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January 10, 2005


1. Not sure this is technically a "rendition" in the sense of turning him over to another government for interrogation. Most interrogations in Afghanistan seem to be conducted by U.S. intelligence; the most common location is Bagram.

Of course, in general the line between "extraordinary rendition" and "secret detention by the CIA" is quite fuzzy. I get the impression that in Afghanistan we're doing the interrogations; in Syria and Egypt we're getting reports of interrogation sessions--though in Egypt there's enough contact that they're sometimes sent to Guantanamo afterwards; and in Jordan there may be some jointly run facility.

2. In addition to the awful human rights implications of abusing the wrong guy, or holding him incommunicado for months, or detaining him for years: for security reasons alone it is just crazy that we don't have a way of identifying suspects other than their names. Date of birth? Physical description? The country of citizenship? Something, for God's sake.

I can tell you from the research I've done--Arabic names are often transliterated with different spellings, and when you throw in aliases there may be five or six different possibilities for a single detainee.

(actually, even more than that, as there are often three or four different parts of the names, and they can each be included, omitted, spelled differently, hyphenated or not...)

K -- sorry about misusing the term. About Arabic names: I actually studied Arabic briefly, and yes, these two people plainly have the very same name, in Arabic, and are using two barely distinguishable transliterations of it. And some of the transliterations of the same name don't strike us as at all the same (if you didn't know, you wouldn't think that G and Q were the same letter in different dialects) while others that seem the same are not (there are, for instance, two ts and s's.)

As you say, it's completely unclear why we don't have some way of specifying which Khalid we mean. And, of course, why we took this route in the first place. It's as though they didn't realize that we have already developed ways of dealing with suspected bad guys.

Vacuuming people up based merely on names - as opposed to finding and surveilling the suspect before picking him up for interrogation - carries the additional disadvantage that if you actually manage to pick up a real terrorist, you have no recent ammunition to use in interrogations. Some of the most effective interrogation techniques involve bombarding the suspect with known information about his activities to create the idea that he is already completely compromised. At that point, the suspect is liable to start giving up valuable information, under the assumption that the interrogator already knows what he reveals.

Picking up someone without any recent surveillance data to use against him means that the interrogator is left with platitudes like "we know everything". If the suspect is unimpressed by such boasting, that leaves intimidation tactics and torture, both of which - moral issues aside - produce really bad information. Torture is likely to produce wild claims polluting real information, anything to get a story that's rewarding enough for the interrogators.

Doesn't this illustrate how unprepared we had become in 2001 of what has been simmering for nearly two decades. We had no human intel. We had no network in place to even generate a 'usual suspects' list. There was no real response plan for the events of 9/11. There was certainly no legal structure to set guidelines except decades old, outdated treaties that addressed so little of what we were facing. So once the attack came, with it's shocking loss of life, gut wrenching devastation and unimginable consequences our immediate response was almost all knee jerk. We were not prepared. Mr. Masri's story directly reflects that. And probably hundreds more. Broad stroke decisions were made at all levels. Many of them regretable. Most of them retracted and redirected. Our education has been sudden and far reaching. We still have much to decide - how much freedom for security, how much power for peace, how much peace for piece of mind. I'm not defending any action and I'm not challenging the necessity for this post. Hopefully we will realize the extent of what it takes to protect who we are and what we've accomplished, that we will keep our guard up always and formulate clear and enforceable policies that most can be comfortable with.

Blogbudsman: Doesn't this illustrate how unprepared we had become in 2001 of what has been simmering for nearly two decades.

How does the kidnapping, imprisonment, and torture of an innocent man "illustrate how unprepared the US had become in 2001"?

I have tremendous respect for the writers and regular posters on this site, but I have to comment on the direction of not only this conversation but several other posts around the torture issue. Where is the focus on inalienable human rights? I appreciate the insights and elaboration on rendition policies, extradition treaties, legal counsel memos, etc. These are critically important to separating the legal (but crummy) actions vs. the blatantly illegal actions in these cases, but some people are being killed and several have been tortured and who knows how many are having their identities and reputations quietly dismantled like Mr. Masri.

We are prepared to confirm a person for AG who has sought out legal means for authorizing torture, for crying out loud. Now it looks like we are prepared to support and pay for the development of death squads.

What hope do we have of turning this country around if those who have any level of expertise confine their comments to one another and who make apologies for the crazy left who just can't keep straight the difference between the tortured prisoners, the eternally detained and uncharged enemy combatants and the pushing-the-edge-of-the envelope, but legal, interrogration practices used on "real" terrorists.

Maybe you do, in real life, demand public attention on the need for justice and respect for human rights. I want to believe that.

I am prepared to admit I am just too depressed about my country to keep perspective right now.

