Friday, March 11, 2005

Rendition Update has an editorial this morning entitled "Rendering Al Qaeda." On Tuesday I blogged a piece entitled "Outsourcing Torture?" which also discussed the United States' rendition policy, so this is a good time for me to clarify some thoughts on the issue.

First, a look at the big picture. Our country is currently engaged in an epic struggle against a fanatical and violent foe. Militant Islamic fundamentalists have no problem killing anyone who isn't also an Islamic fundamentalist. They shoot people. They set off roadside bombs. They drive explosives-laden trucks into buildings. They strap nails and explosives to themselves (or retarded kids, or women, or donkeys). They fly planes into buildings. They behead those they consider "infidels" (again, defined loosely as anyone who isn't a militant Islamic fundamentalist). And they kill their own people suspected of not being sufficiently pure of thought.

For many years, these foes have killed thousands of Americans. Only since 9/11/2001 has the United States begun to fight back. We need to do all that we can to defeat this enemy. That includes, but isn't limited to, intelligence gathering, military action, diplomatic negotiations, regime change, fostering democracy reforms worldwide, rebuilding countries like Afghanistan and Iraq, and yes, stringent interrogations of captured terrorists. The last three paragraphs of the piece sum things up:

Keep in mind that al Qaeda detainees enter U.S. custody trained to deal with U.S. interrogators, and well aware of our legal limitations. U.S. forces have found al Qaeda training manuals that explain in detail what they can expect. This removes the most powerful tool any interrogator can have in dealing with detainees, which is the anxiety that comes with uncertainty. The prospect of rendition creates that uncertainty.

Yet even this would be banned under legislation introduced by Democratic Massachusetts Congressman Edward Markey. "Torture is morally repugnant whether we do it or whether we ask another country to do it for us," he says. Which is true, except that nobody in the Bush Administration is suggesting the U.S. practice torture, and there would be no need to render suspects in the first place if American interrogators were not already, and increasingly, constrained.

To win the war on terror, the U.S. will require vastly better intelligence than it has had so far. Terrorist suspects are potentially among the most valuable sources of intelligence, yet the expanded use of renditions only indicates that the U.S. itself is incapable of mining these assets. No one we know wants to "outsource torture," but critics of the practice are obliged to say what tactics they will sanction that can extract information from terrorists when it might save American lives.

At the end of the day, we are talking about saving American lives and providing for the security of our nation. We need to do this by adding tools to the arsenal, not by fighting with one hand tied behind our back. As the quote above says: the most powerful tool any interrogator can have in dealing with detainees is the anxiety that comes with uncertainty. Let's use it.

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