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January 09, 2005

Kidnapping, Renditions, and Torture

Stephen Darwall: January 9, 2005

Today's New York Times has an article relating to the U.S. post-9/11 policy of "irregular" or "extraordinary renditions"  that everyone should read: German's Claim of Kidnapping Brings Investigation of U.S. LinkThis is the policy, in place in principle since the early 1990s but whose use vastly increased in the aftermath of 9/11, under which "high value" detainees have been transferred, without extradition proceedings, to other countries that are known to practice torture.  In this case, it seems (read the article to see how persuaded you are) that a German citizen, Khaled el-Masri, who apparently shares the same last name (with a variant spelling) as a man wanted in the 9/11 attacks, was kidnapped by Macedonian authorities when attempting to enter Macedonia while on holiday and was "swept into the C.I.A.'s policy of renditions."  The Times was able to interview el-Masri and check his story against both an Amnesty International report and documents such as his stamped passport and bus tickets.  As el-Masri describes it, after being detained for several weeks in Macedonia, he was flown to a prison in Afghanistan where he was held for months and subjected to beating and forced feeding to break his hunger strike.  Ultimately he was flown back to Albania near the Macedonian border and released, whereupon the border officer returned his belongings, which had been taken from him when he was first apprehended.  When he found his way to his home in Germany, he discovered that his wife and family, who had no idea what had become of him, had moved to his wife's home in Lebanon. 

According to the authors, "Mr. Masri's allegations bear similarities to the case of Maher Arar, a Canadian born in Syria who was suspected of being a Qaeda operative. Mr. Arar, who was detained in New York in 2002, says he was sent by the United States to Syria, where he says he was repeatedly tortured during 10 months in prison.  A second detainee, Mamdouh Habib, an Australian, has asserted in court papers that he was tortured in an Egyptian prison for nearly six months in 2001 before being transferred to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The allegations were contained in a motion filed with a federal court recently. Mr. Habib's lawyer has asked the federal district court in Washington to block the Bush administration from sending him back to Egypt, asserting that he would be tortured again there."

In thinking about whether the policy of extraordinary renditions can possibly be justified on security grounds, it seems important to have vividly in mind the kind of unintended side effects that will expectably occur and that, it seems, have actually occurred.

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Comments

Posted by: oliver

Well, if he didn't before, then I bet Mr. el-Masri sure loves freedom now. Chalk up one more heart and mind to the policies of the Bush administration.

Posted by: oliver | Jan 9, 2005 11:54:48 AM


Posted by: oliver

Sorry, that was a little unnecessary and quite possibly (depending on what details come out) unjustified political capital making on my part. [Editor: feel free to delete]

Posted by: oliver | Jan 9, 2005 12:05:37 PM


Posted by: Jim Hu

The practice of rendition is reprehensible, but in this particular case, while I believe that it may not be unreasonable to suspect it was us, based on the story it isn't actually known that Masri was kidnapped or handled by Americans.

Posted by: Jim Hu | Jan 9, 2005 12:14:38 PM


Posted by: frankly0

The true outrage of all of the many intances of torture the US has engaged in or enabled is that, so far as has ever been reported, none of it has produced a single piece of critical information.

Yes, torture might be appropriate in that case in which you have a reasonable prospect of preventing, say, the death of large number of innocents by extracting information out of a suspect. Yet no such scenario ever seems actually to have occurred. Instead, we have tortured a large number of innocents (e.g., at Abu Ghraib) without extracting any useful information (and who can doubt but that if such information had been pulled out, that fact would have been publicized far and wide by the Bush WH?).

In short, we have experienced all of the downside of introducing torture -- maltreatment of innocents, loss of international reputation, exposure of our troops and citizens to like methods -- and none of the supposed upside. Really classic Bush WH operational behavior, as is its inability to admit a mistake here.

Posted by: frankly0 | Jan 9, 2005 2:19:28 PM


Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

"[W]ho can doubt but that if [useful] information had been pulled out, that fact would have been publicized far and wide by the Bush WH?"

