Mohammed Rahim: High-Value Detainee, Low-Value News?

On Friday, the Pentagon announced that Mohammed Rahim, who had been captured last summer in Pakistan and held in the CIA black hole detention program since then, was transferred to GITMO’s high-value detainee wing. According to reports, Rahim was a high-level al Qaeda operative, part of Osama bin Laden’s inner circle, and personally responsible for bin Laden’s escape from Tora Bora into Pakistan.

The announcement confirms that the CIA detention program remains in operation, and adds some context to President Bush’s recent veto of Congress’ ban on the CIA’s use of waterboarding and other interrogation techniques. It also suggests, if reports about the involvement of Pakistani intelligence are true, that Pakistan’s accomodation of Taliban elements on the Afghan border might not be mutually exclusive to assistance with al Qaida-related counter-terrorism operations.

But Rahim’s transfer also raises some questions. Christian over at Defense Tech, for instance, wonders whether Rahim’s release from CIA custody, which signals the end of his intelligence usefulness, implies anything about the search for bin Laden himself, and if so, what. I wonder what it means that this kind of announcement is now made on a Friday. Clearly, whatever intelligence value the CIA-GITMO detention network offers comes along with very serious image problems. The fact that significant accomplishments in this struggle must now be slipped into the tail end of the news cycle doesn’t reflect very well on the broader battle for perception that is essential to winning it.