Target: Jamal al-Badawi

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 7 months ago

The mastermind behind the USS Cole bombing has either been released by authorities in Yemen, or is soon to be released.

The United States is dismayed over what officials said was Yemen’s failure to cooperate in the war against Al Qaida.

The Bush administration expressed disappointment with Yemen’s decision to release the man regarded as the mastermind of the Al Qaida attack on the USS Cole in Aden in 2000.

“The United States is dismayed and deeply disappointed in the government of Yemen’s decision not to imprison [Al] Badawi,” National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said. “This action is inconsistent with a deepening of our bilateral counterterrorism cooperation.”

Officials said Sanaa has largely failed to respond to a significant U.S. investment in Yemen’s military and security forces. They pointed to about $100 million in U.S. military and security assistance since 2004, which included the formation of Yemen’s coast guard.
“We have communicated our displeasure to Yemeni officials and will work with the Yemeni government to ensure Al Badawi is held accountable for his past terrorist actions,” Johndroe said on Oct. 26.

In 2004, Al Badawi was convicted of plotting and conducting the bombing of the USS Cole. A Yemeni court condemned Al Badawi to death, but the sentence was reduced to 15 years in prison.

Still, officials said, Yemen has failed to keep Al Badawi and other Al Qaida operatives behind bars. He escaped prison twice since 2004, allegedly with help of Yemeni jailers. The FBI has offered $5 million for information that would lead to his arrest.

Officials said the release of Jamal Al Badawi violated a pledge to capture and prosecute those behind the suicide attack in which 17 American sailors were killed. In mid-October, Al Badawi surrendered to Yemeni authorities in an arrangement that allowed him to return home to Aden. Al Badawi, officials said, pledged loyalty to the regime of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

On Sunday, Yemen asserted that Al Badawi was still in detention. But the Yemeni Interior Ministry would not elaborate.

It is a truism that the best developed plans will come to naught at times when the predicate for the plans is the honor of other men and nations.  The U.S. must negotiate and purchase and obtain agreement and all of the things that the State Department works at, but in the end, we must be prepared to be alone in the pursuit of our own national security interests.

But when other countries fail us, what is the recourse?  The Small Wars Journal Blog is currently hopping with interesting debate about the moral viability of torture – or lack thereof – and while this debate is salient for future detainees, we face a situation in which a major terrorist is about to be released into the global population with the knowledge and consent of the host country.

So will there be a well-aimed sniper round targeted at Badawi, or a neatly devised car bomb set to detonate at exactly the right time?  Will U.S. black operations be his undoing, or will he live to perpetrate yet another disaster on U.S. troops somewhere else in the world?  Mind you, this isn’t a low level actor; this is a major player in the world of jihadist terror.

The answer is a bit involved.  Even if Badawi was on the physical field of battle, there is question as to whether the rules of engagement allow the targeting of even a known enemy if said enemy is not currently brandishing a weapon and currently a threat to U.S. forces.  But this situation is even more murky and complex, and this complexity explains the consternation of U.S. diplomats at the release of Badawi.

Some background.  First in U.S. jurisprudence there is the constitution.  Its liberties and strictures guides the making of laws.  Second comes law, and of course this requires the approval of the Senate and House of Representatives, along with the approval of the President unless there is an override of a veto.  Next comes regulations.  This is where is becomes murky, because the executive branch takes the laws that have been passed by the Congress and interprets them and adds to the law in order to make something actually able to be enforced, i.e., regulations.  At this level, challenge can be brought in court, and negotiations pursued with the proper authorities regarding code compliance.

This process is ugly and tedious, much like making saugage.  It involves thousands of lawyers, federal register notices, comments, incorporation of comments, and ultimately the approval of yet more lawyers resulting in revisions to the federal code.  It probably gives far too much power to the executive branch of the government, but given the dysfunction of the legislative branch of the government, it is understandable.  When one branch abdicates its responsibilities, the others swarm into the gap.

Next comes an even murkier and lower level regulation, the so-called “executive order.”  Effective March 1, 1976, President Ford issued the following executive order: “No employee of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination.”  And there is the crux of the issue, and in large part the reason for the panic at the State Department.