I can doubt it. You should, too.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jan 9, 2005 2:49:31 PM


Posted by: Mona

D. A. Ridgely retorts: I can doubt it. You should, too.

No kidding. The fact is, we have not seen a terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11, and a plot to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge is known to have been thwarted. How many other catastrophes did not happen, and we do not know they were intended to or how they were prevented?

The govt cannot make public most particularities regarding intelligence operations tracking terrorists or precisely from whom they have extracted information and what they learned; to tell the citiznery is to announce it to the terorists, who then know what it is the govt knows, and invites analysis as to how to tighten up terrorist "security."

In any event, there is no support for the opinion that torture of terrorists has not yielded information that saved the lives of many. It may well have. We simply do not know. None of which is to say that the issue does not deserve careful moral consideration.

Posted by: Mona | Jan 9, 2005 3:07:53 PM


Posted by: Steve Burton

Just some factual questions: how long has "extraordinary rendition" been going on? Is it common, or rare? In what circumstances is it used?

According to Kareem Fahim, writing in the Village Voice:

"The policy, codified in the late 1980s to allow U.S. law enforcement to apprehend wanted men in lawless states like Lebanon during its civil war, has emerged in recent years as one of America's key counterterrorism tools, and has now expanded in scope to include the transfer of terrorism suspects by U.S. intelligence agents to foreign countries for interrogation—and, say some insiders, torture prohibited inside this nation's borders.

"Tenet testified that in an unspecified period before September 11, the U.S. had undertaken over 70 such renditions, adding that the Counterterrorist Center at the CIA had 'racked up many successes, including the rendition of many dozens of terrorists prior to September 11, 2001.' Tenet's testimony marked a rare occasion when the CIA, which doesn't comment publicly on the practice, provided any details about rendition."

Fahim does not say exactly when the practice "expanded in scope to include the transfer of terrorism suspects by U.S. intelligence agents to foreign countries." The conservative commentator Michael Ledeen claims that "rendition" in its current form "was a Clinton creation, and was approved by Clinton's lawyers, with no apparent cries of pain either from the Justice Department or from anyone in Congressional 'oversight' committees."

Late last year Katherine over at Obsidian Wings detailed a few cases going back as far as 1995, but admitted that the facts in these cases are often hard to come by.

Can anyone point to better, more detailed information on any of these points?

An ironic upside to Republican administrations is that certain abuses that are all but ignored under Democrat administrations suddenly, and rightly, become controversial.

Posted by: Steve Burton | Jan 9, 2005 3:18:48 PM


Posted by: Jim Hu

Several blogs have pointed to this article about interrogation tactics.

After Rumsfeld cleared the 24 methods, interrogators approached Kahtani once again. They relied almost exclusively on isolation and lengthy interrogations. They also used some “psy-ops” (psychological operations). Ten or so interrogators would gather and sing the Rolling Stones’ “Time Is on My Side” outside Kahtani’s cell. Sometimes they would play a recording of “Enter Sandman” by the heavy-metal group Metallica, which brought Kahtani to tears, because he thought (not implausibly) he was hearing the sound of Satan.

Finally, at 4 am—after an 18-hour, occasionally loud, interrogation, during which Kahtani head-butted his interrogators—he started giving up information, convinced that he was being sold out by his buddies. The entire process had been conducted under the watchful eyes of a medic, a psychiatrist, and lawyers, to make sure that no harm was done. Kahtani provided detailed information on his meetings with Usama bin Ladin, on Jose Padilla and Richard Reid, and on Adnan El Shukrijumah, one of the FBI’s most wanted terrorists, believed to be wandering between South and North America.

The take-home message, as far as I can tell, is that there is a large area between name, rank and serial number and what all of us would (I hope) agree is out of bounds. But there are ways of making you talk, and some of these can yield valuable information. They may not work often enough to be worth the price, but pretending that none of this works at all doesn't advance the debate, IMHO.
In the New York Times’s words, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is now condemning the thoroughly emasculated interrogation process at Guantánamo Bay as a “system devised to break the will of the prisoners [and] make them wholly dependent on their interrogators.” In other words, the ICRC opposes traditional interrogation itself, since all interrogation is designed to “break the will of prisoners” and make them feel “dependent on their interrogators.” But according to an ICRC report leaked to the Times, “the construction of such a system, whose stated purpose is the production of intelligence, cannot be considered other than an intentional system of cruel, unusual and degrading treatment and a form of torture.”

