Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey gave Jennifer Rubin an interview that is not to be missed on “The decline of the Justice Department.” The interview appeared in the new issue of the Weekly Standard that was published on Saturday. Judge Mukasey gave up a lucrative legal practice to step into the breach at the Department of Justice during the last year of the Bush administration. He is a gentleman and a scholar as well as an old-fashioned patriot.
Given his professional experience, he also knows something about the war on terrorism. Among other things, he presided over the trial of the blind sheikh in connection with the first attack on the World Trade Center. Andrew McCarthy prosecuted the case and wrote the invaluable memoir Willful Blindness about the experience. McCarthy provided his assessment of Judge Mukasey here.
The Wall Street Journal asked Judge Mukasey to read and review two new books about Osama bin Laden and the war on terrorism. His review was published over the weekend in the Wall Street Journal, coincincidentally at the same time as Rubin’s Weekly Standard interview. Judge Mukasey’s review appeared in the Journal under the heading “America’s most wanted.”
The first of the two books under consideration is former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer’s Osama bin Laden. Scheuer turned up in my own “Three years of the Condor.” In that column I was in part taking a look back at the interesting role Scheuer had played in the CIA’s effort to undermine the Bush administration in 2004.
Scheuer is something of a nut. It is shocking to be reminded that this guy also led the CIA’s bin Laden unit from 1996-1999 and continued to serve as a counterterrorism analyst until he left the agency in November 2004. In his review, Judge Mukasey recalls the facts indicating that Scheuer is a banana or two short of a bunch. His judgment on Scheuer’s new book is discreet, but I don’t think anyone will feel impelled by the review to rush out and buy a copy.
The second of the two books under consideration is Peter Bergen’s The Longest War. Bergen is CNN’s national security analyst; I take it from Judge Mukasey’s review that Bergen gives us pretty much what you might expect from CNN’s national security analyst:
When Mr. Bergen turns to issues that have become highly politicized, the promised “objective analysis” comes out decidedly one way. The Bush administration, in his telling, was collectively asleep at the switch when al Qaeda struck on 9/11, even though the administration had a casus belli against al Qaeda–the October 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in Aden–already in place when it took office. (The Clinton administration did not respond to the attack, Mr. Bergen says, either out of a desire to protect President Clinton’s legacy-quest in the form of an Israeli-Palestinian peace or out of sheer exhaustion.)
Similar nonobjective analysis is applied to the 9/11 attack: It was a strategic blunder by al Qaeda, Mr. Bergen concedes, because the U.S. response destroyed the safe haven provided by the Taliban in Afghanistan; it nearly obliterated the senior leadership of the organization; and it elicited world-wide condemnation. But America, he says, then squandered its advantage by invading Iraq at the insistence of a small band of willful neocons. These people, some of whom had unspecified “ties” to Israel, according to the author, wanted to find a reason for war with Iraq and confected a link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda to add to the illusory pretext of weapons of mass destruction.
Then Mr. Bergen turns his analysis to how the Bush administration exacerbated the damage that the war in Iraq did to America’s “place in the world” with the “futile, counterproductive, and extralegal” manner of its treatment of suspected terrorists. The U.S. confined innocents at Guantanamo, he says, and turned them into radicals; handed over others to foreign governments with a wink and a nod that bespoke an awareness that they would be tortured; and allowed the CIA to run an interrogation program that “amounted to” torture and in any event yielded nothing valuable that could not have been obtained by conventional interrogation.
In the end, Mr. Bergen says, bin Laden’s call to radicalism seems likely to be rejected by Muslims not so much because of any exertions of the U.S. but because of the influence of “mainstream Islam itself.” After all, we’re told, the 9/11 attack itself was “un-Islamic” (emphasis in original).
Drawing on his professional background, Judge Mukasey passes judgment on Bergen’s analysis:
Each of the propositions above will be familiar to those whose appetite for current events is satiated by the majority of newspapers and television-news outlets. For those readers, “The Longest War” will be comfort food. Other readers, especially those familiar with the larger public record, will detect that virtually all of Mr. Bergen’s propositions contain a heavy dose of humbug.
