By JONATHAN GURWITZ
New York Times News Service
When the Iraqi government set free terrorist Ali Mussa Daqduq last month, the news was almost a footnote. “We are clearly disappointed about this,” an anonymous State Department official told the New York Times in a news brief.
Given the story’s lack of prominence in the American press, you might think Daqduq was just a small fish in a big terrorist pond.
You might easily conclude that the nameless diplomat was expressing the frustration of the Obama administration about an outcome it had little ability to affect. You would be wrong on both counts.
Daqduq is Lebanese and a commander in Hezbollah, the Iranian-armed Shiite group with a record of terrorist attacks against Americans dating back to the 1983 bombings of the U.S. Embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut.
U.S. military officials accuse Daqduq of masterminding attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq, including one in 2007 near Karbala in which Shiite militia members killed five American soldiers, four of them after being abducted and tortured.
British special forces captured Daqduq months after the Karbala attack and handed him over to U.S. custody. The opportunity to bring a terrorist with American blood on his hands to justice should have been a cause for celebration. When Barack Obama entered the White House in January 2009, it became a source of irritation.
In his war against his predecessor’s war against terror, Obama had promised to shut down the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay within one year and banned trials of terror suspects by military commission. Terrorists, even those captured on the battlefield, were supposed to be treated like ordinary criminals under the Obama administration — held in U.S. prisons and tried in federal courts.
Of course, Obama never actually attempted to close down Guantanamo Bay. In 2011, he resumed military commissions. But the president refused to transfer Daqduq from U.S. military custody in Iraq to Gitmo, and he wasn’t willing to face the political consequences of bringing him to the United States for trial.
Daqduq remained in limbo in Iraq. As the deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. forces approached at the end of 2011, President Obama faced a choice after three years of dithering. He could move Daqduq to face U.S. military or criminal justice, or hand him over to Iraqi authorities, who under pressure from Iran were certain to set him free.
One year ago, the Obama administration handed over Daqduq, the last foreign combatant in U.S. custody. Last month, as expected, the Iraqi government let him get on a plane to Lebanon, where he disappeared.
Days after his release, the U.S. Treasury Department designated Daqduq a senior terrorist “responsible for numerous attacks against Coalition Forces in Iraq, including planning an attack on the Karbala Joint Provincial Coordination Center … which resulted in the deaths of five U.S. soldiers.”
In a public statement, Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen said, “The United States is extremely disappointed he was allowed to go free and we will continue our efforts to bring him to justice.”
Continue our efforts? One wonders if Cohen, an Obama appointee, could possibly say that with a straight face. Daqduq was in U.S. custody for more than four years. The Obama administration ended efforts to bring him to justice.
Cohen is disappointed the Iraqi government set Daqduq free. That anonymous State Department official is disappointed. No doubt, President Obama is disappointed in the Iraqi government.
Not as disappointed as the families of Spc. Johnathan Chism, Capt. Brian Freeman, Pfc. Shawn Falter, 1st Lt. Jacob Fritz and Pvt. Johnathon Millican have a right to be in their own government.