Professor Robert Murrett Discusses Afghanistan Withdrawal with WAER

SU Professor Weighs In on President Biden’s Plan to Remove Troops from Afghanistan

(WAER | April 16, 2021) A Syracuse University International Affairs professor says there is reason for concern after the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan this fall.

President Joe Biden announced yesterday the United States will fully remove troops from Afghanistan starting September 11th, exactly 20 years after the conflict began. Maxwell School Professor Robert Murrett also served in the navy for over 30 years. He says the US’ biggest focus now will be monitoring the Taliban’s activity in the country.

“The continued territorial gains which are likely by the Taliban forces, the continued viability of the Afghanistan government and challenges with the Taliban make it to them: whether it’s some sort of shared governing model or one that’s not shared at all in the case of significant territorial gains by the Taliban.” said Murrett …

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Amidst a Set-Back for Transparency, Citizen-Led Accountability in North Carolina

By David M. Crane & Catherine Reed

(Jurist | May 4, 2017) Last Monday, 24 April, it was easy to miss the important news that the Supreme Court denied cert in the ACLU’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to make public the full Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA’s use of torture. The news was lost in the frenzied media analysis of Trump’s first 100 days, new opinion polls on his performance, and a looming possible government shutdown over the border wall.

“The Supreme Court’s denial of public access to the full Senate report means we will be forced to continue wondering how much torture was used, the level of damage it did to the US, and which private entities may have been involved.”

The ACLU is to be commended for their leadership both in this FOIA request, and in the ground-breaking lawsuit Salim v. Mitchell. That suit was brought by torture victims and the family of a man tortured to death by the CIA, and fortunately is moving forward in a Spokane federal court.

But this Supreme Court decision on the Senate report is a blow to efforts at accountability for this dark chapter in US history, and bad news for Americans who want open government and transparency. From the declassified but heavily-redacted executive summary that is available, we know that the CIA’s interrogation tactics were both more brutal and less effective than was acknowledged publicly. The CIA did not provide oversight at the black sites it maintained, and it lied to Congress and the public about the number of detainees it held and tortured during the period following 9/11.

The Supreme Court’s denial of public access to the full Senate report means we will be forced to continue wondering how much torture was used, the level of damage it did to the US, and which private entities may have been involved. Most disturbingly, the decision blocks the robust public debate that release of the full report would stimulate. It continues the shielding of responsible officials from any form of accountability, and keeps the American public and our elected leaders from learning lessons from the failed tactics of the past.

One of President Obama’s final acts in office was to preserve the report under the Presidential Records Act — a positive step given that many elected officials, including Senate Select Intelligence Committee Chair Richard Burr (R-N.C.), have advocated destroying all classified versions. But this step also meant that the report would remain hidden from the public for at least twelve years, and perhaps much longer.

Our current President has, at best, easily influenced and inconsistent views on torture. President Trump, both while campaigning and even after taking office, has openly supported and endorsed resuming torture, although he has also backtracked on his own statements. His appointment of Deputy CIA Director Gina Haspel, who once oversaw a CIA black site in Thailand and was physically present during torture sessions, further underscores that more information about the torture, rendition and detention program must be revealed.

The lack of government transparency and public accountability—reinforced by this week’s Supreme Court decision—makes the work of organizations pushing for accountability all the more vital. One such initiative worth noting is the recently launched non-governmental North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture (NCCIT).

NCCIT was established to investigate and bring about public accountability for the specific role that North Carolina’s state and local governments played in supporting the US torture program …

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INSCT Affiliated Faculty Member David M. Crane was Founding Chief Prosecutor for the Special Court for Sierra Leone and currently is a Professor of Practice at Syracuse University College of Law. Catherine Read is Executive Director of the North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture.

Required Reading: The Arabs at War in Afghanistan

By Isaac Kfir

Review of The Arabs at War in Afghanistan by Mustafa Hamid and Leah Farrall in conversation (London: Hurst & Company, 2015).

(Re-published from the Journal of Islamic Studies, 27:3 (September 2016)) Unquestionably The Arabs at War in Afghanistan should become required reading for anyone interested in the development of the global jihadi movement. The book is unique, structured as a series of conversations between Farrall and Hamid known by the nom de guerre of Abu Walid Al Masri, an Egyptian-born, former journalist and close friend of Mullah Omar, Jalaluddin Haqqani and many others of those present at the creation of the strand of Islamism that was to produce such devastation and horror in the world.

“The book is filled with such wonderful little insights, including the interesting revelation in respect of Bin Laden’s 1996 Declaration of Jihad against the United States, which Hamid opposed.”

