What difference does it make?: Clinton refused to designate al-Qaeda-connected group as a terrorist organization

The kidnapping of more than 270 Nigerian schoolgirls by Boko Haram, an Islamic militant group, has sparked condemnation and action the United States. The Obama administration announced this week that it will send technical support to the African country to help search for the girls.

While most Americans have never heard of Boko Haram, the al-Qaeda-connected group has carried out a number of attacks over the last few years, including the 2011 assassination of an Islamic cleric who criticized violent groups and the bombing of a United Nations building in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, that same year.

The kidnappings have led to a round of “hashtag diplomacy” on Twitter. Many users are have tweeted their thoughts about the situation using #BringBackOurGirls, among them is Hillary Clinton. The former Secretary of State tweeted this late last week:

Yeah, about that. It turns out that the State Department, under Clinton’s leadership, refused to designate Boko Haram as a terrorist organization in 2011 and, again, in 2012, according to Josh Rogin of The Daily Beast (emphasis added):

On Wednesday, Clinton said that the abduction of the girls by Boko Haram was “abominable, it’s criminal, it’s an act of terrorism and it really merits the fullest response possible, first and foremost from the government of Nigeria.” Clinton said that as Secretary of State she had numerous meetings with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and had urged the Nigerian government to do more on counterterrorism.

What Clinton didn’t mention was that her own State Department refused to place Boko Haram on the list of foreign terrorist organizations in 2011, after the group bombed the U.N. headquarters in Abuja. The refusal came despite the urging of the Justice Department, the FBI, the CIA, and over a dozen senators and congressmen.

“The one thing she could have done, the one tool she had at her disposal, she didn’t use. And nobody can say she wasn’t urged to do it. It’s gross hypocrisy,” said a former senior U.S. official who was involved in the debate. “The FBI, the CIA, and the Justice Department really wanted Boko Haram designated, they wanted the authorities that would provide to go after them, and they voiced that repeatedly to elected officials.”

In May 2012, then-Justice Department official Lisa Monaco (now at the White House) wrote to the State Department to urge Clinton to designate Boko Haram as a terrorist organization. The following month, Gen. Carter Ham, the chief of U.S. Africa Command, said that Boko Haram “are likely sharing funds, training, and explosive materials” with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. And yet, Hillary Clinton’s State Department still declined to place Boko Haram on its official terrorist roster.

Clinton’s successor, John Kerry, added Boko Haram to the list of foreign terrorist organizations (FTO) in November 2013, pointing to some of the same terrorist attacks that, apparently, weren’t enough for Clinton to make the designation.

When asked by a reporter why Clinton didn’t add Boko Haram to the FTO list, a State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki punted. “Well, I’m obviously not going to discuss internal debates, especially those that happened years ago,” said Psaki. “I think an important reminder here is, designations are just one tool we use to fight terrorism.”

Psaki is doing it wrong. Clinton already showed her how to deflect a line of questions about foreign policy failures. Just angrily and arrogantly asked, “What difference, at this point, does it make?” That’s what was Clinton’s response to questions about the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack. Oh, sorry. That’s right, it was a spontaneous reaction to a video.


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