Saturday, February 21, 2004

Do We Really Want to Return to This?

Do We Really Want to Return to This?

John Kerry declared that fighting terrorism was a law enforcement issue, and not a military matter. The biggest trouble with that is that it's been tried before and it failed miserably.

Policy Disputes Over Hunt Paralyzed Clinton's Aides

By Steve Coll
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 22, 2004; Page A17

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. The ban on assassinations -- contained in a 1981 executive order by President Ronald Reagan -- did not apply to military targets, the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel had previously ruled in classified opinions. Bin Laden's Tarnak Farm and other terrorist camps in Afghanistan were legitimate military targets under this definition, White House lawyers agreed.

Also, the assassination ban did not apply to attacks carried out in preemptive self-defense -- when it seemed likely that the target was planning to strike the United States. Clearly bin Laden qualified under this standard as well.


[T]he 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.

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