Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Another Torture Hypothetical

The CIA receives word that a small group of Pakistani tribesman have captured someone they claim is an Al Qaeda leader, and they are willing to sell him to the highest bidder. A CIA team secretly enters Pakistan to see for themselves and to possibly negotiate for custody of the prisoner. They are shocked to find that the Pakistanis are holding Ayman Al-Zawahiri. They arrange payment, take custody, and transfer Zawahiri to a secret detainment facility within Afghanistan.

During his transfer the Al Qaeda leader is uncommunicative. But when CIA interrogators start to question him, he says something like,

"You have captured me, but it does not matter. Our plans are already in motion. Our next strike will bring your evil country to its knees, and you cannot stop it." After that statement he refuses to respond to any questions, except by spouting Islamist slogans or with abuse for the interrogators. No matter what is tried, Zawahiri answers with silence, slogans, or abuse. So what do we do then? Here are the basic options:

1. Accept no information as an answer. Keep trying standard interrogation methods in the hope that they will eventually produce. In the meantime, hope that his comments about a major attack were nothing more than empty bluster.

2. Transfer him to an allied country, such as Egypt, known for its ability to violently extract information from unresponsive prisoners.

3. Utilize certain coercive measures, including torture, ourselves.

Terrorist rights supporters have only one option, #1: hope. The rest of us have options 2 & 3. Option two, the equivalent of what has been termed "extraordinary rendition," has advantages and disadvantages.  The advantages are that it allows the U.S. to keep some distance from unsavory & illegal interrogation methods, and it makes use of the talents of a country that has a great deal of experience torturing prisoners. But on the downside, involving another state causes all sorts of problems. It doesn't allow the U.S. to retain total control, increases the chance of a security breach, exposes possible intelligence to another state, and if the rendition is discovered, carries almost as much of stigma as if we simply tortured the prisoner ourselves. In my opinion, option three makes the most sense in this case. It may produce useful intelligence, or it may not. But it is better than relying on hope.

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