Capture/Killing Hakimullah Mehsud

by Joshua Foust on 9/3/2010 · 6 comments

I have a short piece up at Current Intelligence, examining the implications of indicting Hakimullah Mehsud in the attack on the CIA base at Camp Chapman late last year.

Which brings us to this criminal charge: conspiracy to kill Americans and using a weapon of mass destruction. The latter charge is fundamentally stupid, the result of the U.S. government defining down the idea of “WMD” so that anything that goes boom is now a weapon of mass destruction, rather than the normal idea of WMD as chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons designed to inflict mass casualties. The former is difficult to square with how warfare works: in essence, the Department of Justice is making it a crime to resist offensive military operations in your own homeland.

It might seem a semantic distinction, especially given the massive campaign to assassinate Hakimullah, but it’s really not. The U.S. has made it a crime to fight in a war — not to commit specific atrocities, the way one would normally define a crime or a war crime, but to attack spies conducting an assassination campaign in a war. Despite the terrible loss of intelligence agents, that is war. It is violent, and you do not enjoy specific immunities from reprisal if you choose to participate in it. The CIA is an armed actor in the war in Afghanistan, and it is one of the only American agencies actively participating in the war in Pakistan. It is not exempt, in a legal sense, from its targets fighting back.

Comments, as always, are welcome below.


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– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 6 comments }

The Sanity Inspector September 3, 2010 at 8:29 am

I see how that might seem silly on the face of it. But apply the same logic to our side: a federal indictment is in this sense another weapon in our arsenal, along with the Hellfire missiles and attack helicopters. If the bad guys turn up in a cafe in a country where we have extradition agreements, this will be another tool.

M.I. September 3, 2010 at 8:50 am

There is a tipping point in which the legal and actionable benefits of an indictment and Treasury classification become more valuable than the intelligence benefit from observing in the shadows. I don’t know what the balance is, but I imagine there were quite the interagency meetings leading up to this.

Realist Writer September 3, 2010 at 6:57 pm

“But apply the same logic to our side: a federal indictment is in this sense another weapon in our arsenal”

Isn’t the United States supposed to charge people for committing ACTUAL crimnes instead of just lodging hyped-up charges for giggles? If the United States criminalizes legitimate acts of wars, then nobody is going to treat the US’ indictments seriously.

Besides, Hakimullah Mehsud is already considered a terrorist, and likely have an extensive rap sheet. Why should we bother with this?

Caleb Kavon September 3, 2010 at 10:54 pm

Joshua has hit the nail on the head…We are conducting our Assassination Campaign, and Islamic Insurgents are conducting theirs. This year ISAF is claiming up to 600 mid to high level insurgents have been killed. The Taliban have responded with daily assassinations of their own, to include the Medical Team and various district governors and key Mullahs.

Tit for Tat, Eye for Eye we both go along our tracks. Winter is coming, next year will truly be frightening as both sides escalate their mutual terror, and the new flood related insurgents are incorporated into the fight as the West draws down….

The time is now to call a cat a cat, this is assassination and without trial, against everything we believe. The sad thing is we cannot even criticize the other side honestly any more for this kind of behaviour as we have perfected the art.
Weapons of Mass destruction is jargon to mask what we are also doing in fact each and every day. It is a dirty war on both sides, and the Afghan and Pakistani people are the clear losers.

infantryjj September 4, 2010 at 7:02 pm

“The time is now to call a cat a cat, this is assassination and without trial”

Methinks you are confusing the cat with it’s paws. The cat you refer to, is war itself. Assassination (as you call it) is one of it’s paws. In war you kill till they stop fighting, there are no easy or clean ways about it. War is won thru attrition of the enemy plain and simple. Assassination,targeted bombing,sniping,cutting his throat,frontal attacks are all a part of war.

Comparing the true assassination of the medical team with the targeted killings of AGE leaders is intellectually dishonest at best.

“the Afghan and Pakistani people are the clear losers”

They choose to either fight in the war or be apathetic to it. It is their choice and their homeland. Pick a side and fight for it. it will not end until one side relents.

Caleb Kavon September 12, 2010 at 12:22 pm

JJ…just saw this…Thanks for the response. There have been over 400 Taliban directed assassinations in Kandahar in the last three months. It is more like Cali or Medellin in Colombia now. Even the Viet Cong did not make assassination as big a tool as we are seeing now. This is 4000% times more than before the surge. It appears that the Taliban are learning from us in a frightening way. As for the losers in all of this, yes I remain convinced it is the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

This new Phoenix Program, is a failure on all counts. The Drone attacks hurt us more than help. Targetted Killing only makes the Insurgents recruiting easier and faster. However this ends, or whenever it ends, it will be like our Vietnam experience where 35 years later we are just coming to terms with it and reengaging the country.

Given our budgetary constraints, it is not an issue of whoever relents first. It is an issue of whoever can maintain a place on the battlefield longest. Right now, the enemy has a good thing going and sees itself as last on the field when 2015 pulls around and the only thing to fear is the ANA. Not a reassuring thought.

Recently there have been a large series of demonstrations in many cities some over targetted killing night raids, some over the Koran and it appears that many are not “apathetic” at all. They are picking a side, and it is not ours or the Afghan Government’s. Something to think about next time someone orders a night raid or drone attack. We have multiple elements of our policy backfiring at the same time. Not good.

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