Stuck with the detainees

By Tim Grieve

Published February 16, 2005 2:09PM (EST)

It must be such a drag.

According to today's New York Times the CIA is upset about getting stuck with a bunch of beaten-down detainees. "The CIA's current leadership is concerned," the Times says, "that the legal authority for interrogations and detentions is eroding, and that there is no clear plan for how the agency can extricate itself from what could be a lengthy task of holding and caring for a small population of aging terrorists whose intelligence value is steadily evaporating and who are unlikely ever to be released or brought to trial."

Don't you just hate it when that happens? You pick up a suspect, you rough him up so much in interrogations that you couldn't ever really bring him to trial, and then you're just stuck with him. And then the Justice Department repudiates its memo authorizing the beating of detainees (conveniently, just in time for Alberto Gonzales' confirmation hearings), so you're left not only with the detainee but maybe with legal liability for messing with him in the first place.

What's a government agency to do?

If you're the CIA, what you do is try to palm the problem off on someone else. The Times says that CIA officials are thinking about dumping the detainees on the FBI, but the FBI doesn't know about any such plan and would fight it if it did. Another possibility: Hand over the detainees to some other country. But with growing concerns about the torture meted out in rendition cases, that option might not be a political possibility -- that is, if anyone ever found out about it.

It's a bad situation all around, and there may be no good answer for the CIA. "No one has a plan for what to do with these guys," a former intelligence official told the Times, "and the CIA has been left holding the bag."

Life can be so unfair.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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