Gen. Timur Pradopo, head of Indonesia’s national police, is begging his country for calm. His countrymen demand that Pakistan extradite Umar Patek, a suspected deputy field commander of the 2002 Bali bombings. Those attacks killed 202 people, including 38 Indonesians, and now the afflicted wish to bring Patek to justice. “Please, be patient, because everything is still in the process,” Pradopo recently said in Bogor. “It could take a long time [to get him back] as he is in another country.”
Meanwhile — though Patek also killed seven Americans, and though Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence caught the terrorist only after receiving a CIA tip — White House press secretary Jay Carney has fallen mute. When Fox News asked Carney if the United States would have a chance to interrogate the terror suspect, he replied, “I don’t have anything to say in response to that from here.”
From all appearances, the U.S. is not trying to have Patek sent to the states. And that could be a major mistake.
Granted, the situation is dicey. Pakistan most likely would refuse to send Patek to the U.S., just as it has so far failed to send him to Indonesia. The Obama administration hopes to mend its delicate relations with Pakistan, and the last thing it wants is to be embarrassed by forcing this issue.
Then again, Pakistan has a history of extraditing high-value terror suspects to the U.S. “They gave us Khalid Sheikh Mohammed,” says Marc Thiessen, a former speechwriter for Pres. George W. Bush. “I think we need to make it very clear to the Pakistanis that this is a priority.”
Thiessen attributes the current tensions with Pakistan to Pres. Barack Obama’s decision to shutter the CIA interrogation program. Rather than take terrorists into custody, President Obama has killed them with Predator-drone strikes on Pakistani soil. The greater use of these strikes has annoyed Pakistan, which resents the encroachment on its sovereignty, and made that country less cooperative in extraditing terrorists.
“That’s a bad sign of the deterioration,” Thiessen concludes.
That said, former attorney general Michael Mukasey argues that the U.S. should at least file an indictment against Patek to increase our chances of nabbing him. An indictment shows seriousness of purpose. For example, when the U.S. indicted Osama bin Laden in June 1998 even though it had little chance of actually capturing him, the point was to lay the legal groundwork for a situation like the one the U.S. faces now.
“At a minimum, [an indictment] would be a bargaining chip,” Mukasey tells NRO. “[We can say to Pakistan,] ‘You’re not willing to give him to us? Give us something for it.’” It could also improve the U.S.’s chances of getting access to Patek from Indonesia in the event that Pakistan chooses to send him there. (The U.S. does not have an extradition treaty with Indonesia.)
Nonetheless, Thiessen cautions, “Intelligence first, prosecution later.” According to several news reports, Patek traveled extensively in the shadowy underworld of al-Qaeda, from the Philippines to Yemen, from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan. “He knows something,” Thiessen surmises. “This guy needs to be brought into U.S. custody so we can interrogate him.”
Indeed, Mukasey argues that the U.S. should take this opportunity to straighten out its procedures: “Part of the problem is we need to get square how we intend to deal with people who did what [Patek] did. And that needs to be thought through. Is that something for an indictment? Perhaps. Is it for a military tribune? My own view is, we ought to have another court in which we try national-security cases. Congress could create it.”
All an indictment would do for the U.S. would be to preserve the option of a civilian trial; it would not require the U.S. to take that route. It would be merely an option on the table — an option of which the U.S. should take full advantage. For if the Obama administration merely lets Patek slip through its hands, it would be “an abdication of the president’s responsibility as commander-in-chief,” Thiessen says.
— Brian Bolduc is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.