15 Dec 2008

“Democrats Drill Air Holes in the Boxes”

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Former CIA officer Reuel Marc Gerecht predicts that Barack Obama, faced with the same threats, will wind up making the same choices as George W. Bush for the same reasons.

President-elect Barack Obama has promised to ban waterboarding and other pain-inflicting soliciting techniques, as well as rendition. He has also promised to close the Guantánamo Bay prison.

More broadly, liberal Democrats in Congress intend to deploy a more moral counterterrorism, where the ends — stopping the slaughter of civilians by Islamic holy warriors — no longer justifies reprehensible means. Winning the hearts and minds of foreigners by remaining true to our nobler virtues is now seen as the way to defeat our enemies while preserving our essential goodness.

Sounds uplifting. Don’t bet on it happening.

Mr. Obama will soon face the same awful choices that confronted George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and he could well be forced to accept a central feature of their anti-terrorist methods: extraordinary rendition. If the choice is between non-deniable aggressive questioning conducted by Americans and deniable torturous interrogations by foreigners acting on behalf of the United States, it is almost certain that as president Mr. Obama will choose the latter. …

Rendition… is what Americans do when they realize that active counterterrorism against jihadists prepared to use mass-casualty weapons is an ethical, juridical and operational tar pit. It isn’t an ideal solution — American intelligence officers have no control of the questioning, and Washington can become beholden to foreign security services — but it’s a satisfactory compromise. Just ask Samuel R. Berger, the national-security adviser for President Bill Clinton, who no doubt worked through all the pitfalls when he first approved extrajudicial rendition.

In addition, the C.I.A. is able to guard the secrecy of foreign-liaison operations more effectively, especially from Congressional prying, than it can its own activities. It has also certainly paid close attention to how the press tracked some of its clandestine international flights carrying terrorism suspects after 9/11, and will in the future undoubtedly make it much harder to sleuth out who is going where.

A dense bipartisan moral fog surrounds rendition. Former senior Clinton officials can still deny that they sent anyone away in order that he be tortured. Few are as honest and frank as Walt Slocombe, a Clinton undersecretary of defense who once remarked that the difference between Democratic and Republican rendition was that Democrats “drilled air holes in the boxes.”


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