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September 28, 2012

2012 and the Implications for Terrorism Detention Policy
Posted by James Lamond

For those that missed it, Charlie Savage has a piece on the role of detainee policy and torture this campaign season. He reports:

Mr. Romney’s advisers have privately urged him to “rescind and replace President Obama’s executive order” and permit secret “enhanced interrogation techniques against high-value detainees that are safe, legal and effective in generating intelligence to save American lives,” according to an internal Romney campaign memorandum.

While the memo is a policy proposal drafted by Mr. Romney’s advisers in September 2011, and not a final decision by him, its detailed analysis dovetails with his rare and limited public comments about interrogation.

The Romney campaign document, obtained by The New York Times, is a five-page policy paper titled “Interrogation Techniques.” It was a near-final draft circulated last September among the Romney campaign’s “national security law subcommittee” for any further comments before it was to be submitted to Mr. Romney. The panel consists of a brain trust of conservative lawyers, most of whom are veterans of the George W. Bush administration.

Terrorist detention has clearly not been a priority campaign issue this year. When foreign policy and national security issues do rise to the campaign discussion it has typically been Iran, the Benghazi attack and the protests in the Middle East. To a lesser extent Russia and China has also been discused. However, as was seen with the NDAA battle last year, this debate is far from over and whover wins in November will be faced with serious decisions.

What I continue to find surprising however is the debate continuing specifically on the issue of “enhanced interrogation techniques.”  In 2008 both John McCain and Barack Obama took strong stances against hese abuses. Additionally expert interrogators repeatedly discount the utility of  “EITs”:

Mark Fallon, a former interrogator and special agent in charge of the criminal investigation task force at Guantanamo Bay: “I was privy to the information from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed at the time. I’m not aware of any information or intelligence that was a product from water boarding…  I’ve seen no information that the infliction of pain equates to the elicitation of accurate information.”  [Mark Fallon via MSNBC, 5/3/11]

Matthew Alexander, the pseudonym of the Air Force interrogator who located Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, said: “When you use coercive techniques, which includes waterboarding and enhanced interrogation techniques, you get the bare minimum amount of information out of a detainee. And that bare minimum of information is going to lack the details that you need to execute a mission to take out a target.” [Matthew Alexander, 5/4/11]

Glenn L. Carle, a retired C.I.A. officer who oversaw the interrogation of a high-level detainee in 2002, told the New York Times that coercive techniques “didn’t provide useful, meaningful, trustworthy information.” [Glenn Carle via NY Times, 5/3/11]

Additionally, there is a strong consensus that such actions actually hurt our national security interests. David Petraeus famously noted, when asked if he wished that the use of torture or “enhanced interrogation” was available as a tool during interrogations,  “I think that whenever we have, perhaps, taken expedient measures, they have turned around and bitten us in the backside… Abu Ghraib and other situations like that are nonbiodegradables.  They don’t go away.  The enemy continues to beat you with them like a stick in the Central Command area of responsibility.”

On his second day in office President Obama very publicly broke with the previous administration’s policies on detainee issues. While Congressional hand tying has prevented progress on some issues, including the closure of Guantanamo Bay, the use of EITs was for many a settled issue, that we have moved past. Besides it is not as if there has not been great success against al Qaeda in that time period. 

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