Further to Laura's point about the fact that we're actually talking about when or where it might be appropriate to torture people as if that would ever be anything less than totally inhuman of us, the Medium Lobster (channeling Jonathan Edwards) nails the real essence of this issue:

As Brother Gonzales teaches us, our President is a fearsome President: he "does not engage in torture and will not condone torture" - but he could if he wanted to, for it is within his awesome power. He will "honor the Geneva Conventions whenever they apply" - but Brother Gonzales does not know, or cannot tell us, just how often they do not apply, for these are Sacred Mysteries of the Mind of Bush, which is unknowable to ordinary men. Should we stray beyond the mercy afforded by his Presidential Grace, we will find ourselves facing the full force of his almighty wrath, and the legal-yet-undefined interrogation methods which are most certainly not torture.

It is not that Bush chooses to have us tortured; it is that he chooses, through his awesome and Presidential love, to not have us tortured. Now that is a miracle!

This is unacceptable. It is one thing to pick up a person based on a name mistake for an hour or a day--that happens all over the world and while instances of it can be minimized, they probably can't be eliminated. But flying him all over the world and detaining him for who knows how long is just ridiculous. This highlights precisely why you can't hold people secretly--you don't have a way of dealing with it when you are wrong.

I am prepared to admit I am just too depressed about my country to keep perspective right now.

Me too.

I bet he wishes he were Cat Stevens.

Sebastian, Moazzam Begg is still being held in Guantanamo Bay, and I have never seen that there was any evidence against him except that he apparently had the same name as was found on a receipt in a Taliban base in Afghanistan. On this basis, he was kidnapped from the house where he and his wife and children were staying in Pakistan, in December 2001. He was taken to Bagram Airbase for six months, and from there to Guantanamo Bay, where he has been held since - that is, for something over two and a half years. If you find this unacceptable, can I suggest you write to protest it? (Further details here.) You will doubtless know better than I to whom you can usefully direct your letters, but if you care about it, that's something useful you could do.

Thanks, I'll write.

Somebody's letters helped: Begg and three other Brits will be released from Guantanamo. They're still under a cloud, but presumably access to lawyers and a real look at evidence will clear them if they're no threat (as I strongly suspect).

Nell, I was just about to link to this story on that topic.

Moazzam Begg's unjust imprisonment has troubled me since the beginning - it is a relief to know he's been released at last, but I hope Sebastian will still write to say it was a monstrous injustice that he should have been held for three years on such a basis.

After Clinton when Bush Jr. 1st took office, he ordered an air-raid attack on Iraq which was then ruled by Saddam. The reason? Basically, USA and Bush in particular wanted to show Saddam, Iraq (and essentially the world (in particular the Muslim world)) that USA and Bush were in control of Iraqi sovereign air space and Middle-eastern air-space as well! This was basically nothing but state terrorism committed by USA to attempt to keep the populations in the Muslim lands in a state of terror. Now most westerners, especially of US/British origin will find all sorts of convoluted arguments to justify that and many more air-raids that followed. Empathy which most westerners definitely lack, is key here. Just imagine if US/British air-space was controlled by a hostile foreign "super-power". Anyway, back then, I predicted that the super-power of the day, ie. USA is following the example of Rome, to the path of eventual downfall or atleast mediocrity. How so? The US govt. is a public servant; a slave so to speak. If your slave dog goes about barking and biting innocent people outside your fence, a time will come when your "dog" will turn on you! The US/Britain embrace secular-capitalism, a failing ideology. Islam as an alternative ideology poses a direct threat to secular-capitalism. And fortunately for Islam, the Muslim dominated territories possess vast amounts of valuable natural resources: this is a direct threat to the "god" of secular-capitalism: material wealth. So what have USA/Britain devised to counter Islam? "Terrorism"!
USA/Britian committing it themselves against other nations and people to acheive their own secular-capitalist selfish goals. Deliberately defined ambiguously to apply it to ***anyone*** that poses a threat to their ideology, and this includes the people of USA/Britain, starting with the scapegoat minority Muslims. Now just imagine, that anyone of you or your loved ones were abducted by US/British intelligence from the streets of USA/Britain and secretly held in captivity and possibly tortured physically and/or mentally? Here "empathy" is key to the understanding of this simple phenomena: USA/Britian have been committing attrocities in war for a long time now. But things cannot remain the same, either they escalate or they subside. US/British intelligence has been using torture for some time now. Now they have practically intitutionalized it and are opening up debates about "legalizing" it. Give it another year or a few years and we will see legalized torture shrouded in legal technical mumbo-jumbo. A people who have no intellectual capacity to see tyranny brewing at their doorstep deserve it the most! Especially when they unleash it on other!

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