No sitting President wants to be the one who reverses this order, and yet no sitting President wants to be responsible for allowing a high level terrorist back into the global population to cause further harm to U.S. forces and assets around the world.  But this executive order is in serious need of revisiting and revision, unless of course, the U.S. is just fine with releasing Jamal al-Badawi to perpetrate his wares.

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  1. On October 30, 2007 at 8:18 pm, loc1k said:

    We’re making much ado about a single suspected criminal and bemoaning State’s inability to ensure justice is done him, but it should come as little surprise given the miniscule budget we give State and the abuse we heap upon it (free of charge, at least). An outside observer might be forgiven for believing our nation does not wish to coexist peacefully with others, given the low priority we assign cooperation. Note that when our leaders use the word “diplomacy” what is really meant is “coersion”. Don’t believe me? Has anyone noticed that the Pentagon’s new motto is “persistent conflict”? Google that phrase if you’re in as much a state of disbelief as I am.

    “… but in the end, we must be prepared to be alone in the pursuit of our own national security interests.”

    You’re quite right to specify which national interists are meant, as simply mentioning the “national interest” is really just a euphamism for corporate interests*, those who largely bankroll our political system and determine its course. I agree with your statement though. Unfortunately, it looks like that’s exactly what we’re not doing, namely in that AQ is known to reside in Pakistan, and yet almost our entire focus is on Iraq and Afghanistan.

    “So will there be a well-aimed sniper round targeted at Badawi, or a neatly devised car bomb set to detonate at exactly the right time?”

    This would be using terrorist tactics to fight terror. The idea that our country might do this removes the possibility of moral distinction between us and the terrorists. It makes us out to be a very large pack of terrorists, a failed state and a menace on the world scene. These words, I know, are heated; but sadly they are based on solid moral thinking, i.e. what applies to someone else applies equally to us. It is not for a president to preach morals to us, but vice versa.

    * It occurs to me that Christians concerned with the pervasive negative elements in our culture (e.g. the use of sex and violence as selling poits) might disapprove of corporations who contribute to it in the persuit of profit. I feel the same way except with regard to politics.

    PS I’m new here, and I’ve tried to make these arguments as impersonal as possible. I think what you’ve written is quite measured and conservative in the points it raises; I only fear that some of the baseline beliefs many in this country hold do not stand up to logical questioning.

  2. On October 30, 2007 at 9:01 pm, Herschel Smith said:


    I’m not sure how to respond to your issue with “corporate America.” It doesn’t seem to me to have much to do with the subject of the article and it appears to lack context. I have no idea what you are talking about.

    As far as using “terrorist tactics to fight terror,” how do you wish this to be done? If the terrorist will not confine his tactics to the field of battle, then we must meet him where he is. As to the issue of becoming like them – which I’m sure is next to come up – you really must disabuse yourself from the relativistic ethics that seems to be the axiomatic basis for your positions. We will never be like the terrorist because he is a terrorist and we are not. This is not a subjective judgment, there are objective means with which this can be judged. We do not intentionally kill innocents, he does. We didn’t declare war, they did. We do not wish for Christianity, or the U.S., or any other cause for that matter, to forcibly take over the entire world. They do (regarding militant, radical Islam), and have said so repeatedly. We do not wish for war, they do. We do not consider them the “great Satan,” but they do us. We have not vowed their end, but they have us. You get the picture – this could go on for quite a while.

    So as to the issue of sniping and killing before any U.S. Soldier or Marine is killed, see my posts on rules of engagement. I do not support the notion of announcing your presence first so as to allow surrender (since this puts U.S. forces in greater jeopardy). I do not support the idea that the enemy must have a weapon and be actively engaged in combat in order to be targeted. This is a preposterous position, one I have argued against. To take a position like this means the end of snipers as an offensive tactic, which is yet another article I have published.

    For an argument for killing the enemy before you are killed, see:

    As to this being a single terrorist and much ado about nothing, it is more than a single terrorist. Think outside the box, Ben. This is exemplary. How we enagage this instance is a pointer to how we will engage all such instances.

    Finally, there is moral distinction between us and the terrorists because of our belief system, not because of our refusal to kill the enemy if he isn’t holding a gun.