Posted by: Jim Hu | Jan 9, 2005 3:37:05 PM


Posted by: Steve Burton

This may or may not count as a case of torture getting results:

"Frustration with prisoner stonewalling reached a head with Mohamed al-Kahtani, a Saudi who had been fighting with Usama bin Ladin’s bodyguards in Afghanistan in December 2001. By July 2002, analysts had figured out that Kahtani was the missing 20th hijacker. He had flown into Orlando International Airport from Dubai on August 4, 2001, but a sharp-eyed customs agent had denied him entry. Waiting for him at the other side of the gate was Mohamed Atta.

"Kahtani’s resistance strategies were flawless. Around the first anniversary of 9/11, urgency to get information on al-Qaida grew. Finally, army officials at Guantánamo prepared a legal analysis of their interrogation options and requested permission from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to use various stress techniques on Kahtani. Their memo, sent up the bureaucratic chain on October 11, 2002, triggered a fierce six-month struggle in Washington among military lawyers, administration officials, and Pentagon chiefs about interrogation in the war on terror.

"...Here’s what the interrogators assumed they could not do without clearance from the secretary of defense: yell at detainees (though never in their ears), use deception (such as posing as Saudi intelligence agents), and put detainees on MREs (meals ready to eat)...instead of hot rations...

"The most controversial technique approved was 'mild, non-injurious physical contact such as grabbing, poking in the chest with the finger, and light pushing,' to be reserved only for a 'very small percentage of the most uncooperative detainees' believed to possess critical intelligence. A detainee could be poked only after review by Gitmo’s commanding general of intelligence and the commander of the U.S. Southern Command in Miami, and only pursuant to 'careful coordination' and monitoring.

"...Pentagon lawyers revolted, claiming that the methods approved for Kahtani violated international law. Uncharacteristically irresolute, Rumsfeld rescinded the Guantánamo techniques in January 2003.

"Kahtani’s interrogation hung fire for three months, while a Washington committee, with representatives from the undersecretary of defense, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the air force, army, navy, and marine corps, and attorneys from every branch of the military, considered how to approach the 20th hijacker.

"The outcome of this massive deliberation was more restrictive than the Geneva conventions themselves, even though they were to apply only to unlawful combatants, not conventional prisoners of war, and only to those held at Guantánamo Bay. It is worth scrutinizing the final 24 techniques Rumsfeld approved for terrorists at Gitmo in April 2003...

"...For one, providing a detainee an incentive for cooperation—such as a cigarette or, especially favored in Cuba, a McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish sandwich or a Twinkie unless specifically approved by the secretary of defense...

"Similar restrictions—a specific finding of military necessity and notice to Rumsfeld—applied to other tried-and-true army psychological techniques. These included 'Pride and Ego Down'—attacking a detainee’s pride to goad him into revealing critical information—as well as 'Mutt and Jeff,' the classic good cop–bad cop routine of countless police shows. Isolating a detainee from other prisoners to prevent collaboration and to increase his need to talk required not just notice and a finding of military necessity but 'detailed implementation instructions [and] medical and psychological review.'

"The only non-conventional 'stress' techniques on the final Guantánamo list are such innocuous interventions as adjusting the temperature or introducing an unpleasant smell into the interrogation room, but only if the interrogator is present at all times; reversing a detainee’s sleep cycles from night to day (call this the 'Flying to Hong Kong' approach); and convincing a detainee that his interrogator is not from the U.S.

"...After Rumsfeld cleared the 24 methods, interrogators approached Kahtani once again. They relied almost exclusively on isolation and lengthy interrogations. They also used some 'psy-ops' (psychological operations). Ten or so interrogators would gather and sing the Rolling Stones’ 'Time Is on My Side' outside Kahtani’s cell. Sometimes they would play a recording of “Enter Sandman” by the heavy-metal group Metallica, which brought Kahtani to tears, because he thought (not implausibly) he was hearing the sound of Satan.

