Outsourcing Torture

Ken AshfordForeign Affairs, Iraq, War on Terrorism/TortureLeave a Comment

The Village Voice has an interesting article on a CIA practice known as "extraordinary rendition". What it basically means is this: we pick up a suspect (i.e., a terrorism suspect) in a foreign country. Then, rather than interrogate him here in the United States, we ship him off to Syria or someplace where the authorities there can practice, uh, more persuasive methods of interrogation on him — in a word, torture.

Now, one can see the advantages of such a practice. Our government can (in theory) get information which it wouldn’t be unable to obtain here, where it is constrained by pesky little things like the Bill of Rights and all that. And that might translate into saving lives.

But the article brings up a larger issue. What message does that send about our system and values? We express outrage (rightfully) at Saddam’s torture of his people, but if the Syrians do it on our behalf, then torture is okay?!?

It makes no sense. Third-world countries will adopt the unmistakable perception that America is a principle-less country — i.e., that we are hypocrites. There is no moral absolutism, just transitory arguments of convenience.

So . . . an open question: If the key to ending terror lies in planting seeds of democracy and fostering moral principles of human rights in these regions, shouldn’t we examine the practice of "extraordinary rendition" more closely