Wednesday, November 02, 2005

CIA's secret prisons

There's a big article in the Washington Post today regarding the CIA's secret prison system. This system is used to house a variety of terrorists captured around the world.

The upshot of the article is the debate within the CIA about the morality and legality of the system. There's an argument to be made for both sides.

I hope no one out there is surprised to learn:

1. That the CIA has a secret prison system for terrorists, or
2. That it is not terribly clear whether the system is legally or morally sound.

Let's think back for a moment to the weeks and months following Sept 11, 2001.

Following the attacks on WTC and the Pentagon, the US government and the overwhelming majority of the population were very clear on the identity of the enemy and the gravity of the threat the enemy posed to us. For the vast majority of us, it was a foregone conclusion that more strikes were on the way, and they would be at least as, if not more, horrific than those we'd already experienced.

This state of rage and fear produced one of the clearest mandates ever given to a US President. Bush had carte blanche to do almost anything he deemed necessary to take the fight to Al Qaeda. If anything, he UNDERestimated the support of the American people for operations in Afghanistan. Many more American troops could have been committed to that effort and they might have made a difference at Tora Bora late that fall. Bin Laden might not have escaped if he'd had to elude the 82nd Airborne, rather than the Northern Alliance.

Around that same time, major Al Qaeda figures started popping up in the custody of the Pakistanis and other nations. Abu Zubaydah, Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (among others) were seized by a combination of luck and excellent police work. All disappeared from the face of the earth, reportedly turned over to the Americans and taken to "secret locations".

No one uttered a word about this. For myself, I remember thinking, "Those guys are headed for the CIA version of the Soviet-era Lubyanka." And rightly so, I thought at the time. And still do, by the way.

So now, here we are, four-plus years down the road. The American people, as they are wont to do, are beginning to second guess themselves. The expansion of the war into Iraq, agree with it or disagree with it, has taken longer and cost far more than the populace can enthusiastically support. The Bush Administration has not helped themselves very much - the case for war in Iraq was stretched at best, fabricated at worst; the plan for the aftermath of the war was insufficient; Bin Laden has been more elusive than anyone would have expected; etc.

Regardless of why, we are where we are. That does not mean we should forget why some of these things happened and the environment in which these decisions were made. If the facts in the WP article today had come to light in November 2001, they would not have warranted a huge WP article. We would have (almost) all said, "Good. Keep it up."

UPDATE: Interesting. An article on today (Nov 8) tells us that Congress is investigating the source for the story referenced above. It may be that classified info was leaked. Hmmm. Stay tuned.

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