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A Case for Guantanamo By: Lt. Col. Gordon Cucullu
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Largely unreported are the increasing cases of Islamic terrorists convicted of crimes in the U.S. under the criminal justice system. We are all aware of high profile cases such as John Walker Lindh, the so-called “American Taliban”; John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, the “Beltway Snipers”; and Zacarias Moussaoui, the “Twentieth Hijacker”; but we are less familiar with many, many others that the media chooses to overlook or pay scant attention.

This is not the case of a few isolated, scattered incidents. FrontPage Magazine columnist Daniel Pipes has documented more than 30 such incidents post-September 11, 2001. Some of the highlights are:

·        July 2002 - Hesham Mohamed Ali Hadayet’s double murder at the El Al counter in Los Angeles airport.

·        March 2003 – Hasan Akbar’s fragging of his two officers (at an overseas U.S. military base).

·        August 2003 - Mohammed Ali Alayed’s murder of Ariel Sellouk in Houston.

·        January 2005 - The Armanious family massacre.

·        May-July 2005 – The Jam’iyyat Ul-Islam Is-Saheeh robbery spree to fund future terrorist activities.


Pipes cites “more than 200” cases in which American Muslims have “turned to terrorism.” He acknowledges that may be a small number compared to the three million Muslims living here. But, he notes, post 911 it is a “rising pathology.” In July 2005 Islamic leader Ali Al-Timimi received life imprisonment for encouraging followers to follow jihad by training in al-Qaeda sponsored terrorist camps. A year earlier Randall Royer and Ibrahim Al-Hamdi were convicted in Northern Virginia courts of weapons and explosives charges along with conspiracy to use them. These are becoming typical, not isolated cases.


Recently the conviction of Florida professor and Palestinian terrorist fund-raiser Sami al-Arian has re-focused attention on the many ways in which Islamofascist supporters can harm this country and our allies. Not only by direct action attacks such as bombings, assassinations, and hijackings, but perhaps more dangerous by proselytizing, money laundering, fund raising, and propaganda missions. Entire organizations such as CAIR devote their abundant wealth to defending Muslim extremism most often by denial. Yet, as Pipes and others note, despite our efforts the threat is growing. The question is raised, are we squandering an intelligence resource by keeping these convicted terrorists within the criminal justice system? Or is there a preferable alternative?


For example, at the moment Zacarias Moussaoui, an admitted, unrepentant terrorist, faces either the death penalty or life in a Federal penitentiary. These are decisions under debate. But are they the only options? Let’s see. A jury determined Moussaoui intentionally “lied with lethal intent and that his lies directly resulted in at least one death in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.” They were convinced that sufficient evidence had been presented to qualify the self-described “twentieth hijacker” for the death penalty. Suppose that is the ultimate sentence?


Given that Moussaoui despises America and is a dedicated Islamofascist he will draw overwhelming sympathy from the left. He will be showered with pro-bono legal advice – even if he rejects it - and friend of the court briefs will be filed on his behalf so that his execution – if it ever takes place – will be delayed interminably. Contrast this to the rush to execution that characterized the fate of white, male, former military man, Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVey. The argument is not that McVey deserved less but that in our unseemly speed vital secrets went to the grave with him.


One indisputable fact emerges from the hasty execution of McVey: we lost forever the opportunity to interrogate him properly. Did Iraqi, Philippine al Qaeda, or other global terrorist connections play a part in the Murrah Building bombing? Underappreciated, superb investigative journalist Jayna Davis is convinced that she discovered these ties and more. Unfortunately we shall never know, at least from McVey. Does it make sense for long term U.S. security to let vengeance take precedent over good intelligence information collection?


Just as it would have made excellent sense to interrogate McVey thoroughly, professionally, not by criminal investigators but by skilled military interrogators, it would make equal sense to do likewise with the current crop of terrorists held in the criminal justice system. How much help could we get in pursuing the war for the free world to be able to extract key information that Moussaoui and the two dozen or more terrorists hold close? We can’t do that post-mortem. Nor are there provisions for proper military interrogation in the Federal prison system.


