Sunday, December 04, 2005

The CIA and Torture

By Melissa Boyle Mahle


Washington, December 1, 2005

Secret prisons, renditions, torture—words now commonly associated with the CIA. Even national security hawks cringe at recent revelations of CIA activities. We have arrived at this juncture because the post-9/11 world of covert operational expediency has run smack into the reality of American democratic deliberations. In short, the American people are questioning if the CIA has crossed the red lines of democracy, rule of law and ethos of freedom and liberty in the name of fighting terror.

In light of these accusations, people like me who support a strong and capable CIA worry about a public backlash that might significantly undermine the CIA’s ability to meet its counterterrorism mission and keep Americans safe. I believe it is time to talk honesty and openly about rendition, torture and secret detention policies because attempting to hide them under the cloak of secrecy will only feed fears and prompt inappropriate reactions.

As a former CIA case officer, I support renditions, the practice of secretly getting a terrorist off the streets of a foreign country, immediately shutting down whatever operation he (or she) was planning, and perhaps flushing out previously unknown cell members as they scurry about seeking information on their missing co-plotter. Renditions should be conducted in the shadows for optimal impact and should not, I must add, leave elephant-sized footprints so as to not embarrass our allies in Europe. During my career at the CIA I was involved in these types of operations and know first hand that they can save American lives.

Supporting renditions does not mean supporting torture. Not only is torture immoral, it is damaging to the standing of any organization, entity or government that openly or secretly condones it. As a professional intelligence official, I firmly believe the practice of torture brings far more dangers than gains in the global war on terror. Subjected to torture, individuals will say whatever it takes to make the pain and humiliation stop. The intelligence take is a mixture of truth and lies; differentiating between the two in a timely and systematic way is impossible. Arguments in support of torture in the case of “ticking bomb” scenarios—an immediate threat that might be stopped if only the detainee would immediately spill the beans—are fallacious. Professional interrogators will tell you that torture is a faulty shortcut that can never produce the same quality of results that a systematic and sustained interrogation can produce.

Why has the rendition policy been caught up in a controversy over torture and secret prisons? Because the US turns over some of these snatched individuals to governments that may not respect human rights and holds others incommunicado in secret locations around the world.

The practice of rendering terrorists to third countries started for specific reasons in the 1990s. While the preference was to bring the individual to the US for prosecution under US laws, it was not always possible to obtain an indictment or a conviction because of legal standards. Take the case Musa Abu Marzook, the Hamas “political leader and fund-raiser” who was rendered to the US in 1995. He sat is a US jail for two years while the legal case against him floundered. Eventually, he was deported to Jordan. From there, he traveled to Syria where he joined his terrorist cohorts, free once again to incite terror against Israeli civilians. The US learned an important lesson from this case. Given the choice of letting the terrorist roam free or snatching and transferring him to a third country where criminal proceedings are a sure thing, it is understandable why the US has gravitated to third country renditions.

The war on terror dramatically increased the number of terrorist suspects picked up in war zones or rendered from around the globe. This presented a practical problem of where and how to hold these suspects so that their full intelligence value could be exploited, without violating US laws and without exposing intelligence methods—i.e. how the spies do their clandestine jobs—to legal discovery in criminal prosecutions. A decision to keep the entire enterprise completely in the black for maximum flexibility was made, frankly because it was easy and met the immediate national security needs.

Field expediency seldom makes good long term policy.

Our world has changed dramatically since 9/11. The Patriot Act and criminalization of a broad category of actions supporting terrorism infrastructure have provided important new legal and intelligence tools to combat terrorism. Where indictments and convictions in the past were not attainable, they are now. The CIA and Department of Justice need to revisit the rationale for renditions to third countries and secret detentions in light of these changes. Prosecution of the terrorist suspects under US law will also go a long way to ensure the US uses legal methods for detention and interrogation and protect the nation from slipping into indefensible policies under the cloak of secrecy and field expediency. Creating a pathway for the transfer of secret detainees to US military and criminal justice systems in a way that will protect intelligence methods will relieve the CIA from the burden of being jail keepers.

This is not a case of choosing between protecting intelligence capabilities and letting terrorists roam free. Nor should it be a case of choosing between our values and our safety. We have the laws we need to support our counterterrorism strategy, we just need the political will to use them.

7 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think we want to undermine the CIA. Rather we want to be sure they are on our side. It seems that the agenda in the last few years with leaks, etc, has been to undermine the current President. Which I suggest is counter productive if not treasonous. We are at war whether or not we want to be and we must be united. Thank you for allowing comments.

12/05/2005 2:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One has to wonder how a sensible policy of "rendition" can be openly debated and implemented in the present environment that places the highest premium on "rendering" wins or losses to those practicing politics.

12/05/2005 4:55 PM  
Anonymous David Starr said...