The principal aim of The Arabs at War in Afghanistan is to address a tremendous gap in the literature about what transpired in Afghanistan during the war against the Soviets and how the war impacted the development of the jihadi movement. Hamid, one of the few Arabs to have taken the oath of allegiance to Mullah Omar provides an absorbing behind-the-scenes perspective on how the war against the Soviet Union evolved in Afghanistan, the role of the Arab fighters and events such as the Battle of Jaji (there is a fascinating critique of Abu Abdullah, a.k.a. Osama bin Laden’s faith in the trenches), the Battle of Jalalabad and its implication for the Arab Afghan movement. Hamid goes to great length about the Jalalabad School (School of Youth/School of Jihad), the internal competition between the various Arab and Afghan actors including a review of the determination of the Ikhwan leadership in Peshawar in 1989 and 1990 to ensure that Bin Laden did not become ‘the leader of the Ummah’ (p. 163).

The book is filled with such wonderful little insights, including the interesting revelation in respect of Bin Laden’s 1996 Declaration of Jihad against the United States, which Hamid opposed. Hamid intimates that the Declaration was not about Bin Laden seeking to gain control over a heterogeneous jihadi movement, but about internal Saudi politics. That is, Bin Laden issued the Declaration as a way to get Saudis angry at what was taking place inside of the Kingdom to shift attention beyond Saudi Arabia. His doing so, at least according to Hamid, ensured that Saudi Arabia did not follow the civil war that plagued Algeria, which in part was fueled by returning jihadists (pp. 212–14).

Hamid, who spent over twenty-years years in Afghanistan and another ten under house arrest in Iran makes it clear that one of the worst legacies of the Afghan jihad was the Jalalabad School – established according to him to ‘weaken al-Qaeda and break the dominance of Abu Abdullah [Bin Laden]’ (p. 316). The Jalalabad School, Hamid emphasizes, instilled in the youth a ‘desire for martyrdom’ as opposed to a commitment to liberate Afghanistan and ensure that it was governed according to Shariʿa law. These, at least for Hamid, placed the Islamist liberation movement on the wrong path not only because in its current manifestation it claims countless lives (whether of the mujahidin who engage in needless sacrifices or civilians) but because its real purpose seems to be ‘bragging’ (p. 315). With this in mind, it is rather unsurprising that Hamid is highly critical of Saudi Arabia, Wahhabism and even Salafism, holding each element responsible for the high level of violence impacting the Muslim and non-Muslim world, which undermines the liberation of the umma.

Notably, Hamid provides his version of history and of events. He paints Bin Laden as someone whom the Taliban never really welcomed nor wanted, because they were concerned with his incessant threats vis-à-vis the West and particularly the United States. This was something that the Taliban, particularly Mullah Omar, felt would create tensions between the movement and Washington and therefore undermine the rebuilding of Afghanistan. Clearly, in his narrative Hamid disproved of some, if not most, of Bin Laden’s actions, views and behaviour. For instance he describes how angry he was with the East Africa bombing as it took place a few weeks after Bin Laden met Mullah Omar, and even though the operation was evolving, Bin Laden chose not tell the Taliban leader of the impending attack.

Hamid sees such behaviour first as rude and second as Bin Laden putting the Taliban at great risk, as he would have anticipated an American response (pp. 232–5). Another example of how badly Bin Laden treated Mullah Omar was the former’s refusal to let his daughter marry Omar, claiming that she was too young, only to marry her ‘to one of the Saudi boys’—this, Hamid claims, meant that Bin Laden ‘refused to give her to Mullah Omar’ (p. 225). Yet, the Taliban allowed Bin Laden to stay because he was rich, respected by his followers and, most importantly, because Mullah Omar could not turn Bin Laden over to the Americans or even the Saudis as Islamic and tribal customs prohibited it and to countenance such a measure would bring shame to Omar (p. 243).

Evidently, the focus of the book is with Hamid and the Arab Afghans, but attention and credit has to be given to Farrall as she navigates this unique project so deftly, engaging in a conversation with Hamid, allowing him to trust the former senior Counter Terrorism Intelligence Analyst with the Australian Federal Police …

To read the full article, click here.

Isaac Kfir, Associate Professor of International Relations and the Middle East at Tokyo International University, is an INSCT Research and Practice Associate.


Corruption: Sand in the Gears of Afghan Reconstruction, with John F. Sopko

Date: Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016

Time: 12 p.m. – 1 p.m.

