David Ignatius has a thoughtful and provocative column in today's Washington Post about "rendition."
Rendition is the CIA's antiseptic term for its practice of sending captured terrorist suspects to other countries for interrogation. Because some of those countries torture prisoners -- and because some of the suspected terrorists "rendered" by the CIA say they were in fact tortured -- the debate has tended to lump rendition and torture together. The implication is that the CIA is sending people to Egypt, Jordan or other Middle Eastern countries because they can be tortured there and coerced into providing information they wouldn't give up otherwise.
Ignatius notes that espionage and interrogation experts tend to doubt that torture works. As a friend with experience in that area put it to me: Torture makes people tell you what they think you want to hear, when what you want is the truth. Nonetheless, rendition may result in the torture of terrorist suspects when they are sent to countries where such methods are legal. Does this mean rendition should be prohibited? Ignatius is not so sure.
Before you make an easy judgment about rendition, you have to answer the disturbing question put to me by a former CIA official: Suppose the FBI had captured Mohamed Atta before Sept. 11, 2001. Under U.S. legal rules at the time, the man who plotted the airplane suicide attacks probably could not have been held or interrogated in the United States. Would it have made sense to "render" Atta to a place where he could have been interrogated in a way that might have prevented Sept. 11? That's not a simple question for me to answer, even as I share the conviction that torture is always and everywhere wrong.