Daily Archives: June 17, 2014

Abu Khattala’s capture is an I-told-you-so moment for Obama. But it could be short-lived.

986

President Obama has long described the political aftermath of the attacks in Benghazi, Libya, as a “sideshow,” a running series of partisan theatrics designed to embarrass the administration and inflame the conservative base.

It is now, for the first time in nearly two years, at the center of the American political conversation on terms Obama very much favors.

The weekend capture of Ahmed Abu Khattala, one of the suspected ringleaders of the Sept. 11, 2012, assaults on a U.S. diplomatic compound and a CIA-run annex, gives Obama another I-told-you-so moment in Washington’s scorekeeping culture.

But the achievement is likely to do little to tamp down the partisan fervor surrounding the administration’s public management of the deadly Benghazi attacks, a still-raw political legacy of the 2012 presidential campaign that continues to preoccupy Republican lawmakers and their most ardent supporters on the right.

How Obama decides to talk about Abu Khattala’s capture in the coming weeks may close the alternately infuriating and baffling episode for many Americans beyond the Beltway. Obama promised to bring to justice the killers of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, and now, one of the alleged culprits is in U.S. hands.

“It’s important for us to send a message to the world that when Americans are attacked, no matter how long it takes, we will find those responsible and we will bring them to justice,” the president said Tuesday at an event in Pittsburgh. “That’s a message I sent the day after it happened, and regardless of how long it takes, we will find you. I want to make sure everyone around the world hears that message very clearly.”

A portrait of Ahmed Abu Khattala, as confirmed by two sources to The Washington Post. (Facebook)

For many in Washington, though, Benghazi has never been primarily about the attacks.

The capture does little to explain how the administration devised a set of “talking points,” requested at the time by members of Congress prepping for news media questions, that Republicans have come to view as a politically calculated obfuscation that helped shield Obama’s reelection effort from criticism.

That has been the Republican emphasis — and it is likely to remain so, given that then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, warming up to the idea of a presidential run in 2016, remains vulnerable. Recent polling suggests that much of the public, despite administration protests that the issue is a distraction from more pressing concerns, wants additional answers.

Within hours of the news that Abu Khattala had been captured, congressional Republicans congratulated the U.S. military, if not the White House.

But the partisan concern shifted quickly to the questions of where Abu Khattala would be held, at a time when Obama is seeking to shutter the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and whether the president would extend legal protections given to civilians charged with crimes.

The answers from the administration — no to Guantanamo, yes to due process — disappointed some prominent conservatives.

“The American people and the families of the victims deserve answers on this attack,” Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement. “As with all detained al Qaeda affiliated extremists, I hope Abu Khattala will be treated as an enemy combatant and interrogated to the fullest extent possible. Obtaining information and intelligence from this terrorist must be our first priority.”

The capture recalls the May 2011 mission in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden, a measured gamble that focused public opinion around Obama’s foreign policy competence and commitment to respect the legacy of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

It convinced most voters that the president elected to end the nation’s post-9/11 wars could still fight overseas, using intelligence, Special Operations forces and drones rather than vast armies. The public at the time agreed, pushing up his approval rating by nearly double digits within days of the bin Laden raid.

But like that one, this operation, too, may have a short-lived political benefit.

National security tactics and American global strategy are vastly different matters, and Obama’s foreign-policy-by-Special-Ops has proved in the past to have a political shelf life far shorter than he would like. The nine-point bump Obama received in the polls in the days after announcing bin Laden’s death had evaporated a month later.

Iraq, the nation’s most controversial post-9/11 project, is crumbling along sectarian lines under the crush of an armed Sunni Muslim insurgency. Syria is failing as a state, both in its governance and its territorial structure, with its eastern border fading as a line in Iraq’s western desert.

Post-revolution and now post-coup Egypt is again in the hands of the kind of military strongman Obama had pledged to no longer support in the name of stability. A newly ambitious Russia has annexed Crimea from Ukraine — and appears to be feeling little pressure to return it under U.S.-led international economic sanctions.

The American public has noticed, even as its post-9/11 wars come to an end. A Washington Post-ABC News poll published this month found that 41 percent of Americans approve of the way Obama manages international affairs, the lowest rating of his presidency.

But it is more than simply the array of faltering foreign places currently occupying Obama’s foreign policy agenda that may make the capture less important than the White House might hope.

It is also the nature of Benghazi, now like a Brazilian soccer star who needs only a single name, as a political issue that makes it particularly resistant to resolution.

Since the attacks, Benghazi has become the angry shorthand used by conservatives to describe what many of them view as Obama’s politically calibrated — and often feckless — foreign policy.

