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May 13, 2004
Stop The Presses: CIA Uses "Harsh" Interrogation Techniques on Al-Qaeda Leaders

The New York Times reports today that the CIA uses "harsh" interrogation techniques on top al-Qaeda leaders and often uses a rotating jurisdictional strategy in order to protect Special Ops interrogators, in an article certain to raise the ire of anti-war protestors:

The Central Intelligence Agency has used coercive interrogation methods against a select group of high-level leaders and operatives of Al Qaeda that have produced growing concerns inside the agency about abuses, according to current and former counterterrorism officials. ...

In the case of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a high-level detainee who is believed to have helped plan the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, C.I.A. interrogators used graduated levels of force, including a technique known as "water boarding," in which a prisoner is strapped down, forcibly pushed under water and made to believe he might drown.

These techniques were authorized by a set of secret rules for the interrogation of high-level Qaeda prisoners, none known to be housed in Iraq, that were endorsed by the Justice Department and the C.I.A. The rules were among the first adopted by the Bush administration after the Sept. 11 attacks for handling detainees and may have helped establish a new understanding throughout the government that officials would have greater freedom to deal harshly with detainees.

The last part of this excerpt is sheer nonsense. For most of the article, the Times decries the secrecy of both the location of these prisoners and the methods used to interrogate them. In almost the same breath, they then extrapolate that commanders in the field use this example in order to "deal harshly" with their own detainees. I suspect that the military commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan have their hands full without getting briefed on interrogations far outside their command structure.

I don't doubt that some tough methods have been employed by interrogators, nor do I doubt that the CIA has played a shell game in dealing with jurisdiction in order to work around US restrictions on interrogation techniques. However, we are dealing with a group of fanatics who have sworn to kill us in any way possible at any time possible. They do not have claim to POW status, nor does the US need to allow human-rights advocates to have access to them, as they have no status other than unlawful or illegal combatants in the war on terror.

They are non-state actors, meaning they officially represent no government, which in Geneva Convention terms makes them about the same level as spies. They are not POWs -- POWs must wear the appropriate insignia of a government when captured in battle. The reason for this distinction in the Geneva Convention is precisely to prevent non-state actors from taking up arms against a nation, for the precise reasons we see today: they act as a terribly destabilizing force throughout regions in which they operate and hold civilian populations hostage when using them as screens for their attacks. Geneva Convention protections do not apply to these unlawful combatants -- a term which the convention specifically defines, and as the US Supreme Court decided in WWII in the case of German saboteurs captured out of uniform:

...the law of war draws a distinction between the armed forces and the peaceful populations of belligerent nations and also between those who are lawful and unlawful combatants. Lawful combatants are subject to capture and detention as prisoners of war by opposing military forces. Unlawful combatants are likewise subject to capture and detention, but in addition they are subject to trial and punishment by military tribunals for acts which render their belligerency unlawful. The spy who secretly and without uniform passes the military lines of a belligerent in time of war, seeking to gather military information and communicate it to the enemy, or an enemy combatant who without uniform comes secretly through the lines for the purpose of waging war by destruction of life or property, are familiar examples of belligerents who are generally deemed not to be entitled to the status of prisoners of war, but to be offenders against the law of war subject to trial and punishment by military tribunals.

Their status and determination, therefore, are at the discretion of the capturing authority, and not the Geneva Convention. Pointless invocations of this agreement only reveal an ignorance of both its text and its intent. Besides, one has to be a signatory to the Geneva Convention in order to qualify for its benefits -- presumably a bilateral guarantee for the conduct of war and treatment of prisoners -- and one has to represent a state in order to be a signatory. No one seriously proposes that Khalid Mohammed represents a GC signatory, nor is anyone under the delusion that Islamofascists operate under its code, especially after the Nick Berg slaughter that we saw earlier this week.

Getting to the heart of the matter, the CIA must act to protect Americans from attack, something that the 9/11 Commission has certainly pounded into the headlines at every possible turn, and in order to do so must gather enough intelligence to see the threats before they materialize. As long as they don't resort to out-and-out torture -- "water boarding" may come close -- they need to be allowed to do their job. I certainly don't want to wake up to a smoldering ruin of Minneapolis and yet feel good that we treated AQ leadership in a warm and caring way.

So despite the bleating of the Times, AQ suspects should not be treated like POWs or as criminal defendants. This is war and they are not criminals, they are the enemy, a point that 9/11 should have made clear to everyone. They terrorize civilian populations, they murdered Americans by the thousands, and plan on killing by the millions if left long enough. Spare me the overweening concern for their civil rights. They gave those up when they declared war on us. And if we don't start understanding the stakes in this war, our pusallanimity will lose it for us and the Western world.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 13, 2004 6:22 AM

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