It appears that the suicide bomber of our CIA post in Afghanistan was a trusted CIA informant who had been recruited to infiltrate senior al-Qaeda circles. Although he had a track record as a supporter of jihad, he had gained the trust of his CIA handlers (as well as the Jordanians with whom he worked) by providing “actionable intelligence” during several weeks of undercover work along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. That, reportedly, is why CIA staff made the fatal mistake of permitting him inside the compound without subjecting him to a thorough search.
If true, this tragic episode confirms that our intelligence community has no reliable way of determining which one-time jihadists are likely to engage in future terrorism. Yet, the U.S. has released terrorist detainees on the theory that “careful screening” had determined they are not a risk to engage in terrorism after their release.
Unlike the suicide bomber in Afghanistan, the detainees had taken no meaningful action that reasonably could cause us to trust them. And unlike that bomber, who no doubt was rewarded by the CIA, the detainees clearly had no reason to be grateful to the U.S. After all, they were our prisoners for the better part of a decade.
The degree of self-delusion associated with concluding that terrorist detainees pose little or no risk of post-release terrorism is difficult to fathom.
There is certainly such a things as a former jihadist; there may even be a few among the ranks of our long-term detainees. But, as the recent Afghan bombing reminds us. even our most capable intelligence officers aren’t capable of reliable distinguishing them from their hard-core peers.
That’s why the government should release no long-term detainee unless ordered to a judge and unless all appeals have been exhausted. And if long-term detainees released by court order subsequently engage in terrorism, we should call out the judges who ordered their release.
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