Sunday, May 24, 2009

An End Around

It's no secret that the CIA and other US intelligence gathering agencies are smart enough to figure out ways to get around laws and court rulings that limit the way they prefer to do their business. An article in the NY Times gives yet another example of this intelligence. Because of the backlash against kidnappings, secret prisons, and the use of torture, the CIA is now handing over suspected terrorists to other nations for holding and questioning.

The United States is now relying heavily on foreign intelligence services to capture, interrogate and detain all but the highest-level terrorist suspects seized outside the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, according to current and former American government officials.

The change represents a significant loosening of the reins for the United States, which has worked closely with allies to combat violent extremism since the 9/11 attacks but is now pushing that cooperation to new limits. ...

Pakistan’s intelligence and security services captured a Saudi suspect and a Yemeni suspect this year with the help of American intelligence and logistical support, Pakistani officials said. The two are the highest-ranking Qaeda operatives captured since President Obama took office, but they are still being held by Pakistan, which has shared information from their interrogations with the United States, the official said.

The current approach, which began in the last two years of the Bush administration and has gained momentum under Mr. Obama, is driven in part by court rulings and policy changes that have closed the secret prisons run by the Central Intelligence Agency, and all but ended the transfer of prisoners from outside Iraq and Afghanistan to American military prisons.
[Emphasis added]

That's quite a nifty arrangement, especially for the CIA. Agents have been forbidden to use "enhanced interrogation techniques" and the agency has had to shutter its secret "black" prisons in the Middle East and Europe, so now agents assist other countries' intelligence services by sharing information and providing logistical support so that those other countries can do the kidnapping and torturing for them. CIA agents now have clean hands.

Of course, the new arrangement assumes that the information gleaned from the interrogations will be passed on to the CIA by the other nations and that the information is reliable. Those are some shaky assumptions, especially when it comes to Pakistan. It has been clear that at least for the past six years the Pakistani military and its intelligence service has been infiltrated by Taliban sympathizers who obviously have no great love for the US and for the CIA. It's hard to imagine that the information being passed on will not be subverted in some way.

Furthermore, most experts continue to assert that information gathered through the use of torture is itself not particularly reliable. The CIA, using diplomatic channels, is supposed to get assurances from the foreign government that the interrogations will not involve torture, but there is no way to know whether those assurances have any substance to them. In other words, it's the same game, just different players and different stadiums.

What's the answer? Well, it's not really that hard. When, through legitimate intelligence channels, a plot to attack the US is discovered, those involved should be arrested. If that arrest takes place on foreign soil, the US should move for extradition of the miscreant under existing treaties. Once the alleged miscreants are on US soil, they should be charged with the crime (conspiracy, most likely) and given a fair trial in a civilian court with all the attendant legal protections.

I know, I know: that's pre-9/11 thinking. Still, it managed to work for over 200 years. It worked for the first World Trade Center bombing. It even worked for the Oklahoma federal building bombing. There is no reason it shouldn't work today.

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