Friday, May 1, 2009

The Ticking Time Bomb & Coerecive Interrogation

Soccer Dad sent me a link to an article near a decade old written Stephen Flatow in the NYT. The article illustrates a "ticking time bomb" scenario - a scenario when our intelligence agencies have reason to believe that a terrorist in our custody has information that could stop a terrorist plot slated to occur in the near or, at least, foreseeable future. In a post below, I address Rick Moran's argument that such a scenario is purely the stuff of fiction. Here is a heart breaking real world example of a ticking time bomb scenario from the pages of the NYT:

On Aug. 21, 1995, Suffiyan Jabarin, a 26-year-old Palestinian member of the terrorist organization Hamas, blew himself up on a bus in the heart of Jerusalem, taking the lives of four people -- three Israelis and an American -- with him.

I followed the story of the bombing on Bus 26 quite closely; my 20-year-old daughter, Alisa, had been killed by an Islamic Jihad suicide bomber on a bus in Israel four months earlier. A few days after the Aug. 21 attack, Israeli and American newspapers reported that the man who masterminded it, Abdel Nasser Issa, had been in Israeli custody two days before the bombing.

Israeli authorities had arrested Mr. Issa on suspicion of terrorist activity and questioned him the same way they would question anyone else: posing questions and waiting for answers. Mr. Issa revealed nothing unusual to his interviewers. It was only after the bus bombing that Karmi Gilon, then chief of Israel's secret service, the Shin Bet, authorized the use of ''moderate physical force.''

The next morning, Mr. Issa, who had not been told of the bombing of Bus 26 the day before, told the Israelis about his plan for that attack. He also provided information that led to the arrests of 37 Hamas militants who had been planning additional bombings.

Mr. Gilon told reporters that the blood of the next victims of terrorism would have been on his hands if physical pressure had not been used in the interrogation of Mr. Issa. And Yitzhak Rabin, then Prime Minister of Israel, said that had the Shin Bet applied such pressure earlier, the attack on Bus 26 might have been prevented.

In the last two years, the Shin Bet has averted 90 planned terrorist attacks. Yet the United Nations Committee Against Torture recently condemned Israel's methods of questioning suspected terrorists as torture, even though Israel limits and regulates the use of force and allows detainees to petition the highest court to stop possibly illegal measures. . . .

I have always cherished America's unparalleled standards of individual and human rights. But the Middle East is different from the United States. Israel lives in what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called ''a very tough neighborhood.'' Indeed, more than 200 Israelis have been killed in terrorist attacks during the past four years.

The most important obligation of any country is protecting the lives of its citizens. To hold individual human rights as an absolute rule when occasional exceptions to that rule can prevent the random murder of civilians seems to me morally unjustifiable. Moreover, Israel's use of limited physical pressure during interrogations, a practice that is regulated and regularly reviewed, cannot be compared with the uncontrolled torture of suspects employed by some of Israel's neighbors, like Syria. . . .

I cannot consider the individual rights of a Palestinian detainee in an Israeli jail as a separate issue from protecting the lives of bus passengers. Nor do I have the luxury of examining this question from an abstract moral perspective.

If applying limited physical pressure to a suspected terrorist can spare even one parent the pain of losing a son or a daughter, I am all for it. In the meantime, I pray that the conditions that give rise to the need for such methods will speedily come to an end.

Read the entire article. It is of course depressing to know that the decision to conduct a coercive interrogation did not occur in the above case until after people died. Still, it would seem that the information gleaned did stop other similar bombings.

The tough neighborhood Mr. Flatow describes came to our shores on 9-11. There can be no doubt that it will come again given the opportunity. This also ties in to my post here, examining the moral issues that surround coercive interrogation tactics. Talk of protecting lives in the abstract as a moral imperative of the President is one thing. Hearing it through the pen of a man who lost his daughter to terrorism gives the issue the solidity it deserves.

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