Consider the matter of detainee treatment–the CIA interrogation program and Guantanamo. There is source material available–Marc Thiessen’s indispensable “Courting Disaster” comes to mind–describing in detail the considerable successes of the CIA program and the steps that were taken to ensure that it did not involve torture. (Torture, by the way, is a criminal offense with a definition–conduct under color of law undertaken with the specific intent to cause severe physical or mental pain or suffering–that is nowhere discussed by Mr. Bergen.)
Nor was there anything “extralegal” about the CIA interrogations. Jack Goldsmith, a well-regarded former Justice Department lawyer with firsthand knowledge, has written that, if anything, the whole U.S. approach to dealing with terrorists was lawyered down to a gnat’s eyelash. If an author really wanted to learn whether the CIA program was necessary and effective, he would have spoken to George Tenet and Gen. Michael Hayden, the two former CIA directors with personal knowledge; Mr. Bergen seems not to have interviewed either man.
As to Guantanamo itself, Mr. Bergen suggests that it is populated largely by hapless victims of circumstance, many of whom were radicalized by mistreatment–a suggestion that relies on such sources as the lawyer for one of the detainees and the International Committee of the Red Cross, which in turn relied on interviews with the detainees. Disregarded in all of this is not only common-sense skepticism about such sources but also such basic materials as the al Qaeda training manual seized in a 2000 raid in Manchester, England, which instructs would-be terrorists to claim, if captured, that they were tortured.
Myths about Guantanamo like those purveyed by Mr. Bergen have been exploded in numerous reports, including one in 2004 by the Navy’s inspector general, Adm. Albert T. Church III (a cousin of the late liberal icon Sen. Frank Church of Oregon), and by accounts that make it plain that there was a screening process for detainees, with less than 1% transferred to Guantanamo. The recidivism rate–of those released from the facility who were later recaptured or killed after returning to the fight–exceeds 20%. Mr. Bergen gives the game away when he reduces the figure to a reassuring 4% by excluding those whose lethal conduct is directed at non-U.S. targets. In short, Mr. Bergen asks us to take comfort in the news that it’s our allies’ end of the boat that’s sinking, not ours.
Judge Mukasey has more on these points, all of it worth reading. Here he turns to the question of Islam:
[C]onsider Mr. Bergen’s assertion that “mainstream Islam” is rejecting al Qaeda and that the 9/11 attack was “un-Islamic,” a judgment that fails twice over, including once on his own evidence. If by “mainstream Islam” Mr. Bergen means moderate Islam, there is no such thing. There are many moderate Muslims, but there is simply no body of doctrine within Islam that provides a principled basis for condemning the 9/11 attacks.
Elsewhere in his own book Mr. Bergen discloses that a fatwa authorizing attacks on civilians–the fatwa that is thought to have provided the theological basis for the 9/11 attacks–was issued by Omar Abdel Rahman, a blind cleric whom I sentenced to life in prison for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and in a later plot to bomb New York landmarks. In one section of “The Longest War,” Mr. Bergen touts Abdel Rahman’s status as an authoritative theologian; in another, he dismisses the attack that Abdel Rahman authorized as “un-Islamic.” It’s hard to see how that works.
Mr. Bergen also cites condemnation of the 9/11 attacks by a cleric from Cairo’s Al Azhar University, but that is the institution that gave us Abdel Rahman. Similarly, Mr. Bergen notes the rejection of such violence by cleric Yusuf al Qaradawi, a darling of the bien-pensant left, but neglects to tell us that Qaradawi’s oeuvre includes a fatwa authorizing women to engage in suicide bombing.
You will want to read the whole thing. In its own way it provides tacit support for the proposition that the Department of Justice has declined under the leadership of Eric Holder. One final note: The new (Saturday) Review section of the Wall Street Journal, where Judge Mukasey’s review appeared, has quickly made itself indispensable reading.
UPDATE: Andrew McCarthy comments on Judge Mukasey’s review here at NRO’s Corner.