Pentagon Lawyer: US Near al-Qaeda 'Tipping Point'

Group someday won't be considered military adversary under law
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 1, 2012 6:21 AM CST
In this Jan. 11, 2002, file photo, detainees sit in a holding area at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in Cuba.   (AP Photo/U.S. Navy, Shane T.McCoy, File)

(Newser) – Al-Qaeda may still view itself as America's No. 1 enemy, but the Pentagon has a different, ego-deflating assessment. The way things are going, the terror group soon won't qualify as an official adversary of the military, the Pentagon's top lawyer said in a speech at London's Oxford University last night, reports the Guardian. Two key points by Jeh Johnson, who, incidentally, is thought to be a top contender for attorney general when Eric Holder steps down in about a year:

  • "I do believe that on the present course there will come a tipping point, a tipping point at which so many of the leaders and operatives of al-Qaeda and its affiliates have been killed or captured, and the group is no longer able to attempt or launch a strategic attack against the United States, such that al-Qaeda as we know it, the organization that our Congress authorized the military to pursue in 2001, has been effectively destroyed."
  • "At that point we must be able to say to ourselves that our efforts should no longer be considered an armed conflict against al-Qaeda and its associated forces, rather a counter-terrorism effort against individuals who are the scattered remains of al-Qaeda … for which the law enforcement and intelligence resources of our government are principally responsible." The military would play a more limited role, stepping in when necessary.

The speech is part of the administration's long-range efforts to clarify its counterterror rules, explains the Wall Street Journal, which susses out a tangible possibility: Remaining detainees at Gitmo are held under the 2001 Authority for the Use of Military Force against al-Qaeda. If that decree is no longer in effect a few years down the road, it presents an avenue for the release of prisoners and closure of the detention facility. (Read more Jeh Johnson stories.)

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