by Keiler Hook
Are the FBI and CIA fumbling around again and calling it a victory? Is the detaining of Abdullah al Muhajir, previously known as Jose Padilla, just another spin by the administration to keep us distracted from the reality of the inadequacy of the intelligence community? It certainly appears that way.
To repeat old news, Mr. Al Muhajir is of Puerto Rican descent and raised a Catholic. He converted to Islam either while in jail or when he married a Muslim woman, depending on what story you choose to believe. He was born in Brooklyn, New York and resided in both Chicago and Broward County, Florida. He has a criminal record and served time in jail. He left the country in 1998 and allegedly is a member of Al Qaeda.
The intelligence community, last month, detained 31-year-old Mr. al Muhajir after he arrived in Chicago from Pakistan. Allegedly al Muhajir was carrying "dirty bomb" plans. Now the government is backing down from its initial stance that al Muhajir was carrying these plans. On what evidence did the government hold al Muhajir? The government refuses to comment. Have we utterly abandoned our Constitution? If so, folks, we are all victims of this war on terror.
Attorney General John Ashcroft turned al Muhajir over to the military after holding him as a material witness for a month. The government had to make a choice by the first week in June 2002, to either release him or reclassify him as an "enemy combatant" for military detention. The better choice in my mind would have been to release him and keep him under surveillance. An even better choice than that would have been to release him shortly after detaining him on May 8, 2002. There was insufficient evidence to hold him and he could have led authorities to his destinations and his associates.
Al Muhajir had committed no crime. If he had plans on him, and now that fact is in question, it is not a crime. He did research on the Internet about dirty bombs. That is not a crime. Soldier of Fortune magazine has been revealing how to make a bomb to its favorite National Rifle Association (NRA) readers for years.
The government is saying that they are detaining him to interrogate him more thoroughly. "He clearly had associates, and one of the things we want to ask him about is who those associates were and how we can track them down," said Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz. Mr. Al Muhajir gave no information for the past thirty days, why would he change his mind? Wouldn't following him have perhaps led to answers to the questions asked by the deputy secretary? Where is the intelligence here?
It looks like the CIA, the FBI, and the Justice Department want us to believe they are correcting things, but don't they look stupid? If al Muhajir's involvement in a bombing plot was in the "initial stage" then why not put him under surveillance? Now the government is saying that al Muhajir came to the U.S. to scout sites for bombing. Again, wouldn't it be to our advantage to discover where this man was scouting? More important, wouldn't it be to the government's advantage to discover his associates?
It just looks suspicious; the government seems to just stop short of truly gathering information that will lead to a real arrest for a real crime. The intelligence agencies are looking so deficient, were they looking for a quick fix? Or was this incident another way to scare and arouse the American people into thinking the war on terror is succeeding? So their plan is: let's pick this guy up early, don't follow him, we may get over our head in information and then what would we do? These agencies dropped the ball in the middle of the game. And politics seemed to have won over strategy. This action is bad policy and bad intelligence.
This man is now in a legal limbo. He is a citizen and sometime soon his lawyer, Donna Newman, will demand "habeas corpus" and that the government either charge al Muhajir or release him. Ms. Newman had arranged for a hearing and the night before it was supposed to take place the government scooped him up and sent him to a Naval Base in Charleston, South Carolina. Mr. Bush can imprison or detain anyone he labels a criminal. Al Muhajir can be now held until the end of this endless war on terrorism.
Al Muhajir is a rather insignificant terrorist and not an al Qaeda chief operations planner the government made him out to be. A terrorist expert called him a "wannabe" terrorist. The government has spun this story so as to distract us again. We fell for it. I think all of us are suffering from "intelligence" hangovers this morning.
The president used this incident to encourage passage of his Homeland Security Department (HSD). This time he may have something to tempt doubters. The HSD will not house the Intelligence Agencies, a fact that must have the drafters of the new department sighing with relief. None of the Intelligence people in this country looked very intelligent.
We have Mr. Ashcroft from Moscow announcing this huge arrest of al Muhajir. Mr. Wolfowitz is bragging to all of us what a major bust this is. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld was all over the tube last night congratulating the agencies on a job well done. They all look rather foolish as the morning-after reared its ugly head.
I read that the administration is irritated with Mr. Ashcroft because of his hyperbole surrounding the al Muhajir case. They only have themselves to blame for putting such an unintelligent man in charge of intelligence. The man keeps putting his foot in his mouth and then expecting praise for his agility. Ditto for his boss, our President, and, Mr. Rumsfeld, Mr. Wolfowitz and the rest of the intelligence community.
I know little about espionage but surely I would think one of its first lessons has to be "follow the suspect." Surveillance certainly would have made the better option. Now we have a nobody in custody that perhaps could have led us to a somebody in charge. Surveillance is much too simple an idea for this government and way too intelligent.
Keiler Hook "is a woman, a mother, an activist, and a journalist" from the Deep South in the United States, who writes pieces mostly concerning the "War on Terror" and the "War on Drugs"; both subjects capturing her passion and her talent.
This article originally appeared at YellowTimes.org: http://www.YellowTimes.org.