May 2004
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Day May 4, 2004

Padilla, William Krar, and double standards in the “War on Terror”

Reuters reported today that William Krar, a Texan described as a white supremacist, was sentenced to 135 months (11+ years) in federal prison for possessing chemical weapons (i.e., the makings of cyanide bombs). Oh, and he stockpiled guns and over 100,000 rounds of ammunition.

After I got over being slightly relieved that yet another bomb-making white supremacist is behind bars, it struck me that the case points out an inconsistency in our “war on terror.” Jose Padilla, another U.S. citizen, arrested by federal law enforcement on U.S. soil without committing an actual crime, was grabbed by the Pentagon and sent to military prison and isolated as an “enemy combatant.” Krar was tried in a federal court, with legal representation, and found guilty in trial by jury.

You might say that white supremacists aren’t the targets of our “war on terror.” But a quick remembrance of Oklahoma City should convince us that terror isn’t always plotted by international groups overseas. One conclusion we can draw is that the “war on terror” really means “our plan for the Middle East.” And that we’re content to leave domestic groups unconnected to al-Qaeda to the FBI to handle. But that would be cynical. :)

Probably a better explanation for the double standard in these two cases is the claim of “intelligence value.” Padilla was held not because he had committed a terrorist act, or even because he planned one (clearly, the civil courts can handle such cases, as they did with Krar), but because he potentially had intelligence of value in the Afghan conflict. Krar does not, or at the very least, the intelligence he might have concerning domestic groups can be gathered by normal FBI procedures.

So the question really becomes, how do we square the need for intelligence gathering with the due process rights of citizens? I’ve written about this before, because it’s clearly a hard problem. I don’t have the answer, but it’s clear to me that executive fiat and a double standard ungrounded in law is not something Americans should accept as the new status quo. I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t even play one on TV, so I guess my best course of action is to send another donation to the ACLU…

Superb article by Niall Ferguson on patience and nation-building

Just a link, no insight today. Niall Ferguson has an excellent article in the Washington Post today on nation-building exercises by the U.S. and how much time they required. The upshot is that our successful exercises have required lots of time — in the decade time range. Occasions when U.S. presence has not been sustained and our commitment limited have yielded poorer results. But Ferguson has more to say on the subject, so read the article.