Late last month I asked, who will interrogate top al Qaeda terrorist Umar Patek? Patek, who was captured in Pakistan, is wanted for his role in the 2002 Bali bombings, among other attacks and plots. He is easily one of the most important international terrorists captured in the past few years. Indeed, Marc Thiessen argued that Patek is the “biggest terrorist catch of the Obama era.”
The problem is that the U.S. has no clear policy for detaining and interrogating terrorists such as Patek. President Obama ordered Guantanamo shuttered as one of his first acts in office. That hasn’t happened, but the administration isn’t going to send any new detainees to Cuba any way. And Obama closed down the CIA’s interrogation program, with little concern for what would replace it.
Ken Dilanian of the Los Angeles Times reports on the result of Obama’s new detention and interrogation policies, or lack thereof (emphasis added):
He's considered one of world's most dangerous terrorism suspects, and the U.S. offered a $1-million reward for his capture in 2005. Intelligence experts say he's a master bomb maker and extremist leader who possesses a wealth of information about Al Qaeda-linked groups in Southeast Asia.
Yet the U.S. has made no move to interrogate or seek custody of Indonesian militant Umar Patek since he was apprehended this year by officials in Pakistan with the help of a CIA tip, U.S. and Pakistani officials say.
Patek undoubtedly has vital information on al Qaeda’s operations in Southeast Asia. He was in Pakistan for a reason, too. Patek was likely meeting with senior al Qaeda leaders there. And, as Thiessen pointed out, there are reports that Patek visited Yemen, where he may have met with al Qaeda’s most prolific branch of late – al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
In other words, Patek is just the sort of terrorist American officials should be questioning. He has worked with terrorists around the globe and can provide unique insights into the current state of the terror network. But instead of questioning Patek ourselves, the Obama administration is outsourcing the job.
The Los Angeles Times report continues (emphasis added):
Pakistani officials say they plan to deliver Patek to authorities in Indonesia, where he is wanted in the Bali case. Although seven Americans were among those killed in the bombings, no U.S. criminal charges are pending against him, a senior Justice Department official said.
A Pakistani intelligence source said no one from the CIA or any other U.S. agency had asked to question Patek.
U.S. officials say they expect the CIA will be given access to intelligence gleaned from Indonesia's interrogations of Patek, and may even be allowed to sit in and provide guidance, given the close ties between U.S. and Indonesian counter-terrorism officials.
As the article goes on to note, there are all sorts of problems with letting others control interrogations. While Patek awaits transfer to Indonesia, his detention and questioning is being handled by the Pakistanis – who are duplicitous and divided on counterterrorism issues. The Pakistanis will probably give their American counterparts some information from Patek’s interrogations. But if, for example, Patek’s testimony leads to powerful actors inside Pakistan, or the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, then you can bet American officials will not get the whole truth.
In working with Pakistan or Indonesia, the U.S. may also not want to share everything it knows about Patek’s comrades, lest they risk exposing truly sensitive sources and methods. This can hinder the ability to get the full picture (or close to it) from Patek.
The bottom line is that the U.S. is out of the detention and interrogation game for terrorists captured outside of Afghanistan and Iraq. After all, the Times article is subtitled: “The agency has stopped trying to detain or interrogate suspects caught abroad, except those captured in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
This is hardly a satisfactory policy. Obviously, the terrorists who target America do not limit their activities to Iraq and Afghanistan. But if they are captured elsewhere, the U.S. has no policy for detaining and questioning them.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.