  3. On October 30, 2007 at 10:56 pm, loc1k said:


    The main point about corporate interests and “much ado” (although I never said “about nothing”) is that our government has little interest in stopping the actual terrorists. Working backwards:

    Our original stated reason (i.e. propaganda device) for invading Iraq was to eliminate the potential for Iraqi WMD to end up in terrorists’ hands, a very indirect way of attacking terrorism and one that could be applied to much of the developing world. In any case, this goal was totally discounted once it became untenable and we switched to a new goal of democratization of Iraq and the broader Mid-east region. Ultimately, Iraq had little to do with counter-terrorism.

    Our original reason for invading Afghanistan was apparently to oust a government that was abetting a terrorist organization. This cassus belli didn’t even make it to D-day, however, because the Taliban offered to hand over UBL and we refused, favoring invasion to negotiation. AQ was ultimately forced to fight us face to face, but got away and has been allowed to rebuild ever since. Again, at best a setback for global terrorism.

    Thus we in the US, the target of an awful attack likely committed by a certain terrorist organization, went on to let that organization go and attack two nations instead, all in the name of fighting a “War on Terror”.

    I think it’s important to make a sharp distinction between our government’s stated motives (definitionally “propaganda”, but I’ll agree to call it “public service information” if you think that’s more fair) and its apparent actual motives. Propaganda must play to what you and I believe, otherwise we might try to replace our current leaders, but it is often a poor reflection of what other people around the world see clearly happening.*

    Thus, when you say “there is moral distinction between us and the terrorists because of our belief system”, it’s easy for me to understand according to what I instinctively believe, and it lines up with what our government is saying. But when I look at our government’s actions, it’s hard not to get the impression I’m being sold a bill of goods. For example:

    1. The quashing of the democratic Palestinian election, support for the illegal blockade of Gaza, allowing the state founded on the backs of those who suffered in German death camps to run one of its own.

    2. Supporting Israel’s 2006 attack on Lebanon, again leaving a terrorist group intact while destroying a country.

    3. The 2006 cross-border rocket attack on Pakistan, originally targeting Zawahiri, which killed 18 innocents, mostly women and children.

    4. The missile attack on Sudan in the wake of the African embassy bombings, targeting- on verifiably flimsy evidence (as with Iraq)- a “chemical weapons factory”, resulting in the decimation of the Sudanese pharmaceutical industry and the deaths one would expect subsequent to that, if not contributing significantly to the current state of affairs in that country.

    These are just some of the more obvious incidents from recent history in which we have chosen to “live by the sword”. It should be noted that our government feels no need to respond to such charges, I believe because it thinks it can get away with them since the majority of voters don’t have the resources to make them an issue.

    Your basic premise of moral inequality might hold up for John Q. Citizen vs. UBL, but apparently works in reverse for UBL vs. US- i.e. the US seems worse. We have no moral footing to say we “deserve” to have justice done upon Badawi, at least not unless we accept that justice ought to be done upon the perpetrators in our own government and we be made to bear the costs of the damages we have inflicted upon others. This justice would rightly be orders of magnitude greater than that our foes deserve, in accordance with the harm done. This is in fact the opposite of moral relativism in that it insists the same standards apply to our enemy as apply to us.

    * You seem knowledgeable about strategy: you might recall that Sun Tzu wrote: “The Moral Law causes the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger.” This “accord” is the goal of propaganda. The government that doesn’t heed this maxim soon looses the “mandate of heaven”, i.e. the support of the people.

  4. On October 30, 2007 at 11:09 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    This last comment has taken us VERY far afield, and we are now in territory unrelated to the post. I didn’t discuss either Iraq or Afghanistan in the post. I discussed Badawi, and only him, accepting the caveat that he represents a school of thought. Let’s stay on point, as the lawyers would say.

    I am not jingoistic, but this is also not an anti-government web site (neither do we want to engage in conspiracy theories here – we’ll leave that to the tabloids and the Daily KOS). I will hold persons accountable to the extent that I am capable, and the relationship you wish to discuss (Iraq / Afghanistan / GWOT), although being unrelated to the subject of the post, is the subject of hundreds of past articles, and perhaps will be the subject of future articles.

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You are currently reading "Target: Jamal al-Badawi", entry #752 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Jihadists and was published October 30th, 2007 by Herschel Smith.

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