Yes, it’s extreme vetting season. It was promised to us during the campaign and ties heavily into the President’s travel ban (which is still locked up in court). Only the vetting isn’t taking place here. You probably recall that little dust-up between Donald Trump and Australia’s Malcolm Turnbull shortly after Trump was sworn into office. They had a few differences of opinion which have supposedly since been resolved, but one serious bone of contention was the roughly 1,200 refugees who are being held on two islands off the Australian coast. Barack Obama had made a deal to take them off of Australia’s hands… an agreement which the current president referred to as “dumb.”
Then, Vice President Pence visited and apparently finalized a new deal in which we’d take the refugees after all, providing Turnbull took a bunch of Central American detainees off of our hands in return. Starting a couple of weeks ago, the vetting process for the migrants on Manus Island began. How “extreme” it actually is I leave to the judgement of the reader. (Reuters)
The refugees told Reuters that interviews began with an oath to God to tell the truth and then proceeded for as long as six hours, with in-depth questions on associates, family, friends and any interactions with the Islamic State militant group.
Manus Island is one of two Australian-operated detention centers, which hold nearly 1,300 people who were intercepted trying to reach Australia by boat.
Human rights groups have condemned the intercept policy and the harsh conditions of the camps. Australia says offshore processing is needed as a deterrent after thousands of people drowned at sea before the policy was introduced in 2013.
This is clearly going to be a long, drawn out process. They were at it for weeks and, at least according to the reports out of Reuters, they made it through seventy of them. And they won’t have a final decision on that group for as much as two months. Just sketching out the math on the back of a cocktail napkin here, it’s going to take until the fall of 2018 to finish interviewing them all even if they keep grinding away at it non-stop. (Wouldn’t the eve of the midterm elections just a perfect time to finish this project?)
When the deal was first announced by Mike Pence I was more than a little skeptical. Nothing much has changed for me since then. After all, even if these were all actual refugees of good intent who were truly fleeing oppression (which can’t be definitively proven) they’ve now been stuck in those camps for years under what has been described as rather horrible conditions. That’s plenty of time to build up a lingering resentment of the west and begin putting ideas in people’s heads.
It’s nice that they all agreed to “swear to God” that they weren’t fibbing and presumably provide some names and addresses from their previous homes which can be checked out, but we’ve never gotten anywhere near being infallible in this process. You can go back to 2014 and the debacle of Barack Obama hoping to vet the “moderate” rebels in Syria to see which ones we could train to fight on our behalf. U.S. counterterrorism veterans, in an interview for Newsweek that year, said that our traditional vetting methods in that region were, “no match for the linguistic, cultural, tribal and political complexities of the Middle East.” One veteran of the vetting experience from the CIA said in the same report that we were “totally out of our league” when it came to the vetting game in that region.
Have we gotten that much better at it since then? We’d better hope so, but I’m not seeing all that much evidence to give us optimism. The way things are looking right now, Australia may have gotten the far better end of the deal by taking the refugees from that Costa Rican camp. But don’t worry… I’m sure we’ll have special agents following around all 1,200 of these new arrivals for years to come since we’re so flush with personnel and resources to do such things. (/sarc)