I agree that torture doesn't work as an interrogation method. If the suspect has two brain cells working, he will simply tell you what ever you want to hear to make it stop hurting.
So, the practice of "rendition" started to deliver terrorists to real legal systems instead of the US legal system? (Real legal systems convict criminals, the US system lets them go). Perhaps now, after 9/11, the US legal system might perform better. Especially if a big deal was made each time a terrorist let off the hook. Surely the MSM and the leakers who made the Plame case so prominent could arrange for unfavorable publicity for courts the let terrorist get away.

12/06/2005 10:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the criricisms of the rendition in Italy that resulted in arrest warrants for 13+ CIA agents is that the Italian authorities had spent two years trying to infiltrate the alleged cell the rendered person was purportedly a member of and that the CIA kidnapping blew the Italian investigation out of the water.

Whatever the merits of a particular case (in the case above the CIA blew it -- the rendition was a mistake) it's safe to assume that kidnappings that destroy investigations in process probably do not help protect anyone from terrorism.

Moreover, you cannot ignore the sovereignty issue. To illustrate let's do the flip test: Assume that the Chinese "render" an American citizen off the street in Chicago or San Francisco because they suspect him of somehow aiding Xinjiang separatists (recently declared terrorists by the U.S. government in a quid pro quo for Chinese government support of one Bush policy inititiative at the United Nations), pack him off to Egypt for intensive interrogations and find out after six months or a year that a mistake has been made. At that point the Chinese might just be too embarrassed to admit such a mistake and release the victim so they might just have the kidnap victim murdered.

Should the U.S., if it were to discover information about the Chinese rendition and muder, investigate? protest? write it off as collateral damage?

More generally, should the U.S. acquiesce in the kidnapping of its own citizens by foreign governments whether on U.S. soil or not under any circumstance, ever? If the answer is no, how can the U.S. expect any other government to acquiesce in the face of American renditions?

The realpolitiks here? Given that 85 cents out of every deficit dollar the U.S. government spends these days is borrowed from a handful of countries (China, Japan and Saudi Arabia for the most part), could the U.S. even afford to make a fuss out of one American citizen captured, rendered, interrogated and murdered by China, Japan or Saudi Arabia in the global war against terrorism?

Probably not.

These issues get weird fast, don't they?

12/07/2005 9:39 AM  
Blogger Anderson said...

I can't avoid inferring that, whatever the ORIGINAL reasons for rendition to countries like Syria, the purpose NOW is so that detainees may be tortured.

Given your remarks about the changed legal environment post-9/11, that inference is the only one that makes sense to me.

12/08/2005 10:50 AM  
Anonymous joseph p. bell said...

JOE BELL : IT SEEMS TO ME THAT "ANONYMOUS;12/05/2005 @2:38 PM "SAYING "WE" UNDERMINE THE PRECEDENT BUSH ". (spelling is correct). When this administration took over they took over with the most experience staff e(cabinet) ever assembled in the history of the U.S. ANy one on that cabinet could have been president (not electbut experience)cheny,powell,rumsfeld,: yet this administration also brought with them the following experts in terrorism :George Tenet (traitor) Richard Clarke ,louis Freeh (who hated Clinton) and John O'Neill (whom the bushies made sure departed before 911) Rice,Zelikow,(911 writer and coordinaterand Rice's roommate under Scowcroft ) and how in hell could they have not stopped 911.? Tom Kean,Chairman, 911 commission (and still on board of Amerada Hess and Aramark ;2 republican strongholds and in conflict of interest )stated Dec. 2003 .,"911 could have and should have been stopped ". and then he went on and changed the entire reason for the commission. Barbara Bodine was also involved ,in NOT stopping 911 . She was Ambassador to Yemen and should have been better able to protect the USS COLE and should not have worked against John O'Neill ,FBI agent in charge of Terrorism (MUELLER )also worked for ghwb #41 ,as has all the Administration in place on 911. Melissa Boyle Mahle ,Denial and Deception ,wrote one fantastic book ;and there is no way any of us could ever put ourselves in their courageous shoes. Thank you for your service. AND AS YOU MENTION IN YOUR BOOK ,BUSH #43 was after Saddam long before 911 ,just as Bob Woodward mentions in his book "PLAN OF ATTACK ". 10 days before Inauguration ,Powell ,Rumsfeld ,bush et al (rice) went to see Sec, Cohen at the DOD to get a perspective on the no -fly zone so they would be prepared to up the ante and provoke Saddam into war .... belljp@rcn.com stop trying to ntellectualize 911 and the war ;the facts are plain and simple .bush was/ is responsible for 911 and the war ...

5/03/2006 8:29 PM  
Blogger Murky Thoughts said...

Organizations make mistakes, and when you make a mistake on a human being--hauling away someone's husband, someone's father, someone's employer--that's a grave crime. Seemingly these people have no one to advocate for them, nobody with an incentive to dig up information or testimony that would exculpate them. An enforcement and intelligence agency wants to gather up more people rather than less. The guy who cuts Osama's hair, delivers kababs, knows his shoe size. The civilian police are being watched. Who is watching the CIA?

5/06/2006 5:32 PM  

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