Sunday, January 3, 2010

Putting Ourselves in a Straightjacket

The have been numerous reports lately concerning Al Qaeda activity in Yemen. The U.S. has stepped up aid to the Yemeni government, and has even been conducting military strikes in the country. We, and the British, just closed our embassy there because of "security threats." The overall situation in Yemen is not good, and apparently worsening daily. Given all that, we clearly have a critical need for intelligence relating to terrorist activities tied to that country.

The failed Christmas bombing left Omar Abdulmutalla in U.S. custody. This terrorist supposedly has ties to Al Qaeda in Yemen, and may even have trained there. We don't know how much he knows. It's possible that he knows very little, and was just a ignorant, fanatical tool. But it is also possible that he could have significant information. Even seemingly minor details might give us useful advantages in our expanding operations against Al Qaeda in Yemen. So what did we do?

We voluntarily chose to treat Abdulmutalla as a criminal, and provided him with completely undeserved rights, and access to legal representation, as if he were a U.S. citizen -- not a terrorist linked to an organization at war with the United States. Now, in order to gain information, we are reduced to trying to make a deal. Here's Obama advisor John Brennan on whether the terrorist will cooperate in return for "incentives,"

"He doesn't have to but he knows there are certain things that are on the table... if he wants to engage with us in a productive manner, there are ways he can do that."
The reason he doesn't have to make a deal, or tell us anything, as Brennan points out, is because the administration stupidly decided to treat him as if he were the same as a U.S. citizen. Maybe he'll make a deal and give us useful information. Or maybe he'll feed us a pack of lies. Or maybe he just doesn't know anything. But he could just choose to say nothing at all. And there's no reason he should have that option in the first place.

This is yet another example of how granting foreign terrorists the rights of a U.S. citizen puts a straightjacket on U.S. intelligence-gathering efforts. And for nothing. We penalize ourselves, degrade U.S. constitutional rights by extending them to those undeserving of them, and we gain nothing. If Abdulmutallah chooses not to talk, and sticks to that decision resolutely, there is nothing we can do. We just have to accept it. Assuming he has any useful information, could we force it out of him? Maybe, maybe not. But we've stupidly denied ourselves even the option to try.


  1. I guess you missed the part where torture only has one proven utility - episodes of '24' and all sorts of b.s. to the contrary. Waterboarding and the like generate false confessions as the victim will say anything to get the pain to stop. Could be that his programming from when that was done to him already is part of the reason he's not 'right in the head.' That and knowing nothing will seriously stop the people who did it to him before from kidnapping him again.
    Meantime : what kind of intelligence do you require about Yemeni separatists where the central government had their friends intervene in their civil war ?
    Somalia. Iraq. Afghanistan. Pakistan. And on and on. There was a time when people made fun of Ronny Ray Gun for wanting to be 'World Sheriff.' These days the starving paupers targeted for air strikes are reduced to hoping that somebody behind the gunsights is afflicted with an attack of sanity.
    You have to wonder why U.S. troops commit suicide at a much greater rate than those of other nations.

  2. "I guess you missed the part where torture only has one proven utility"

    I'm sorry but that's utter nonsense. Torture has produced accurate information in a number of confirmed cases. It's an interrogation method, and like any interrogation method, its results depend on the information in question, the interrogator, and the interrogatee. Try searching for "torture" on this blog.

    The torture doesn't work argument is either ignorance, intellectual dishonesty, or denial of reality.

  3. As to the rest of your argument, as I wrote, I'm not sure what, if any useful intelligence the underwear bomber possesses. In my opinion it's probably unlikely that he knows anything worthy of resorting to torture. But he may know some useful things. It would be beneficial to have the option to utilize certain methods -- short of torture, such as tricks and threats, that cannot be used on a criminal suspect. The point of the post is that by treating him as a normal criminal, we unnecessarily close off a number of possible options.

    I'm not advocating that he be tortured, although I wouldn't rule it out either.