Michael Mukasey urges stronger U.S. policies to quell Islamic terrorism at Elon Law forum

The former U.S. Attorney General said, “it is not even the end of the beginning” with regard to United States engagement with “Islamism.” 

Former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, third from right, spoke at Elon Law on April 19. He is pictured here with, from left, North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Robert Edmonds, Jr., Elon Law Professor Margaret Kantlehner, Elon Preceptor and attorney Robert Cone, and Elon Law students Mitchell Baroody and Katherine Koone.
Mukasey, speaking on April 19 at Elon Law with students, faculty members, alumni and attorneys from the region’s legal community, described “Islamism” as a movement distinct from the religion of Islam that had been a growing threat to the United States for well over fifty years.

“To the call of ‘bring them to justice’ was added the call ‘bring justice to them’ and we were told that we were at war,” Mukasey said of the U.S. response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, ”which was more than 50 years after Sayyid Qutb determined that Islamists would have to make war on us, about 15 years after Islamism made it clear that they were training for war with us and five years after Osama bin Laden made it official with a declaration of war.”

Mukasey criticized some approaches of the Obama administration with regard to intelligence gathering procedures and the prosecution of war criminals.

“Policies pursued in the past by the current administration, and now being pursued, leave us both a lot less capable than we might otherwise be of taking tactical advantage of whatever intelligence we may discover and also less capable than we might be of dealing with the ongoing threat,” Mukasey said. “In fighting Islamism we are handicapped at the strategic level in no small measure by the refusal of those in authority to acknowledge the goals of our adversaries.”

Mukasey spoke with Elon students and faculty after the forum.
Mukasey suggested that a stronger and strategic interrogation program would advance U.S. efforts to gather intelligence about Islamic terrorism.

“We need what we do not have, an interrogation program that is both lawful and classified, so that a trained CIA interrogator can obtain information from high value detainees without having our enemies aware of precisely the measures that we can use,” Mukasey said. “In the absence of such a program, we have defaulted to the use of drones, to the point where we have captured only two high value detainees since January of 2009.”

In response to a question about recent bombings at the Boston marathon, Mukasey said it was a reminder to be vigilant and proactive against threats of terrorism.

“It’s a slice of what would have happened if Faisal Shahzad’s bomb had gone off in Times Square,” Mukasey said. “There was an attempt to do something in Times Square. It didn’t go off. We were lucky. If it had gone off we would have seen scenes like that. Is that the new normal? Maybe. And what we’re going to have to be is vigilant. In New York we say, ‘If you see something, say something.’ We have to be aware of where it comes from, why it’s being done … and be proactive.”

Former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey speaks with Elon Law students on April 19.
Concluding his remarks, Mukasey recommended a variety of policies he said would strengthen the U.S. response to Islamic terrorism.

“If we are going to look reality in the face and put in place the authorities that intelligence gatherers need to keep us ahead of those whose goal it is to destroy our way of life,” Mukasey said, “including not only the Patriot Act but also a meaningful, classified interrogation program and standards for detention and put in place as well a system of trying those who have committed war crimes in a suitable tribunal with suitable rules in a suitable location, we will have achieved the end of the beginning and perhaps be able to look forward to the beginning of the end.”

Mukasey is a lawyer and former judge who served as the 81st Attorney General of the United States. Mukasey also served for 18 years as a judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, six of those years as Chief Judge. Mukasey, the second Jewish U.S. Attorney General, is a partner at the international law firm Debevoise & Plimpton.

Elon Law preceptor Robert C. Cone, an attorney with the law firm of Tuggle Duggins P.A., introduced Mukasey at the Elon forum. The event was sponsored by the following student organizations: Student Bar Association, Criminal Law Society, Federalist Society, Law School Republicans and Trial Advocacy Board.