Location: Eggers Hall Rm 220 (Strasser Legacy Room)

Part of the David F. Everett Postconflict Reconstruction Speaker Series

sopkoJohn F. Sopko was sworn in as Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction on July 2, 2012. Mr. Sopko, appointed to the post by President Obama, has more than 30 years of experience in oversight and investigations as a prosecutor, congressional counsel and senior federal government advisor.

Mr. Sopko came to SIGAR from Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, an international law firm headquartered in Washington, D.C., where he had been a partner since 2009.

Mr. Sopko’s government experience includes over 20 years on Capitol Hill, where he held key positions in both the Senate and House of Representatives. He served on the staffs of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, the Select Committee on Homeland Security and the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations … MORE.

Useful Documents

INSCT Speaks to La Razón About Gitmo Transfers

Obama acelera el cierre de Guantánamo con un traslado masivo

(La Razón (Spain), Aug. 17, 2016) Barack Obama transfirió ayer a 15 prisioneros del centro de detención de Guantánamo, en el que consiste el traslado de presos más numeroso producido durante su administración. Son doce yemeníes y tres afganos, y han sido enviados a Emiratos Árabes. Con este movimiento, el presidente de Estados Unidos (EE UU) se acerca a cumplir la que fuera una de sus grandes promesas de campaña en 2007 pero no son pocos los que se preguntan si conseguirá llevarlo a cabo antes de que su segundo mandato finalice, tras las elecciones de noviembre …

… «Al cierre de Guantánamo se opone, en parte, gente que tiene miedo de que los detenidos sean trasladados a algún lugar cerca de ellos», ha declarado  William Banks, director del Instituto para la Seguridad Nacional y el Antiterrorismo de la Universidad de Syracusa , a LA RAZÓN, «la otra razón es un poco más sútil, mucha gente, simplemente, creen que los presos deberían estar encerrados para siempre y no estar dotados de ningún derecho por su asociación con al-Qaeda». Actualmente, el Congreso impide a Obama utilizar fondos para cerrar Guantánamo o modificar cárceles en territorio americano para trasladar a los presos, entre otras cosas …

… El profesor Banks considera que ha sido un «error político», que Obama tuvo varias oportunidades al principio de su presidencia de llegar a acuerdos políticos con miembros del Congreso en lo concerniente al complejo penitenciario, y no cree que Obama conseguirá cerrar la prisión antes de noviembre, lo que deja en el aire qué pasará con ella después de noviembre. Mientras que la aspirante demócrata, Hillary Clinton, se ha manifestado a favor del cierre de la prisión (pero no con la misma contundencia que Obama), Donald Trump, por su parte, pretende mantenerla abierta y llenarla de «tíos malos».

 En una conversación con este periódico, Corrine Zoli,  ha manifestado que el no haber cerrado Guantánamo no significa «un simple fracaso, pero sí un objetivo no conseguido» en el que el Congreso, las circunstancias y el surgimiento de otras milicias terroristas como el Estado Islámico (EI).

To read the complete text, click here.

“Fight the Disease, Not Just the Symptom” with Sarah Chayes Now Online

Sarah Chayes is a Senior Associate in the Democracy and Rule of Law Program and the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment. Formerly special adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, she is an expert in South Asia policy, kleptocracy and anticorruption, and civil-military relations. She is working on correlations between acute public corruption and the rise of militant extremism.

David M. Crane Speaks to NBC News About Afghan Hospital Bombing

Who’s to Blame for the U.S.’s Bombing of Afghanistan Hospital?

(NBC News, Oct. 27, 2015) With three simultaneous investigations underway, authorities are likely months from deciding whether a U.S. airstrike on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan was a war crime.

The likelihood of an international prosecution is remote, experts say.

But the case might lead to military trials in both countries, where prosecutors could seek convictions for the decisions that led an American AC-130 gunship to open fire on a trauma center during fighting for the city of Kunduz, killing at least 30 people, including 13 charity staffers.

In the end, if anyone is found criminally liable for the Oct. 3 bombing, it will be mid- to low-level operators who requested and carried out the airstrikes, experts said. Ranking officers typically don’t get prosecuted in such cases; they tend to get demoted or forced into retirement.

But first, investigators must navigate a swamp of shifting accounts …

… The Kunduz proof will likely hinge on the “doctrine of proportionality,” a legal concept that, in the context of alleged war crimes, weighs the need for military action against the damage that action might do to the civilian population.

“If a party knew it was a hospital and intentionally targeted it without a militarily reason to do so it is most likely a war crime,” David Crane, a professor of international criminal law at the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism at Syracuse University, said in an email.