"Finally, at 4 am—after an 18-hour, occasionally loud, interrogation, during which Kahtani head-butted his interrogators—he started giving up information, convinced that he was being sold out by his buddies. The entire process had been conducted under the watchful eyes of a medic, a psychiatrist, and lawyers, to make sure that no harm was done. Kahtani provided detailed information on his meetings with Usama bin Ladin, on Jose Padilla and Richard Reid, and on Adnan El Shukrijumah, one of the FBI’s most wanted terrorists, believed to be wandering between South and North America.

"Since then, according to Pentagon officials, none of the non-traditional techniques approved for Kahtani has been used on anyone else at Guantánamo Bay."

--from Heather MacDonald: "How to Interrogate Terrorists/City Journal/Winter 2005

http://www.city-journal.org/html/15_1_terrorists.html

Posted by: Steve Burton | Jan 9, 2005 3:39:33 PM


Posted by: Steve Burton

oops, Jim Hu beat me to it by 2 minutes. Sorry for the repeat.

Posted by: Steve Burton | Jan 9, 2005 3:41:18 PM


Posted by: Steve Burton

By the way, franklyO, the abuses at Abu Ghraib are irrelevant to your point about the uselessness of torture as an interrogation technique, since the guards involved were not even interested in interrogating their victims. Apparently they were just getting back at them for fighting with each other.

Posted by: Steve Burton | Jan 9, 2005 3:46:11 PM


Posted by: frankly0

Kahtani provided detailed information on his meetings with Usama bin Ladin, on Jose Padilla and Richard Reid, and on Adnan El Shukrijumah, one of the FBI’s most wanted terrorists, believed to be wandering between South and North America.

Again, what terrorist attack was so prevented? Maybe none, because otherwise we would have heard about it loud and clear and a million times over? Was this information worth the damage to the US's international reputation, or the the likelihood of greater exposure of our own citizens and soldiers to torture when they are captured by our enemies?

As for the claim of DA Ridgely's that the Bush WH might well keep the success of torture in preventing terrorism secret, I can only say that this is naive in the extreme. The Bush WH does NOT have to reveal the exact nature of the information it has extracted in order to tout its success. And the notion that the Bush WH, absolutely desperate to justify its use of torture, would refuse or neglect to bring up the subject of a very real success, is something only partisan minds might entertain.

I think we can conclude that the Kahtani incident above, because it is the case people have heard about, is the single most effective use of torture under the Bush administration. I have very little doubt that even its meager results have been greatly exaggerated for effect -- I'd like to see an independent assessment of the value of the information Khatani has coughed up. I may be excused, I think, if I have the slightest suspicion that, like with WMD, a big grain of salt is indicated here.

Posted by: frankly0 | Jan 9, 2005 4:43:18 PM


Posted by: frankly0

By the way, franklyO, the abuses at Abu Ghraib are irrelevant to your point about the uselessness of torture as an interrogation technique, since the guards involved were not even interested in interrogating their victims.

Yet the way in which torture was originally justified a Abu Ghraib WAS that it would provide useful information about the insurgency. That when the torture genie got out of the bottle, it perpetrated all kinds of other evil is simply another reason to be extremely wary of any condoning any use of torture.

Posted by: frankly0 | Jan 9, 2005 4:55:15 PM


Posted by: Steve Burton

I think there's a danger of separate issues getting mixed up here (in comments only - not in Prof. Darwall's excellent post).

(1) The practice of rendition - which, so far as I can tell, is defended by nobody, yet which has been going on for years under both Democrat and Republican administrations.

(2) The official (but temporary) relaxation of standards approved by the Sec. of Def. to allow things like "light pushing," "good-cop/bad-cop" routines, Metallica serenades, etc.

(3) The abuses at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, unconnected to interrogation, that in some cases led to unambiguous torture, rape and even death.

I think that people on the left should avoid pushing the line that there is any obvious connection leading from (2) to either (1) or (3) above, which makes their honest concerns about torture look like a purely partisan attempt to "get" Donald Rumsfeld.

I also think that people on the right should avoid minimizing the seriousness of (1) and (3) above, which might well look like an equally partisan attempt to sugar-coat the present administration.

