Friday, July 07, 2006

The Logic of Rendition

As this latest rendition scandal breaks out into the public eye, it aught to be an opportune moment to openly contemplate the fate of the unknown casualties in this war on terror. A chill goes down my spine whenever I see a memorial for unknown dead soldiers, such as the one in Arlington National cemetery or the base of the Arc de Triomphe, as the image of a human so mangled that all efforts at recognition would prove useless flashes across my eyes. If such a strong reaction of sympathy can be felt towards combatants, what of the innocent casualties of war? The huddled family shot into pieces and their corpses dragged into a mass grave; the displaced agrarian waiting to die of dysentery in a refugee camp; the child stepping on a land mine; or the village carpet bombed because of a technical error. War inherently has a senseless ferocity that comes along with it, as the ability to exercise tangible force against your opponent is the only way to prove that you can follow through if your demands are not met. The unknown soldier and the unknown casualty of war can be seen as two sides of the same equation. In the greater balance sheet that is geopolitics, it is scary to think that in the end this could only be a zero-sum game.

Men memorizing each other's phone numbers in the dark, so in the off-chance that one of them gets out he can call their families to tell them that they are still alive. How would such a conversation go? Can you imagine making that call? What would you say? That your father/brother/son is lost in a big black hole? The logic of rendition makes it inevitable that this off-chance of someone getting out will have to become smaller and smaller. The incentive for those practicing rendition to actually release captives diminishes substantially when their captives are actually innocent. In this markedly skewed view of justice and security, you can trust the guilty, but it is the innocent that you have to worry about. If there is an off-chance that your captive is not innocent, is torturing him justifiable if it can save the lives of thousands? This unfortunately is no longer a theoretical question posed by budding ethicists in a classroom, but rather a matter of real practical ethics. This is what justice is to a soldier; to minimize casualties for your side and maximize them for the other. Yet there is more than an off-chance that this logic could be wrong. If we confuse security for justice, we run the very real risk of losing both. And then we would all potentially become unknown casualties, our fate either televised ad infinitum or dispensed quietly in a dirty back-room in Kabul, as the war on terror fights terror with even more terror.