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War on terror tactics

"War on terror tactics" Continued...

Alternatives to rendition

Apprehending suspects in foreign countries does not always involve controversial tactics. U.S. counterterrorism officials also use tactics abroad that are not forbidden under U.S. law, though they might be illegal if used within the United States (and could well be illegal in the country where U.S. agents employ them). In general, such tactics remain constant as administrations change. These tactics include surveillance of foreign targets, ruse operations and economic incentives and punishments to encourage cooperation in counterterrorism efforts.

Ruse operations, a less controversial way to apprehend fugitives than renditions, involve deception, obviating the need to jump through the bureaucratic hoops required for renditions. Ruse operations involve luring suspects to a location where U.S. agents can apprehend them legally. This involves persuading targets to venture into international waters, for example, or even to travel to the United States, where U.S. agents lie in wait.

While such tactics avoid the legal complexities surrounding renditions, they are extremely difficult to carry out. Suspects worth chasing around the world typically are not overly gullible, and know where it is safe to travel. So while there is no reason to believe that ruse operations will cease anytime soon, successful ones are few and far between.

Sometimes killing a terrorist target is both more efficient and less legally complex than renditions or ruse operations. Tactical strikes, such as the unmanned aerial vehicle-launched missile strikes against suspected al-Qaida targets in Pakistan, both remove a suspected terrorist target and avoid drawn-out legal processes. Like its predecessor, the Obama administration apparently sees striking at al-Qaida targets along the Pakistani-Afghan border as acceptable within the scope of the ongoing war in Afghanistan, despite Pakistani protests. The latest such U.S. strike came Jan. 23, just three days after Obama took office. Given the administration's presumed hesitation based on legal reservations and an unwillingness to expand warfare beyond the Afghan theater, this tactic is unlikely to pop up in other areas of the world without a serious threat escalation.

Secret prisons and interrogation issues

Obama on Jan. 22 also ordered the CIA to close its secret prisons around the world that hold detainees without adhering to U.S. legal standards. Because fewer than 100 detainees were held in these prisons, however, this is a minor point.

A different executive order also issued Jan. 22 applied the interrogation guidelines outlined in the U.S. military field handbook and the Geneva Conventions to the CIA. Obama and Holder also have made it clear that the new administration views waterboarding as torture and thus illegal, settling the debate on the matter.

Still, it is only a matter of time before new techniques used by interrogators in the field will face questions of legality and morality. No national leader can micromanage at the field level. Even though the Justice Department and senior White House officials in the Bush administration signed secret findings authorizing the CIA to conduct waterboarding in specific cases, tactical, field-level topics do not stick around at the level of national policy for very long.

With secret prisons on the way out, more restrictions on how agents act in the field and an expected decline in renditions, a greater U.S. reliance on third countries to carry out rendition operations is possible. During the Clinton and Bush administrations, countries like Egypt and Jordan were known to cooperate with U.S. agencies in detaining and interrogating prisoners.

Critics claimed that relying on third countries exploited a loophole that allowed the United States to see that unsavory acts were committed without directly carrying them out. Obama's emphasis on using diplomacy to improve the U.S. image in the world suggests that his administration will turn to other countries for counterterrorism assistance instead of operating unilaterally. Obama already has asked for other countries to help out more in Afghanistan (specifically European countries). Obama might also tap third countries like Portugal, Switzerland or Germany to take in detainees leaving Guantanamo who are not sent back to home countries like Yemen and Saudi Arabia after the facility's closure. Working with these countries to ensure safe delivery of the detainees out of U.S. custody will remove a lightning rod for criticism of the United States in the Muslim world.

Delegating counterterrorism responsibilities to other countries allows the United States to avoid the legal complexities inherent in renditions, secret prisons and harsh interrogation. But ultimately, increased reliance on other countries with different interests can enhance the overall complexity of missions. It is also important to remember that the United States possesses one of the most capable counterterrorism forces in the world, and that other countries simply cannot carry out the same missions that the United States does. This is not to say that pursuing U.S. interests abroad does not call for diplomacy (which is one of the administration's main tools to fight terror), but that seeking international approval and establishing legal cover does reduce efficiency and restrain U.S. capabilities. Finding the balance between fighting terror efficiently and remaining within legal boundaries will be a key challenge for the Obama administration.
Republished with permission of stratfor.com.

Fred Burton and Ben West, Stratfor.com
Fred Burton and Ben West, Stratfor.com

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