Senators prod DOJ on delayed Boko Haram designation
Terrorism | Lawmakers want to know why it took so long to acknowledge the Nigerian terror group’s threat
by J.C. Derrick
Posted 9/28/16, 12:40 pm
WASHINGTON—Two Republican U.S. senators are seeking all relevant communication between the State Department and the Department of Justice regarding the years-long process of designating Boko Haram a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO).
Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and David Vitter, R-La., a member of the committee, sent a letter Tuesday to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch requesting the information.
“The State Department refused to act, allowing Boko Haram to tighten its grip on the region,” Grassley said. “We need an explanation for why the State Department delayed a decision that could have prevented the growth of yet another terrorist organization on the Obama administration’s watch.”
Boko Haram has received less attention than al-Qaeda and Islamic State, but the 2015 Global Terrorism Index found the Nigeria-based group was the most deadly terrorist organization in the world in 2014. Critics say the United States should have done more to prevent Boko Haram’s rise—including the standard FTO designation that would have unlocked more terror-fighting tools.
Some said Boko Haram posed no threat to U.S. interests and the designation would only raise the group’s profile, but the Department of Defense, the intelligence community, bipartisan lawmakers, and advocacy groups argued it was necessary.
“For two years, Boko Haram grew as [then-Secretary of State Hillary] Clinton and her Department of State refused official requests to designate Boko Haram as an FTO,” Grassley and Vitter wrote to Lynch.
The letter seeks all relative correspondence between the Justice Department and other agencies; any formal FTO requests made to the State Department; any investigation requests; four specific correspondences already publicly reported; and any Justice Department opinions, analysis, conclusions, and advice related to the FTO designation between January 2011 and November 2013.
The senators asked Lynch to provide the documents no later than Oct. 7.
A WORLD investigation this year found multiple Clinton campaign and foundation donors may have benefited from the policy carried out during Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state. She left office on Feb. 1, 2013, and Secretary of State John Kerry issued the designation nine months later.
State Department documents WORLD obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan asked President Barack Obama for increased counterterrorism cooperation in June 2011—two months before a suicide bomber killed 23 and endangered at least one U.S. citizen at the UN compound in Abuja.
“Multiple U.S. agencies and even the Nigerian president warned Secretary Clinton how dangerous Boko Haram was becoming, yet the State Department ignored the clear evidence and calls to take action,” Vitter said in a statement. “The American and Nigerian people deserve to know why Hillary Clinton and the State Department took so long to actually acknowledge this threat—and what they were hiding in the process.”
Vitter has called attention to the delayed Boko Haram designation for more than two years, but the involvement of Grassley—who leads the powerful committee tasked with Justice Department oversight—raises the stakes and the likelihood of gaining additional information.
Boko Haram was responsible for more than 10,000 deaths in 2015 alone and has displaced some 2.5 million in northeastern Nigeria.
The Nigerian government has made recent gains against the group, but the militants continue to wreak havoc: Just this week Boko Haram reportedly killed eight and took over three villages near the town of Chibok, where the group carried out its high-profile kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian school girls in 2014.