DOJ issued unanswered call to action on Boko Haram
Justice Department wanted to designate Boko Haram a terror group in 2012
WASHINGTON—The Department of Justice (DOJ) forcefully argued the U.S. government should designate the Nigerian group Boko Haram a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) in January 2012, nearly two years before the State Department finally acknowledged its threat.
Documents obtained by WORLD show some Obama administration officials recognized the militant group’s deadly potential and add weight to still unanswered questions about why the State Department under then-Secretary Hillary Clinton refused to acknowledge the terrorists for what they were, even as their victims multiplied.
DOJ sent the document to Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and David Vitter, R-La., in response to a letter of inquiry they jointly sent to Attorney General Loretta Lynch in September. Among a list of requests, the senators asked for all relevant communications regarding the years-long process to officially designate Boko Haram a terror group.
This month, Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik told Vitter and Grassley, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, that DOJ completed a search from January 2011 to November 2013 and found two documents responsive to their request.
One document was then–Attorney General Eric Holder’s letter to Secretary of State John Kerry approving FTO designation in October 2013. The other was a January 2012 letter from then–Assistant Attorney General Lisa Monaco making the case against Boko Haram.
“The Department of Justice strongly supports any efforts by the Department of State to begin the FTO designation process against Boko Haram,” Monaco wrote to Daniel Benjamin, then-coordinator for terrorism, more than 21 months before the State Department made the designation.
FTO designation is significant because it triggers investigations into terror financing, allows the placement of sanctions on group members and those who support them, and enables increased cooperation between U.S. authorities and the military. WORLD previously reported that DOJ wanted FTO designation, but the 2012 document offers new insight into timing and arguments.
Monaco’s letter is dated Jan. 26, only six days after militants committed 23 coordinated bombings that killed 185 across the northern city of Kano, Nigeria.
Monaco, now President Barack Obama’s homeland security and counterterrorism adviser, cited the bombings as fresh evidence against Boko Haram: “The rate of violence is only increasing.”
Secretaries of state have issued more than 70 FTO designations over the last two decades, and counterterrorism experts say Boko Haram was unusually controversial. FTO critics said the designation would only increase publicity for the group, which they said did not pose a threat to U.S. interests. Monaco clearly disagreed.
“The United States should not underestimate the potential threat Boko Haram poses to U.S. interests abroad and the homeland,” she wrote, noting “prior discussions” with Benjamin. “Boko Haram has forged links with transnational terrorist groups, including al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb, and has openly espoused violence against the West.”
Monaco noted the FTO designation would make available “a wide range of criminal and civil penalties,” including criminal liability for those who provide material support to terrorists, “a cornerstone of our counterterrorism statutes.”
Vitter, who is leaving Congress this month after not seeking reelection, has since 2014 sought answers about why the State Department downplayed the threat from Boko Haram. A WORLD investigation this year found multiple donors to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s campaigns and family foundation may have benefited from the policy carried out during her State Department tenure. Nine months after she left the position, Kerry issued the designation.
Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., led calls for action on Capitol Hill and told me the delay was “inexplicable, unacceptable, and has impeded progress in bringing an end to Boko Haram’s reign of terror. We need to know not only why it took so long to make the FTO designation, but also why State Department hearing witnesses repeatedly refused to acknowledge that U.S. personnel were in the UN building in Abuja, Nigeria, that Boko Haram attacked in August 2011.”
Smith, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Africa subcommittee, said the Obama administration has not completed an investigation into those supporting Boko Haram, even three years after making the designation.
“These delays must be stopped before another attack needlessly destroys the lives of innocent civilians,” Smith said. “I look forward to working with Sen. Grassley to get these answers.”
The 2015 Global Terrorism Index found Boko Haram was the most deadly terrorist organization in the world in 2014. Last year alone, the militants killed more than 10,000 people.
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