The "war on terrorism" is an unsavory business.
Case in point: After the capture of Khalid Mohammed, we read that he'd been betrayed--his probable whereabouts revealed--by one of the Egyptian al-Qaida men arrested in Quetta the week before. The U.S. confirmed reports that the informant would receive a $25 million reward. And not only that: he'd held out for and gotten an additional $2 million to cover the cost of moving to the U.K.
I'm probably not the only American whose gut reaction was disgust. It would be one thing to pay a $25 million reward to some nonpolitical Pakistani who'd spotted Mohammed on the street and recognized him from a "Wanted" poster. But to give it to an al-Qaida traitor?
There's nothing more despicable than a traitor. Regardless of whom he's betraying.
And this slimeball had actually held the U.S. up for an extra $2 million for "moving expenses"!
This was not a use I approved for my tax money.
Then I began thinking about the methods the CIA might have used to turn that al-Qaida man.
Did they threaten him with torture? I imagined them telling him, "We'll get the information out of you anyway. No doubt about it. The only question is whether you'll endure days or weeks of agony--however much it takes to break you--and then spend the rest of your life at Guantanamo, or tell us now and walk away with a fortune."
He would have known, of course, that more than his own future was at stake. Every day, every hour he could hold out would improve the chance of averting disaster for a cause to which he'd pledged his life.
But what if they forced him to watch while they tortured a comrade?
What if they told him that if the other man broke, his chance for a deal would be lost?
What if the torture he was witnessing was so horrific that he couldn't understand how anyone could endure even five minutes of it?
Who wouldn't crack under those circumstances?
I had all but excused the traitor, even reconciled myself to his $27 million windfall.
Then it hit me.
There was no $27 million.
And in all probability, there was no traitor.
On close examination, the story doesn't make sense. There's nowhere in the world that an Arab man could safely enjoy that blood money! The claim about the extra $2 million was undoubtedly meant to call attention to the supposed U.K. destination--which would, of course, mean the man (if he existed) was headed somewhere else. But that was just a touch added to make the story as a whole seem more believable. In fact, wherever he went, an al-Qaida man who'd accepted a reward for betraying a comrade would have to go into the equivalent of a witness protection program. If he risked living other than very modestly, he wouldn't live long.
And even the dumbest al-Qaida man would know that.
Why the lie?
I remember a PBS Frontline documentary I saw recently--devoted specifically to the hunt for bin Laden. Assuming he really is in one of the tribal regions of Pakistan, they said one reason he hasn't been turned in is, certainly, that he's loved in those regions. But another reason is that the Pakistanis don't believe any ordinary civilian would be allowed to keep the reward. They're sure the ISI (Pakistan's counterpart of the CIA) would seize it for themselves.
And according to the ABC News website, the U.S. has recently adopted a new tactic in that hunt. They're encouraging bounty hunters to go after bin Laden. Obviously, bounty hunters will only exert themselves if they're sure the reward money will really be paid.
How better to convince them--and others--of that than to claim reward money is being paid even to an al-Qaida traitor?
So I believe the story is a lie. And while an al-Qaida man may have broken under torture or the threat of torture, it's equally likely that if key information came from the Quetta arrests, it came from a captured computer.
How likely is it that Abu Zubaydah, Ramzi Binalshibh, and Khalid Mohammed are all "cooperating" with their captors at this point? One of them might have broken. But...all three? I think it's a safe guess that most of the useful information said to have come from those men came instead from their computers. And the ones seized in Quetta may have been just as valuable.
Pundits say the first casualty of war is the truth.
I say the first casualty is trust.
My government may, at times, be telling the truth.
But not for a moment do I trust it.