Tara McKelvey

Tara McKelvey, a senior editor at the Prospect, is a research fellow at NYU School of Law's Center on Law and Security and the author of Monstering: Inside America’s Policy on Secret Interrogations and Torture in the Terror War.

Recent Articles

WHAT MAKES A TERRORIST?

The arrest of Daniel Patrick Boyd in Willow Spring, North Carolina, raises questions about when and on what grounds people should be arrested for planning terrorist attacks. According to The New York Times , he was charged with “stockpiling automatic weapons and traveling abroad numerous times to participate in jihadist movements.” The second part is horrific, and the first part seems, well, normal, at least in the parts of Kentucky and Illinois that I have visited over the past several months. In those places, quite a few Iraq veterans have stockpiled automatic weapons in their houses and apartments -- enough for World War III, in some cases, and nobody seems too bothered about it. The veterans I know are clearly not planning a terrorist attack. And apparently the government officials had enough evidence to charge Boyd and others, all of which may lead to a series of convictions. Yet the question remains: When should suspects be arrested? British law-enforcement officials seem more...

SOLDIER ELECTROCUTED, CONTRACTOR BLAMED.

Staff Sgt. Ryan D. Maseth was taking a shower in the barracks of a military installation in Iraq last year when he was jolted with electricity and died; the Houston-based military contractor KBR had installed the pumps and water tanks for the shower, and the Defense Department’s inspector general report recently found that the contractor -- as well as the military -- had exposed the soldier to “unacceptable risk,” reports the Associated Press. Mistakes happen in war, but the troublesome part is that errors, even fatal ones, remain hidden when contractors are involved. For example, when Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota tried to look into the cases of National Guard soldiers who had been exposed to carcinogens while guarding a KBR-run water plant in southern Iraq in 2003, the military stalled its investigation for months. This was even after the battalion commander was diagnosed with a fatal form of nasal cancer. “Soldiers are dying. You would think the Defense Department would need no...

MEANWHILE, AT GUANTANAMO ...

These days, John C. Yoo , the author of the Justice Department torture memos, is traveling around the country and giving talks in order to defend his work for the Bush administration, as The Washington Post reports . At the same time, prisoners at Guantanamo are waiting for news on their situation. The prisoners were, by and large, sane when they arrived, with only 8 percent showing signs of serious mental illness, according to a report about Guantanamo that was written by Admiral Patrick Walsh , vice chief of Naval Operations. This level was significantly lower than the 45 to 50 percent rate of mental illness among individuals in U.S. prisons. However, many of the prisoners seem to be going insane because of their incarceration, wrote Leonard S. Rubenstein in The Lancet , citing reports from lawyers who have visited the prisoners. There are psychiatrists and physicians on the island, but they have not necessarily helped the prisoners heal from their physical wounds and psychological...

HOW aL-QAEDA RECRUITS.

An odd and disturbing tale of a man who was drawn into the terrorist network appears in The New York Times , raising questions about U.S. intelligence gathering. Bryant Neal Vinas went from Long Island to Pakistan in search of a wife, according to the account, and along the way received al-Qaeda training. (Meanwhile, some experts believe that Osama bin Laden has taken another wife – this time in the area where he lives, in order, perhaps to strengthen ties to the community where he is hiding out. He also has a wife in Yeman, a counterterrorism expert tells me, and he visits her occasionally.) One of the surprising aspects about the al-Qaeda story is how little Americans knew about the group before 9/11, specially compared to the knowledge we had about our enemies during the Cold War. Back then, CIA officers hung out at cocktail parties in Berlin and Warsaw, recruiting spies, yet there were few efforts to infiltrate terrorist groups operating in the Middle East. It seemed too hard to...

CASHING IN ON DRONES.

We know that drones kill, but we don’t really know if they kill the right people, or at least we don’t know how often. The Pentagon has been stingy with information on the accuracy of the drones. Counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen and Center for a New American Security fellow Andrew Exum called for a reduction in these attacks, explaining in a New York Times op-ed that they are not nearly as good at killing high-level al-Qaeda leaders as military experts claim, but Defense Department officials still have not provided much more information on why we should continue to use them at the current levels. Now, however, military officials are talking about ramping up the use of drones and expanding their capacities, as the Times reports . It is all very exotic, particularly the drones that may someday swarm through the air, darkening the skies “like locusts.” It's also potentially lucrative. Wired ’s Danger Room describes one of the cooler drones, a brand-new “Excalibur aircraft, a 13...

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