Most Americans don't know the name of Mohammed al Qahtani, the so-called "20th hijacker" who was snagged at the Orlando International Airport in 2001 before he could have allegedly taken part in the 9/11 attacks. However, I suspect the story is known better here in Philadelphia than anywhere else, since the most popular local radio talker, Michael Smerconish, has undertaken taken a campaign to recognize the heroism of the agent who nabbed him. a man named Jose Melendez-Perez. (You can here a Smerconish radio interview with Melendez-Perez here.)
Smerconish is big on the war on terror, and he also is a prominent advocate for torture. Not "enhanced interrogation," but torture, as spelled out in his 2005 blog post called..."In Support of Torture."
Meanwhile, al-Qahtani -- a seeming poster child for al-Qaeda terrorism against the United States -- has never been brought to justice, despite nearly seven years in custody, most of those at Guantanamo Bay. And now there are questions over whether he will ever be tried:
What happened? It's not clear, but there is increasing evidence that the prosecution of Mohammed al-Qahtani has been fouled up beyond repair...because he was tortured at Gitmo:
Why? Well, it could have to do with this?
Look, I've made this point here so many times before that I won't belabor it now. But torture doesn't work. It's not just that it's a fundamentally immoral practice that violates international and American law as well as basic humanity...though there is that. The practice has also badly hurt America's image in the world and probably inspired new terrorists in the process. It is an ineffective practice that produces bad and misleading information that is usually useless or counter-productive, and not one of the many advocates of the so-called "ticking time bomb" scenario has come up with a case where this has actually happened.
And now there's this: People who are actual terrorists who plotted attacks on innocent people and who deserve to spend life behind bars may never receive American justice (I'm not going to try to wade into the military tribunal issue here) -- precisely because the legal process was undermined by torture.
That's why torture advocates like Michael Smerconish are wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong -- and not just morally. In their zeal to fight their kind of war on terrorists, the one that looks so appealing on "24" and in the movies, they're enabling real-life terrorists to avoid justice.
UPDATE: Here's more on the torture of al-Qahtani from Jeralyn Merritt at Talkleft.