The assault, found to be a coordinated attack made amid the confusion provided by an anti-American demonstration, occurred during a bitter reelection contest.

In a race largely about the U.S. economy, Obama nonetheless relied on a reputation for competence and pragmatism in managing foreign affairs, as well as a national security policy that while reducing American forces abroad had “decimated,” in his words, al-Qaeda’s leadership.

Benghazi challenged Obama’s contention that he had al-Qaeda on the run.

Most worrisome to the president’s political team was Benghazi’s fading effect on the glow still surrounding the bin Laden mission, which Obama had celebrated a few months earlier with a series of speeches and campaign videos that made him a star of the story.

In the first days after the Benghazi assaults, the administration’s confused response began, in Washington and on the campaign trail at least, to seem to some Republicans as more significant than the security failure itself and what that failure said about Obama’s foreign policy. Stevens, 52, was the first serving U.S. ambassador killed in more than three decades.

Only a year earlier, Obama had opened a third U.S.-led war in a Muslim nation to protect the rebellious enclave of Benghazi from Moammar Gaddafi. Far from grateful, the city, seething as part of the wider anti-American unrest across the Islamic world, had turned sharply on its ostensible saviors.

Republicans focused on the administration’s messaging, rather than on whether Obama’s commitment to Libya had faltered or whether, even more essentially, his broader outreach to the Islamic word had been ill-conceived all along.

But recent polling has shown that Benghazi still resonates with much of the country, namely the questions many Republicans say remain unanswered despite a series of congressional hearings.

Those include where Obama was at the time of the attacks, how and why they were carried out, and who in the administration decided to emphasize a spontaneous protest as the root of the assaults rather than terrorist planning.

How raw and unresolved Benghazi remains, particularly on the right, was visible this week at a forum hosted by the conservative Heritage Foundation.

A Muslim woman questioning the consensus view at the meeting that Islam is the enemy was challenged by an angry crowd, after hearing from panelists who, among other charges, accused Obama of seeking to impose sharia law in the United States.

Republicans in Congress have remained closer to the attacks and the administration’s response than some of their conservative supporters. But the level of persistence remains years and many committee hearings after the event.

Last week, members of Congress pressed FBI Director James B. Comey Jr. for a sense of the administration’s progress on finding Abu Khattala, part of the designated terrorist organization Ansar al-Sharia, and whether he believed the U.S. government had the legal authority to apprehend him if located.

“In terms of Benghazi and the perpetrators, would you say at this point that finding the perpetrators and bringing them to justice is purely a matter for law enforcement?” Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) asked Comey during a House Judiciary Committee hearing.

“No,” Comey said. “I would say as in any case, especially terrorism cases, all instruments of U.S. power are brought to bear.”

“But is your understanding — because it is my understanding that the administration’s position is — that they do not have the legal authority to lethally engage Ansar al-Sharia or whoever you want to say committed those attacks?” Goodlatte persisted.

“I don’t want to talk about how I’m approaching that investigation because I don’t want to give anything away to the bad guys,” Comey said.

On Tuesday, Obama had a new set of talking points about Benghazi and its epilogue.

Like congressional Republicans, he thanked the military, law enforcement agencies and the intelligence community for the mission. He also sought to head off accusations that he is moving on from Benghazi, saying the pursuit of all those behind the attacks will proceed.

“We will remain vigilant against all acts of terrorism,” Obama said in a statement, echoing the phrase he first used in the Rose Garden the day after the assaults, “and we will continue to prioritize the protection of our service members and civilians overseas.”

 The Washington Post.

Advertisements

Benghazi attack suspect captured by American team, en route to US

589

A suspected terrorist linked to the 2012 Benghazi terror attack that killed four Americans has been captured inside Libya by U.S. forces and currently is en route to the United States, Fox News has learned.

Sources told Fox News that the suspect, Ansar al-Sharia commander Ahmed Abu Khattala, was captured Sunday during a joint U.S. military and law enforcement operation, and will face prosecution in the United States.

President Obama signed off on the mission on Friday night, Fox News is told. Khattala was captured south of Benghazi by U.S. special operators and is on his way to the U.S. aboard a Navy ship.

Khattala was long thought to be one of the ringleaders of the deadly attack, in which U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans died. He had openly granted media interviews since the 2012 attack, but until now evaded capture.

The capture marks the first time the United States has caught one of the suspects in the 2012 assault.

“He didn’t know what hit him,” one source told Fox News of the capture. According to sources, there was no firefight — a small Special Forces team with one FBI agent took part in the mission.

