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1 Introduction The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he didn’t exist,” says the low-grade con man to the arrogant customs agent in the 1995 movie The Usual Suspects, speaking of the great criminal mastermind Keyser Söze. The supposedly crack customs agent Kujan listens with patronizing incredulity to stories of the untrackable, invincible Söze, convinced that he knows the truth and that over time he can get the con man before him to spill the beans. Only in the movie’s final seconds does Agent Kujan realize that the con man himself is the master criminal—or at least someone who is exploiting his legend. And, having convinced Kujan that he doesn’t exist, he disappears: “And like that—he’s gone!” U.S. counterterrorism policy has a bit of Agent Kujan’s Keyser Söze problem. The more successfully our forces take on the enemy, the less people believe that the Devil really exists—at least as an urgent public policy problem requiring the sort of tough measures that challenge other interests and values. The longer the United States goes without suffering a mass casualty attack on the homeland, the less apt people are to believe that al Qaeda and its affiliates and offshoots really pose a lethal threat, that September 11 was more than a lucky strike, that terrorism poses challenges that we cannot address through conventional law enforcement means alone, or that the problem ranks as high as other pressing “ 00-0491-1 intro.indd 1 10/14/10 6:10 PM 2   Detention and Denial challenges of the moment—challenges that, unlike al Qaeda, visibly threaten harm on a daily basis. Oil spills, job losses, the national debt, China’s rise, and North Korea’s saber rattling are all visible with the naked eye. We do not have the option of disbelief . Yet the more effectively we conduct counterterrorism, the more plausible disbelief becomes and the more uncomfortable we grow with policies like noncriminal detention, aggressive interrogation , and extraordinary rendition. The more we convince ourselves that the Devil doesn’t really exist, the less willing we are to use those tools, and we begin reining them in or eschewing them entirely. And we let the Devil walk out of the room. In the case of detention, the subject of this volume, I mean that rather literally. Of the nearly 800 men that the U.S. military brought to its detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, as combatants in the war on terror, fewer than 180 remained in U.S. custody as of the summer of 2010. Under the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama alike, we have willingly let dangerous people walk out of the room. Most of them have proven to be low-level nonentities who go home and demobilize. Some have been innocent, detained in error. Some, however, have turned out to be if not quite master criminals, certainly people whose release proves a far greater evil than their detention ever did. We have released future suicide bombers and terrorist leaders . And there have been disappearing acts too. Nobody knows at this stage whether we will come to see the number of such individuals as a manageable and acceptable cost of reducing the U.S. detention rate or whether we will come to see our willingness to let large numbers of suspects walk out the door as a folly akin to Agent Kujan’s. Ironically, it is not just the Devil who is trying to convince the world—and us—that he doesn’t exist. We are playing something of a similar game with some of those very counterterrorism policies , which—as a result of bad experiences, complacency, and the passage of time—have become embarrassing. We have learned 00-0491-1 intro.indd 2 10/14/10 6:10 PM Introduction   3 that detention infuriates people around the world, creates difficult legal problems, and troubles our collective conscience. Yet finding ourselves unable to abolish it entirely and unwilling to face the many troubling questions associated with reforming it, we have chosen denial and obfuscation instead: we pretend that noncriminal detention doesn’t exist or that we’re phasing it out. In other words, even as the Devil is conning us into believing that he no longer exists, we have begun trying to con the world—and ourselves—into believing that we are no longer detaining him. The Western world does not...


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MARC Record
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