Daily Beast: Clinton Wouldn't Label Nigerian Kidnappers Terrorists

Thursday, 08 May 2014 11:05 AM

By Melanie Batley

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The State Department under Secretary Hillary Clinton repeatedly declined to add to its official list of foreign terrorists an al-Qaida-linked militant Islamist group that kidnapped 200 girls last month and eight more girls this week from a village in northeastern Nigeria.

After Boko Haram bombed the U.N. headquarters in Abuja in 2011, Clinton fought for almost two years against designating the group as a terrorist organization, despite the urging of the Justice Department, the FBI, the CIA, and more than a dozen senators and congressmen, The Daily Beast reported.

Had the group been on the list, U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies would currently have wider latitude under the Patriot Act to confront the situation, including unilaterally deploying law enforcement agencies to help search for the girls, and also isolating and sanctioning the group by blocking access to the U.S. financial system for the organization and anyone associating with it.

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Designation also serves to stigmatize and isolate foreign organizations by encouraging other nations to take similar measures, according to the Daily Beast.

When the girls were abducted, Clinton was swift to publicly condemn it while raising awareness of the girls' plight in the media.



Clinton said during an interview Wednesday that the abductions were "abominable, it's criminal, it's an act of terrorism, and it really merits the fullest response possible, first and foremost from the government in Nigeria."

She added that as secretary of state she had multiple meetings with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and had urged the Nigerian government to do more to combat terrorism.

But lawmakers and former U.S. officials are now saying her decision not to formally classify the group on the list may have obstructed the extent to which the American government is able to intervene to tackle the current situation.

"For years, Boko Haram has terrorized Nigeria and Western interests in the region with few consequences," Idaho GOP Sen. James Risch told The Daily Beast. "The U.S. government should have moved more quickly to list them as a terrorist organization and brought U.S. resources to track and disrupt their activities. The failure to act swiftly has had consequences."

Risch and seven other GOP senators introduced legislation in early 2013 that would have forced Clinton to designate the group or explain why she did not agree with the idea, but the State Department lobbied against the legislation at the time, according to internal State Department emails obtained by The Daily Beast.

House lawmakers at the time also wrote multiple letters to Clinton urging her to designate Boko Haram as a terrorist organization.

"We lost two years of increased scrutiny. The kind of support that is taking place now would have been in place two year ago," said Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Patrick Meehan, chairman of the Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, who was one of the lawmakers lobbying Clinton at the time.

Meehan also put out a lengthy report in 2011 with his Democratic counterpart, Jackie Speier, outlining the evidence to justify naming Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization, citing the group's ties to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and to Somalia's al-Shabab terrorist organization, The Daily Beast reported.

Meehan and others believe that Clinton and the State Department underestimated the pace of Boko Haram's growth and the group's intentions to harm U.S. interests abroad.

"At the time, the sentiment that was expressed by the administration was this was a local grievance and therefore not a threat to the United States or its interests," he said. "They were saying al-Qaida was on the run, and our argument was contrary to that. It has metastasized, and it is actually in many ways a growing threat, and this is a stark example of that."

Some officials, however, defend Clinton's decision at the time, saying the department was making other efforts to work with the Nigerian government on countering the extremist group using diplomatic and military intelligence channels.

"Designation is an important tool, it's not the only tool," an official, who was not identified, told The Daily Beast. "There are a lot of other things you can do in counterterrorism that doesn't require a designation."

And in 2012, more than 20 prominent U.S. academics in African studies wrote to Clinton urging her not to add Boko Haram to the list. "An FTO designation would internationalize Boko Haram's standing and enhance its status among radical organizations elsewhere," the scholars wrote, according to The Daily Beast.

On Wednesday, former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson defended both of those positions, though he conceded that the Nigerian government does not always want or accept the help the United States has offered over the years.

The Obama administration said Tuesday it would send an American team to Nigeria to support the government's efforts to find the girls, an offer that was accepted by Jonathan.

"We're going to do everything we can to provide assistance to them," President Barack Obama told NBC News in an interview. "In the short term, our goal is, obviously, to help the international community, and the Nigerian government, as a team to do everything we can to recover these young ladies," he said.

Meanwhile, the group is also being blamed for an attack on a Lagos, Nigeria, marketplace on May 5 that killed hundreds.

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