Abdulmuttalab and other terror suspects to Guantanamo Bay and subject them to “enhanced interrogation.” Even though all the available evidence suggests that such techniques don’t work. As former CIA agent Robert Baer writes: “When I was in the CIA I never came across a country that systematically tortures its citizens and at the same time produces useful intelligence.” Baer continues: “For the last three years I have been in and out of Israeli jails interviewing members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Many of them had been in suicide bomber cells — just the kind of people the Israelis would want to extract every last detail out of. None of them, however, claimed to have been tortured. The Israelis found out what they needed to know using traditional, legal police methods. It simply isn't worth it for them to risk damaging their already shaky international reputation by torturing suspects on the slim hope they just may get a lead.”

Along with Baer, many others in the know have concluded that torture, or enhanced interrogation, or whatever the hell you want to call it, doesn’t work—e.g., FBI Director Robert Mueller, FBI agents Ali Soufan, Jack Cloonan, Daniel Coleman, former CIA Director Porter Goss, CIA agent Milt Bearden, numerous other CIA agents, Air Force Col. John Rothrock, Air Force interrogator Matthew Alexander, Army Brig. Gen. David R. Irvine, Army Col. Stuart Herrington, the State Department’s number 2 counterterrorism official, the Senate Armed Services Committee, Rear Admiral John Hutson, former Assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence Korb, former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit Michael Scheuer, the Army Field Manual, DOJ Inspector General Glenn Fine, the 2004 CIA Inspector General Report, and many others.

If Sarah Palin spent a little more time reading newspapers and magazines and a little less time watching 24, she might actually know this.


  1. Apparently a lot of brainless warmongering conservatives feel the same way:

  2. Heh. Like the last paragraph. I'm not surprised about all this; good stuff.

  3. Great post.

    And am I the only one who lol'ed at the 'drunk retarded guy' hyperlink?

  4. Yeah, the drunk, retarded guy picture is a riot. But I swear, I really have sat next to that guy -- or at least someone who looked a lot like him -- on the bus.


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