To answer that question, investigators will need to determine whether the U.S. and Afghanistan forces knew they were attacking a hospital and whether the soldiers believed it would advance its goal of defeating the Taliban …

To read the whole story, click here.


INSCT Faculty Discuss Obama’s Announcement to Leave American Troops in Afghanistan Until 2017

(Re-published from The Daily Orange, Oct. 26, 2015) In a major reversal on his commitment to end the almost 14-year-old war in Afghanistan, President Barack Obama announced some United States troops will stay in the country until the end of his term in January 2017.

In a statement made on Oct. 17, the president said about 9,800 American troops will engage in non-combat duties for much of 2016 and 5,500 of them will remain into 2017, characterizing the plan as a “modest but meaningful extension of our presence,” according to The New York Times.

“What the president can do successfully for the next 15 months or so of his administration, along with the others, is to maintain the sufficient level of assistance to the Afghan government, to the Afghan army, and the Afghan national police.”
The Daily Orange spoke to Christopher Ferrero, a post-doctoral fellow in the political science department in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs; Robert Murrett, deputy director of Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism (INSCT); and William Banks, director of INSCT and interim dean of the College of Law about Obama’s change of the Afghan strategy.

The Daily Orange: What was your reaction when you heard the announcement?

Christopher Ferrero: I was glad. I think it’s the common sense thing to do. The Afghan government wants us there. We are making progress against the Taliban; that does not mean that the threat has been eradicated … We do not sustain any strategic damage from maintaining 5,000 to 10,000 troops there. We could sustain strategic damage by withdrawing.

Robert Murrett: I was not surprised because of all of the discussions that have been taking place since the previous announcement that the president made this past spring … relative to the phase of withdrawal from Afghanistan because of the changing circumstances and the ongoing discussions we’ve had with the president of Afghanistan who, in relative terms, has been doing well and also because of the concerns relative to the recent activity by the Taliban. And moreover, [there’s] a broader concern which is voiced by the president and others in the administration about the need to have a longer presence not just in Afghanistan but also other parts of the region because of gains made by insurgents.

The D.O.: Are those numbers of troops specified by the president sufficient to accomplish the goal?

William Banks: It’s a hard question to answer because it’s impossible to know the dynamic of the conflict over the next year and a half. A couple of military assessments that I have seen in the light of his announcement suggested that number—5,500—would be the minimum that could protect the Afghan force, but it may not be sufficient if the Taliban strength continues to increase or if counterterrorism operations that they have to conduct there grow larger and more complex.

The D.O.: Obama has about 15 months remaining in the Oval Office. What do you think the president can achieve in Afghanistan in the meantime?

R.M.: I think what the president can do successfully for the next 15 months or so of his administration, along with the others, is to maintain the sufficient level of assistance to the Afghan government, to the Afghan army and the Afghan national police in ways to provide a sufficient level of security and the path toward a long-term stability in Afghanistan with a central government that has a control of the most of the country.

The D.O.: What do you think of the future of Afghanistan?

C.F.: Afghanistan does not have to become a model democracy for it to be a modest success. As other regions of the Middle East descend into chaos and function as terrorist sanctuaries, I do believe that there is a value in maintaining the interest in the presence in Afghanistan if only to deny sanctuary to hostile forces whether they emanate from the east, which would be Pakistan, the north, which could be Russia and the west, which could be Iran or even Salafi-Jihadists associated with ISIL and al-Qaeda.

“Rule of Law Missions in Iraq & Afghanistan” Now Online

Col. Steven Henricks discusses Rule of Law missions he has been involved with during his military career, including his observations on tensions between various actors in these missions. He provides discrete examples from three different units with which he has worked. Among lessons learned, he explains how his experiences highlight a need to re-focus Rule of Law efforts with more emphasis on local sensitivities.

Henricks is a 2015-2016 Army War College Fellow at the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence. An experienced military jurist, Henricks’ legal assignments have included Staff Judge Advocate, Combined Joint Task Force 10, Regional Command East, Bagram, Afghanistan (2014); Trial Counsel (Prosecuting Attorney) in the court-martial US v. Major Nidal M. Hasan (2009-13); Acting and Deputy Chief of the Defense Appellate Division, US Army Legal Services Agency (2006-2008); the Chief of Justice for Task Force Band of Brothers, Tikrit, Iraq (2006); Chief of Justice, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and Fort Campbell, Fort Campbell, Kentucky (2005); and Judge Advocate, Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force—Arabian Peninsula (2004).