April 27th. 2006
Sent to but not published in the New York Times

Some aspects of the US War on Terror really are counterproductive.

The use of illegal rendition ( European Inquiry Says C.I.A. Flew 1,000 Flights in Secret, New York Times, April 27, 2006) is one of the most costly and ineffective weapons in our arsenal against terrorists. It has had three major costs that, as far as we can tell, outweigh the benefits.

First America has lost the moral high ground that it once had. Friend and foe alike are now unmoved by our appeals to the preservation of human rights around the globe. Furthermore, America has turned its staunchest friends and allies into countries that are at best neutral. A large number of our allies are embarrassed by what we have done on their soil and are taking steps to ensure that such activities are prevented in the future. Finally, over the last eight months since the revelations of illegal rendition, most European countries have undertaken investigations as to how, when, and where illegal renditions took place within their borders. This has diverted skilled investigators from the important task of investigating, infiltrating, and breaking terrorist networks. We can never recover those lost person-hours.

As many commentators have argued, the way to beat terrorism is to win the hearts and minds of the populations in which terrorist cells subsist. The outrage across the world caused by American use of illegal rendition means that those cells may thrive in the future.