White House and Pentagon officials publicly confirmed the capture late Tuesday morning. In a written statement, Obama said: “The United States has an unwavering commitment to bring to justice those responsible for harming Americans.”

He thanked the “painstaking efforts of our military, law enforcement, and intelligence personnel,” and said the suspect would “now face the full weight of the American justice system.”

“With this operation, the United States has once again demonstrated that we will do whatever it takes to see that justice is done when people harm Americans. We will continue our efforts to bring to justice those who were responsible for the Benghazi attacks,” Obama said.

Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby called Khattala a “key figure in the attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi.” He said there were no civilian casualties in the weekend operation, and all U.S. personnel have “safely departed” Libya.

The administration has faced sustained criticism from some in Congress and the families of the victims over the fact that no one had been brought to justice since that day in 2012.

State Department official Sean Smith, and CIA contractors Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were also killed during the attack. Khattala’s capture came 642 days later.

With Khattala expected to face prosecution in a U.S. court, the administration already is being pressed to hold off on reading him his Miranda rights until he is interrogated.

“I am pleased that Khattala is finally in U.S. custody, and I am grateful for the military, intelligence, and law enforcement professionals who helped capture him,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., said in a statement, adding: “Rather than rushing to read him his Miranda rights and telling him he has the right to remain silent, I hope the administration will focus on collecting the intelligence necessary to prevent future attacks and to find other terrorists responsible for the Benghazi attacks.”

Khattala faces three counts in the federal complaint against him, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

They are: killing a person in the course of an attack on a federal facility; providing or attempting to provide support to terrorists resulting in death; and using or carrying a firearm in relation to a crime of violence.

Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department retains the option of adding additional charges.

“Our nation’s memory is long and our reach is far,” Holder said in a statement, adding: “Even as we begin the process of putting Khatallah on trial and seeking his conviction before a jury, our investigation will remain ongoing as we work to identify and arrest any co-conspirators.”

Khattala, until this past weekend, had loomed as an almost taunting presence. A month after the attack, he admitted to Fox News that he was at the scene of the attack, though claimed he did not plan it. At the time, he claimed he was just directing traffic and looking after fellow militia members guarding the complex.

He offered no remorse, though, for the killing of four Americans. At the time, he said he had not yet been contacted by U.S. officials.

Total US debt soars to nearly $60 trn, foreshadows new recession

America – its government, businesses, and people – are nearly $60 trillion in debt, according to the latest economic data from thethe St. Louis Federal Reserve. And private debt – not government borrowing – is the biggest reason for the huge deficit.

Total US debt at the end of the first quarter of 2014, on March 31 totaled almost $59.4 trillion – up nearly $500 billion from the end of the fourth quarter of 2013, according to the data. Total debt (the combination of government, business, mortgage, and consumer debt) was $2.2 trillion 40 years ago.

“In 50 short years, debt has gone from being a luxury for a few to a convenience for many to an addiction for most to a disease for all,” James Butler wrote in an Independent Voters Network (IVN) op-ed. “It is a virus that has spread to every aspect of our economy, from a consumer using a credit card to buy a $0.75 candy bar in a vending machine to a government borrowing $17 trillion to keep the lights on.”

According to a 2012 study published in the Economist, rapid growth in private debt is a better predictor of recessions than increases in public debt, growth in money supply, or trade imbalances. Consumer credit in the US rose by 22 percent over the last three years, reaching a record-high $3.18 trillion in April, the Fed reported on Friday.

Credit card use (or revolving credit) rose by $8.8 billion, while non-revolving credit like auto loans and student loans made by the government surged up by $18 billion in April. Non-revolving credit jumped by 8.2 percent over the last year, while revolving credit only rose 2.2 percent over the same time period.

“For a while after the recession it was trendy to cut up your credit cards and get out of debt,” Michael Snyder wrote in an InfoWars op-ed. “But that fad wore off rather quickly, didn’t it?”

Snyder noted that 56 percent of all Americans have a subprime credit rating, and that the average monthly car payment in the US is $474. He added that 52 percent of homeowners are overextended on their mortgages and “cannot even afford the house that they are living in right now.”

Debt is hurting young adults the most. Millennials say they are spending at least half their monthly paychecks on paying off debt, a recent Wells Fargo survey found. And two years out of college, half of all graduates are still relying on their parents or other family members for some sort of financial help, according to a University of Arizona study, which also found that only 49 percent of graduates are working full-time.

“Whether or not a weak labor market is increasing the need for intergenerational support — a likely driver in today’s economy — our data clearly showed that many young adults today may not be earning enough to make it on their own, even when working full time,” the report stated.