Posted by: Steve Burton | Jan 9, 2005 5:23:29 PM


Posted by: Steve Burton

franklyO, anyone who ever tried to justify the abuses at Abu Ghraib on the grounds that these were effective interrogation techniques should be ridden out of town on a rail.

The kind of stuff that got al-Kahtani to talk, on the other hand...well, that's different.

Would you count forced repeated listening to Metallica's "Enter Sandman" as torture?

It's hard for me to judge, since I seem to recall kind of liking the song.

Posted by: Steve Burton | Jan 9, 2005 5:39:03 PM


Posted by: Steve Marsh (Ethesis)

The problem is what to do with people grabbed wrongfully. What do we owe them in reparations and restitution?

The case that comes to mind is the "other" Oklahoma City bombing suspect -- the one that was later determined not to exist. A "look-alike" (well, what do you call someone who matches a description of someone who later turns out not to exist) was beaten to death in a U.S. Prison.

I only found out about it because his death resulted in a law suit, a federal court opinion and a Dallas Morning News article.

What does the government owe his family?

Posted by: Steve Marsh (Ethesis) | Jan 9, 2005 7:11:01 PM


Posted by: Steve Marsh (Ethesis)

I should have said that a significant problem is what to do with the people grabbed wrongfully. Not "the" problem.

There are obviously other significant issues as well, not to mention the conflating of the problem of how to keep prison guards from becoming dehumanized with the issue of wearing down the will of people by singing metallica songs to them (is there a copyright/public performance issue there?).

Posted by: Steve Marsh (Ethesis) | Jan 9, 2005 7:19:14 PM


Posted by: Jim Rockford

Is anyone really surprised by Rendition? I mean, really?

We don't have any means to get info from hostile prisoners any other way.

We have no guidelines on coercion short of torture, the sort of thing that DAs use every day (sentencing, selection of prisons, etc). Intelligence officers have fewer tools than your average DA. Yet the pressure to produce results remains. These results ARE needed. To pretend that say, Khalid Sheik Muhammed does not have knowledge locked in his head that could save thousands of American lives is just foolish and wrong.

This is why the Left has no answers for the problem of terrorism ... it's engaged in a desperate "clap if you believe in fairies" attempt to deny that the problem exists. That 9/11 was a one off; that Al Queda is not an ongoing threat, etc.

Rendition will happen as long as we pretend that there is no middle ground between torture and the full Geneva Convention which prohibits any questioning at all. Note: Al Queda has not and cannot sign the Geneva Convention, among other things it requires carrying arms openly, distinctive insignias, and not deliberately targetting civilians.

The Left has to get serious now about finding a way that allows us to get info, with safeguards against abuses. Other countries have done this, including Israel. It is vital that this policy not be directed into the ad-hoc, seat of the pants stuff that's characterized the last two Administrations.

Posted by: Jim Rockford | Jan 10, 2005 1:02:14 AM


Posted by: Paul Deignan

There are a number of pitfalls here. One is to assume a morality that one would not apply if the consequences of that morality were applied to the moralist himself. Another is to assume knowledge as certain where knowledge is uncertain.


Presently, our policy is absurd and needs to be amended. No citizen will find it understandable that a laptop of a terrorist was not searched after a WMD attack or that a prisoner did not get a Cadbury in time to warn of car bomb. All punishment is a balancing act. A system that ensures swift extraction of critical information while subordinate to oversight and with safeguards against irreparable harm is the best that can be hoped for reasonably. We might also provide for compensation for error associated with calculated risk. As with any interaction, we must seek to hold responsible parties to account. The trick is to do this in a bureaucracy.

A first step is to insist on speedy status determinations. Those who do not abide by the rules of war should not be rewarded with the same benefits of the bargain as those who do abide.

Posted by: Paul Deignan | Jan 10, 2005 8:45:46 AM


Posted by: Chris

For an expose on how the US is using torture that will truly upset all Americans read How to Interrogate Terrorists


http://www.city-journal.org/html/15_1_terrorists.html

Posted by: Chris | Jan 12, 2005 11:29:47 AM


Posted by: David Velleman

Editorial Note: I have removed a comment from Josh Cohen, so that it could be posted as an independent item.

Posted by: David Velleman | Jan 13, 2005 11:58:11 AM


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