The Federal prison system has a straightforward mission: incarcerate. There are no  interrogation requirements needed, it being assumed that all the questioning necessary for the prison sentence was accomplished at or prior to trial. Conversely, the provisions for both incarceration and interrogation exist and are fully functioning at Guantanamo Bay. The unique detention/interrogation capabilities of Joint Task Force – Guantanamo provide the environment for secure detention of terrorists while being able to conduct long term, through interrogation under humane conditions.


Despite contrary fever-swamp rhetoric, detainees at the Guantanamo facility are treated exceedingly well. Interrogations are conducted with a goal of establishing rapport and mutual respect between the detainee and questioner. There is no torture, no abuse, no humiliation, and no coercion. Detainees are interrogated on a regular basis and talk or not as they wish. Are they rewarded for cooperation? Of course. And the system is positive: cooperate with interrogators and be compliant with regulations and you have more recreation time, live in a communal environment in a minimum security block. Stubborn? Then enjoy your time in your private cell with restricted outside opportunities.


There are a lot of cases in Gitmo where some detainees who have remained silent for years will suddenly speak. Others are recklessly proud of what they have done and brag openly about killing Americans and fellow Muslim “apostates” who do not accede to the harsh Wahabbist ideology they espouse. They talk freely and encourage fellow detainees to do the same. Which category would Moussaoui and these other terrorists fall into? We will never know as long as they remain in Federal prison in America.


The objectives military interrogation are simple: learn as much as possible about America’s sworn enemies, their organization, and possible operations directed against this country. Behind bars at Guantanamo are men who are knowledgeable of al Qaeda organization, recruiting, training, bomb manufacture, financing, money laundering, and operations. The role of an interrogator is to learn information that then is handed off to analysts who assemble complex jig-saw puzzles that transcend linguistic, cultural, national, and ideological zones. The process is painstaking and difficult. Our people are becoming masters at it.


Sometimes a single missing piece, a casual bit of information from a detainee, may be sufficient to bring the entire picture into focus. This is where terrorists held in America may add value. Their secret information could be a long-term, positive addition to vital knowledge in this ongoing war. Convicted terrorists are better held in Gitmo where they may or may not talk than strapped to a gurney waiting lethal injection or simply doing time in prison. In John Lindh’s case, for example, he does not repent his al Qaeda affiliation but has further radicalized himself in a California prison and has become a “role model” for other potential jihadist prisoners. What good it this to the greater need? His secrets will likely never be revealed. Certainly if these thugs receive lengthy prison sentences that time is better served in Guantanamo. It seems the most logical option.


During the 911 Commission proceedings much was made of the artificial “wall” that then Assistant Attorney General Jamie Gorelick and others installed that forbad law enforcement and intelligence communities from conversing. There was a justifiable outcry to tear down this information exchange wall. It is common knowledge in the community that the missions of interrogators – criminal or intelligence – vary. The justice system simply wants to build a solid criminal case against an individual while the military interrogators seek to thwart and overcome an enemy.


Yet we persist in artificial separation. Why not apply those lessons learned from the pre-911 wall to the situation we currently face, handling of terrorists after court convictions in the States? The artificial barrier between criminal and terrorist – and the refusal to interrogate them properly - only benefits our enemies and is a completely unnecessary impediment to prosecuting the war properly.


This policy ought to be standard procedure: any terrorists convicted in U.S. courts automatically serve their sentences at Guantanamo. Terry Nichols, John Walker Lindh, and Jose Padilla are names that come quickly to the tongue. The Lackawana Six, Sami al-Arian, and others around the country qualify. There are others and will be others in the future. Frankly speaking we need the information and contacts – domestic and international – that these terrorists possess to win the war. And Guantanamo is the only place to get it.


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Lt. Col. Gordon Cucullu has been an Army Green Beret lieutenant colonel, as well as a writer, popular speaker, business executive and farmer. His most recent book is Separated at Birth, about North and South Korea. He returned recently from an embed with soldiers in Iraq and has launched a web site called Support American Soldiers to assist traveling soldiers.

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