Counterintuitive Counterterrorism: Realizing the Consequences of Detention, Torture, & Drones

by Tyler Mitchell

As the United States has endured a decade of counterterrorism policies that have exacerbated Executive Branch unilateralism and expansive military operations, reevaluation concerning the effectiveness of such national security policies has increasingly persisted. The latter consequence expresses the minimally regulated, transnational element of America’s counterterrorism strategies: that “the world is a battlefield…the military can go wherever they please and do whatever it is that they want to do, in order to achieve the national security objectives of whichever administration happens to be in power.”

The recent revelations from the release of the CIA Torture Report by the Senate Intelligence Committee have exposed the egregious torture program that the CIA had conducted during the emergence of the post-9/11 War on Terrorism. Accordingly, the CIA released a formerly classified memo from 2013, which responded to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s conclusions. One particular conclusion by the Committee that reflects the inadequacy of proper internal assessments by the CIA of its torture program is Conclusion 10. It states that “the CIA never conducted its own comprehensive analysis of the effectiveness of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques, despite a recommendation from the Inspector General and requests to do so by the National Security Advisor and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.” Furthermore, the CIA’s response provides critical insight into its internal operations. The agency confessed that “we agree with Conclusion 10 in full. It underpins the most important lesson that we have drawn from The Study: CIA needs to develop the structure expertise, and methodologies required to more objectively and systematically evaluate the effectiveness of our covert actions.” This is particularly concerning in the context of the covertness of CIA operations. Conclusion 10 further noted that “informal internal assessments of the effectiveness of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques were provided to CIA leadership by CIA personnel who participated in the development or management of the interrogation program, as well as by CIA contractors who had a financial interest in the continuation and expansion of the CIA detention and interrogation program.” Considering that the primary means of reform for CIA operations will mostly likely occur within the agency, it is particularly crucial to disallow such self-interested assessors. 

The remarks by the CIA in reaction to Conclusion 10 also reflect the mismanagement of the lethal drone program that has been conducted in Pakistan and Yemen. John Brennan, the director of the CIA, argued in 2011 that “our best offense won’t always be deploying large armies abroad but delivering targeted, surgical pressure to the groups that threaten us. The use of unmanned aerial vehicles as tools for military strikes has been lauded by the defense sector due to its precise, technological capabilities. However, there is a difference between capability and execution. For instance, the human rights group Reprieve conducted a study on the casualties of drone strikes from strategies including “targeted killings,” which are targeted strikes on specific suspects. Reprieve concluded that of the 41 “targeted” suspects, approximately 1,147 individuals have been killed. The criticism of the drone program has been highlighted by the controversial killings of three American citizens: Anwar al-Aulaqi, Samir Khan, and al-Aulaqi’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Aulaqi. A white paper leaked in 2013 depicts the Department of Justice’s justification for executing Anwar al-Aulaqi, whom many supporters of the strikes argued that Anwar posed an “imminent threat” to American national security. However, there has been no public justification for Abdulrahman who had posed no such threat. Again, there has been minimal oversight outside of the Executive Branch concerning these covert drone operations. In this context, a Yemeni journalist once confessed that “the [military] operations implemented by the US performed a great service for al-Qaeda, because those operations gave Al Qaeda unprecedented local sympathy.” The past drone operations have lack proper discriminatory targeting, especially in the context of the signature strike strategy

The Department of Defense recently announced the official closure and turn-over of detainees housed in Parwan Detention Facility in Bagram, Afghanistan. Considered as “Guantánamo Bay’s lesser known – but more evil – twin,” the detention center in Bagram not only continued the torture techniques to detainees but also circumvented proper checks on Executive discretion to detain suspected “enemy combatants.” President Kharzai suggested that the detention site in Bagram acted as a “Taliban-making factory.” Parwan also disrupted the necessary diplomatic ties between the United States and the Kharzai regime. Although the closure to the Parwan facility acts as key accomplishment to the slowly dissipating military presence in Afghanistan, the past practices of detention by both administrations after 9/11 reflect again the counterintuitive consequences of such counterterrorism policies.

It should be noted that a legitimate source of outrage that has incited the expansion of ISIL is the 1917 Sykes-Picot Agreement, an agreement between France and Britain that partitioned the Ottoman Empire into the states of Jordan, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon. These states were subsequently ruled by France and Britain. The short-sighted outlook on the United States’ counterterrorism policies focus on the destruction of terrorist organizations and actors. The continuance of the indefinite War on Terrorism derives in part by historical devastations in the Middle East. The past and ongoing post-9/11 military operations have incited unrest toward the United States, which have been sources of recruitment for terrorist organizations. Jeremy Scahill argues that “far from making Americans safer, U.S. covert counterterrorism measures are in fact undermining national security.” The important of adhering to domestic and international laws as well properly tailored operations to specific targets is increasingly being understood.