Friday, January 07, 2005

Torture and Rendition

Belmont Club has an interesting post on the debate on methods of interogating terror suspects. To quote the gentleman (Steven Den Beste) whose blog brought Belmont Club to my attention:

"Would I rule out torture, rape, mutilation, mass murder? I won't rule out anything.

Part of the reason why is that any case where I publicly rule out anything, no matter what it is, weakens me in negotiations."

Prisoner interrogation is nothing more than negotiation under capture. And negotiation is art of wielding the carrot and the stick. If we eliminate the sticks, our carrots are necessarily weakened. I agree with those who state that torture is dangerous to our people, who, once required to torture, may lose their humanity in the bargain. But if we eliminate torture from the menu, we are empowering our counterparts in the negotiation. If we define for our enemies the circumstances in which torture will be used, we have similarly empowered them to resist us all the way to the point at which torture will be used.

The genius of rendition, then, is that it leaves torture on the table without forcing our people to torture. So long as any country in the world is willing to do the thing that the prisoner most fears, our questioning process merely needs to determine what the prisoner fears most, then threaten to send the prisoner to that place. The stick remains in play, thereby strengthening our negotiating position. We should not specifically request torture from these countries, nor should we use them as the "torture arm" of our interrogation operation (though we can lie to the prisoners and tell them the kinds of torture they can "expect" if rendered). Countries which use torture can and should be used as a threat, if detainees remain intransigent, without requiring us to maintain the apparatus of torture ourselves.

Rendition has the added effect of allowing us to pretend to render a prisoner. As many are aware, we received extremely valuable information from Abu Zubaydah by pretending to render him to the Saudi government. Upon this "false rendering", Zubaydah attempted to make contact with a number of Al Qaeda allies in the Saudi royal family, giving us valuable information that allowed us to clean out many corrupt elements within the Saudi government. In short, rendition provides benefits disproportionate to the moral costs, compared to direct application of torture.

This is not to say that we do not need to have the debate on what methods of torture are acceptable for agents of the US government. However, a willingness to render prisoners is a means of holding this debate in public without removing from the table the "infinite calamity" threatened by rendition. This way, there are three levels of escalation: first, the carrots and sticks within the confines of our official rules of interrogation, second, the levels of compulsion permitted (though not openly acknowledged) under false rendition, and finally, the tortures of our erstwhile allies under true rendition. This final level should be used sparingly, perhaps with some form of judicial review, and only in instances where we are amenable to sending the prisoner to face certain death, as in most instances, rendition is tantamount to a death sentence.

But as Den Beste put it, "Torture, rape, mutilation and mass murder are all cruel. But everything in war is cruel. Unless you are in the situation where negotiations are pointless and you're trying to destroy the other side outright as a political entity, then as long as diplomacy continues it is the goal of war to be cruel, because what you're trying to do is to give your enemy an incentive to stop the war by giving in diplomatically." Similarly, unless the goal is to destroy the prisoner utterly, the goal of rendition is to be cruel in order to incent the prisoner to give in diplomatically.


At January 9, 2005 at 7:44 PM, Blogger openmind123 said...

i agree. you take nothing off the table. not torture. not anything. it's the same reasoning that led white house spokesmen to comment that they wouldn't rule out nuclear attacks to combat terrorism. are we going to nuke anyone? not bloody likely. but i sure as hell would like enemies to think that our government is capable of pushing "the button" if they are pushed far enough.

At January 31, 2005 at 8:56 AM, Blogger RobW said...

Wrechard isn't taking anything off the table because it is going to weaken his position? The dude is sitting in front of his keyboard, not making any decisions. I'd like to know whether he thinks torture is OK. If so, fine, that's his position.

However, while he's at it, he must therefore agree that it is OK for Zarqwai to torture too. Of course as soon as that happens, he will be up in arms about evil. Unfortunately for us, nobody will be listening because of our own torture.

Torture is not morally right. Under any circumstances. Ask a priest. He'll explain that that Jesus guy is against that sort of stuff.


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