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The Somali Connection

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Al-Shabab fighters in northern Mogadishu, 2010.

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To what extent is the CIA still involved in detaining and interrogating terrorist enemy combatants? Yesterday we noted that past Petraeus paramour Paula Broadwell had claimed on Oct. 26 that the agency was holding three Libyan detainees in Benghazi at the time of the 9/11 attacks there. Fox News Channel's Jennifer Griffin mentioned the three detainees in a report the same day. Yesterday Griffin added that according to her sources, "other prisoners from additional countries in Africa and the Middle East" had also been held there, though "most . . . had been moved two weeks earlier."

The agency issued a categorical denial: "The CIA has not had detention authority since January 2009, when Executive Order 13491 was issued. Any suggestion that the agency is still in the detention business is uninformed and baseless."

Executive Order 13491, issued on President Obama's second full day in office, provides: "The CIA shall close as expeditiously as possible any detention facilities that it currently operates and shall not operate any such detention facility in the future." It also bans the enhanced interrogation techniques the agency used during at least part of the Bush administration: Detainees under U.S. custody or "effective control" are not to "be subjected to any interrogation technique or approach, or any treatment related to interrogation, that is not authorized by and listed in [the] Army Field Manual."

But it turns out Benghazi isn't the only place where the CIA has been reported to have acted in contravention of Executive Order 13491. In July 2011, The Nation, a hard-left magazine, reported that the CIA "uses a secret prison buried in the basement of Somalia's National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters" in Mogadishu. There, according to the magazine, detainees from Al Shabab, "an Islamic militant group with close ties to Al Qaeda," are held and interrogated.

"While the underground prison is officially run by the Somali NSA," The Nation reported, "US intelligence personnel pay the salaries of intelligence agents and also directly interrogate prisoners." The following month, the New York Times published a substantively similar report, in which it added the detail that some Somalis call the detention facility " 'Guantánamo' for its ties to the United States."

These reports--published, we should note, before David Petraeus became CIA director--prompted a letter from Human Rights Watch to President Obama, dated Sept. 6 (the day Petraeus was sworn in): "These allegations, if true, would raise serious questions regarding whether the United States is acting in compliance with the requirements of Executive Order 13491 and other legal obligations."

Fourteen months later, Human Rights Watch tells Best of the Web Today that the letter went unanswered.

Assuming that these reports are accurate--that the CIA is involved in detention and interrogation in Mogadishu, Benghazi and perhaps elsewhere--the Petraeus sex scandal has drawn attention to a policy scandal. Obama sold Americans a complete bill of goods when it comes to counterterror policy.

In 2008 he promised to reverse Bush policies that raised the hackles of Europeans and left-leaning human-rights types. In area after area--Guantanamo, the Patriot Act, surveillance--he failed to do so. He even stepped up the use of lethal drones against terrorists, including U.S. citizens. Detention and interrogation policy was supposed to be the one case in which the policy had actually changed.

This column is on the opposite side from our friends at Human Rights Watch, which is to say that we generally approve of the administration's actual policies. We favor drone strikes, indefinite detention, enhanced interrogation and the rest of it. We'd rather Obama break his promises than endanger Americans by keeping them. It's galling that many Obama partisans, including Obama himself, are now willing to countenance policies they self-righteously denounced just four years ago. But that's politics.

If the CIA was running a detention facility at Benghazi, it's possible it was a rogue operation, or it's possible the president secretly authorized an exception to Executive Order 13491. Either way, there would be extraordinary political pressure to keep it quiet. That might explain why, as Jennifer Griffin reported, the CIA repeatedly refused requests for military backup during the 9/11 attacks on the consulate and the nearby CIA annex. (A CIA spokeswoman denied the agency refused such requests and said "the Agency reacted quickly to aid our colleagues.")

According to Griffin, former Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty defied orders to "stand down" and traveled from the annex to the consulate, where they helped evacuate Americans. They then returned to the annex, where they were killed by a mortar shell. If military backup was denied for fear of exposing continuing CIA detention activity, then they paid with their lives for Barack Obama's moral and political posturing.

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