Most of the debt that young adults face is student loan debt, which totals more than $1.2 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve. Of that debt, approximately $124 billion is more than 90 days delinquent.

“What we have done to our young people is shameful. We have encouraged them to sign up for a lifetime of debt slavery before they even understand what life is all about,” Snyder wrote.

The Congressional Budget Office predicts that the economy will stall by 2017 because Americans will continue spending, but wages and wealth won’t be going up – leading to increased income inequality in the country, the Guardian reported.

“That ever-increasing gap between income and consumption has been filled by borrowing,” the Guardian said. “These were the debt dynamics in the lead-up to the recession. But they are also the dynamics leading out of the crisis, and continuing today with no end in sight.”

Economists have not agreed on how to stave off the impending crisis. But Americans’ addiction to spending on credit will not help.

“The problem is, the more debt we have, the more future income must be used to pay the debt and its interest, which reduces the money we have to spend on things. This works to slow the economy,” Butler wrote.

“Eventually, the negative effect of the debt load becomes stronger than the positive effect of the added spending and a recession is triggered — or worse.”

Obama announces 275 troops to deploy to Iraq for embassy security in Baghdad

US President Barack Obama has announced 275 US troops will be deployed to Iraq to provide security for the US Embassy in Baghdad as Sunni insurgents continue to test the nation’s security forces in its push closer to the capital.

“This force is deploying for the purpose of protecting U.S. citizens and property, if necessary, and is equipped for combat,” Obama said in a letter sent to House and Senate leaders.“This force will remain in Iraq until the security situation becomes such that it is no longer needed.”

The White House press secretary said the deployment of the US Armed Forces personnel is “consistent with the War Powers Resolution.”

“The personnel will provide assistance to the Department of State in connection with the temporary relocation of some staff from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad to the U.S. Consulates General in Basra and Erbil and to the Iraq Support Unit in Amman,” the press secretary said in a statement. “These U.S. military personnel are entering Iraq with the consent of the Government of Iraq. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad remains open, and a substantial majority of the U.S. Embassy presence in Iraq will remain in place and the embassy will be fully equipped to carry out its national security mission.”

The White House had reportedly dropped any idea of sending US combat troops to Iraq.

“The president was very clear that we will not be sending U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq,” White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement. “That remains the case and he has asked his national security team to prepare a range of other options that could help support Iraqi security forces.”

The White House did not comment on whether the announcement of embassy security represents a possible break from the Obama administration’s policy against future combat troops in Iraq.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration is said to be considering offering a small contingent of American special forces soldiers to Iraq, US officials said Monday.

The plan would incorporate as many as 100 soldiers in a non-combat, training role to assist Iraqi forces against fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS or ISIL) that have gained ground in nation’s north and west, three US officials told AP on the condition of anonymity.

The special forces plan is reportedly high on the list of options the US is considering in offering the Shiite-led government in Iraq help against the Sunni insurgents as ISIS pushes toward the nation’s capital.

Earlier Monday, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that – in addition to security assistance like Hellfire missiles and surveillance drones already supplied to Iraq – the US is considering using manned or unmanned drone airstrikes to counter insurgent momentum.

It is yet clear whether the special forces soldiers on the advising and “non-operational training” mission would be sent to Baghdad or elsewhere closer to cities and areas where ISIS and other militant groups have established control in a nation reeling from continual violence and division.

The troops would be under the authority of the US ambassador, a US official said, and that they would be there to train Iraqi security forces on military bases.

It was also reported Monday that the USS Mesa Verde, with 550 Marines onboard, has entered the Persian Gulf on Monday for a possible operation in Iraq.

Iraq has requested the hastened delivery of major weapons orders, including dozens of F-16 fighter jets contracted with Lockheed Martin and dozens of Boeing’s Apache helicopters, to counter the insurgent fighters.

“What we are saying is that there needs to be a sense of urgency,” Lukman Faily, Iraq’s ambassador to the US, told The Wall Street Journal last week. “We now expect the US to appreciate this sense of urgency.”

An offshoot of Al-Qaeda, ISIS, the hyper-fundamentalist group active in Iraq and Syria, fell out with the global terrorist network. It gained notoriety for its ruthless tactics, which include publicly crucifying and beheading those who violate their strict religious interpretations. Its rise and consolidation owe a great deal to the simultaneous power vacuum that arose after the Syrian civil war broke out and the ongoing tumult in Iraq after the US invasion and occupation.

Fighting against the Shia governments of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad and Bashar Assad in Damascus has also allowed the Sunni organization to recruit thousands of people under its aim of eventually turning the entire region into an ultraconservative Muslim caliphate.