[What follows is excerpted from an article by Christopher P Costa headlined 9/11, Benghazi and US counterterrorism’s long arm of justice published yesterday on the website of The Hill, the house magazine of the United States Congress:]
Conventional wisdom in policymaking circles is that the US counterterrorism enterprise is nonpartisan. I agree. I saw firsthand how the Trump administration benefited from continuity grounded in professionalism and threaded to sound counterterrorism policy prescriptions passed on from previous administrations, both Democrat and Republican.
After years of painstaking counterterrorism work, talking with both former terrorists and victims of terrorism, as well as attending terrorism trials, I’ve come to realize that continuity comes from a long institutional memory between administrations, and justice in these cases is often at the crossroads of law enforcement and counterterrorism operations.
As FBI Director Christopher Wray noted, it took 34 years of painstaking investigative work to bring the maker of the Lockerbie bomb tied to the destruction of Pan Am flight 103 to justice this year. That effort is the province of foreign partners, the Department of Justice, the FBI and, eventually, a US court. Legal arrows – in terms of investigations, extraditions and trials – can be more potent than simply killing terrorists on battlefields overseas. The rule of law remains an indispensable tool for policymakers.
This dedication to continuity drives the tenacity of the legal system to finish the work of prior administrations. (...)
First, policy continuity across political administrations has kept the nation safe from terrorism. Second, in light of the Lockerbie bomber’s extradition last December, justice and continuity matter deeply and are two sides of the same coin. (...)
Sometimes this continuity would have to carry on for decades before reaching closure.
The Christmastime bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, for example, killed 270 passengers, including 190 Americans, on Dec. 21, 1988, and last December, the FBI was finally able to take custody of a suspect for building the explosive device that downed the flight. As a result of the Justice Department’s focus and tenacity in concluding a case that began more than 30 years earlier, Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud was then extradited to the United States to face prosecution for one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in American history. (...)
[RB: Masud was not "extradited" to the United States. He was kidnapped by a local militia and later, with the connivance of the Tripoli "government" handed over to US agents. Libyan law does not permit extradition of citizens to a foreign country for trial, only voluntary surrender by the suspect; and there is, and can be, no suggestion that Masud volunteered.]
In a time of political polarization, we can be sanguine about the professionalism of the US counterterrorism enterprise, and the long memory of United States justice, regardless of administration. Maybe that’s worth reflecting on this Sept 11 anniversary.