Merchant of Death
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Blood from Stones

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The Tragedy of the USS Cole Case
The Washington Post this weekend carried an extensive and depressing look at how the main suspects in the USS Cole bombing have gone free.

The most infuriating piece is on the freedom of Jamal al-Badawi, who helped organize the October 2000 attack on the US battleship that left 17 sailors dead.

It was a bold attack, and one that should never have succeeded. The hesitancy by the crew to inflict potential civilian casualties cost the lives of soldiers in an era when the armed forces were not yet used to suicide bombing.

It is important to recognize the role bringing perpetrators of violent acts to justice plays in fighting radical Islamists or any other terrorist group, or rather the tremendously high price we pay for impunity.

Impunity in these cases, especially with the complicity of senior government officials (in this case, in Yemen) will, without a doubt not only contribute to emboldening would-be terrorists for future attacks. It also contributes greatly to the _jihadist_ (with apologies to the authors of the much commented-on and rightly condemned DHS memo on language use) narrative of their struggle.

There is no doubt that the US government's conduct in the initial investigation left much to be desired. Lack of cultural training and knowledge and lack of trust made it a difficult task from the beginning.

But that is not the real reason for the unraveling of the case, and there is plenty of responsibility to be shared by all sides. The lack of sustained interest by the Bush administration, Yemeni authorities who view the attacks as less than important, and the weak and corruptible judicial system all are factors.

As the story noted:

In March 2002, President Bush said his administration was cooperating with Yemen to prevent it from becoming "a haven for terrorists." He added: "Every terrorist must be made to live as an international fugitive with no place to settle or organize, no place to hide, no governments to hide behind and not even a safe place to sleep."

Since then, Yemen has refused to extradite Badawi and an accomplice to the United States, where they have been indicted on murder charges. Other Cole conspirators have been freed after short prison terms. At least two went on to commit suicide attacks in Iraq.

"After we worked day and night to bring justice to the victims and prove that these Qaeda operatives were responsible, we're back to square one," said Ali Soufan, a former FBI agent and a lead investigator into the bombing. "Do they have laws over there or not? It's really frustrating what's happening."

The answer is, there are not laws as we understand them, and the attack is widely viewed in the Muslim world (again, a nod to DHS) as a successful act of _jihad_ against the infidel.

(One can quickly see the brilliance of the DHS Muslim advisers in their recommendations, as it soon becomes virtually impossible to write, in any meaningful or intelligent way, about radical Islamism and what it means. Yes, words do matter, and now they have appropriated all the words. Truly brilliant.)

So now Badawi and others who perpetrated and were convicted of the Cole attack are free so they can help turn over al Qaeda operatives.

It would be interesting to know how that has worked out. Of course, it may be a little hard to ascertain as Badawi and his fellow attackers seem to come and go from jail as they choose. Perhaps they turn in periodic written intelligence reports, or simply report directly to the warden of the maximum security jail they are able to wander in and out of at will.

These stories of escape and impunity have deep resonance in the _jihadist_ world, and make a mockery of the promises routinely issued to bring those responsible to justice. It is better not to make those promises than to make them only so they can be shown to be hollow.
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