Washington Bureau

05.08.14

Hillary Under Fire for Boko Haram

The news that the State Department under Hillary Clinton declined to list Boko Haram as a terrorist group ricocheted through Washington on Thursday.

Everyone from Rush Limbaugh to U.S. Special Operations Command blew their lids at the news, broken by The Daily Beast, that Hillary Clinton's State Department refused to designate Boko Haram as a terrorist organization. It provoked outrage on Capitol Hill and deeply partisan reactions on both sides of the aisle as the international outcry over the kidnapping of 300 female students by Nigerian based terror group grows.

Already on Thursday Rep. Peter King (R-NY), the chair of the House Homeland Security Committee and Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA), the chair of the Homeland Security’s Subcommittee on Counter Terrorism and Intelligence, sent a new letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, obtained by The Daily Beast, asking why Boko Haram was not classified as a terrorist organization in 2011 as sources within elite US military units told ABC News that they tried to put the Nigerian Islamist terror group higher up on their target list -- only to be "shot down by State."

The letter asks “Under federal statute, militant groups must meet three standards to be classified as a foreign terrorist organization. For designation as an FTO, a group must be a terrorist organization, it must engage terrorist activity (or retain the intent and capability to do so), and it must threaten the security of American nationals or the national security of the United States. Why, when it was clear as early as 2011 that Boko Haram met all of these conditions, was the FTO designation not made until November 2013?”

King and Meehan go on to raise further questions about the government’s response to the Nigerian terrorist group and state “it is critical that we address the threat posed by Boko Haram before it has the ability to export its violence and harm American interests and potentially Americans themselves.”

The outrage wasn’t just limited to Congress. Conservative pundits railed against the decision. Rush Limbaugh claimed that Obama should be held responsible too while Ed Morrissey at Hot Air, held Hillary Clinton directly responsible.  RNC Chair Reince Priebus called the refusal to designate Boko Haram as a terrorist group “a leadership failure” while Newt Gingrich even called for congressional hearings. In contrast, Hayes Brown at the liberal Think Progress argued the State Department’s decision not to designate Boko Haram made sense in the broader picture of US-Nigerian relations at the time and that it did take measures to target the group’s leaders. Further, MSNBC’s Steve Benen condemned the GOP reaction as an attempt to “exploit Boko Haram as a domestic political tool.”

As the debate over what, if any, actions should have been taken by the United States government in the past raged in Washington, the Nigerian schoolgirls remain missing and U.S. military advisors are already on their way to Nigeria to combat the terror group, which killed 310 people in an attack on a village on Monday.