15 Feb 2010

Obama Administration Killing Rather Than Capturing Insurgents

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Hellfire missiles don’t take prisoners.

The Washington Post is reporting that Obama Administration policies are having precisely the result that critics like MacRanger predicted long ago: [L]ook for many terrorist suspects not to get to the interrogation stage as they will most likely be “dispatched” in the field.

It’s inevitable. There is nowhere uncontroversial to imprison them. Presumably they will all be Mirandized now and given civilian trials, and even mildly coercive interrogation techniques have been absolutely ruled out. A captured terrorist leader is now never going to be a useful source of intelligence and, on the other hand, he is highly likely to become a political embarrassment. The choice becomes obvious.

The Obama administration has authorized [lethal] attacks more frequently than the George W. Bush administration did in its final years, including in countries where U.S. ground operations are officially unwelcome or especially dangerous. Improvements in electronic surveillance and precision targeting have made killing from a distance much more of a sure thing. At the same time, options for where to keep U.S. captives have dwindled.

Republican critics, already scornful of limits placed on interrogation of the suspect in the Christmas Day bombing attempt, charge that the administration has been too reluctant to risk an international incident or a domestic lawsuit to capture senior terrorism figures alive and imprison them.

“Over a year after taking office, the administration has still failed to answer the hard questions about what to do if we have the opportunity to capture and detain a terrorist overseas, which has made our terror-fighters reluctant to capture and left our allies confused,” Sen. Christopher S. Bond (Mo.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said Friday. “If given a choice between killing or capturing, we would probably kill.”

Some military and intelligence officials, citing what they see as a new bias toward kills, questioned whether valuable intelligence is being lost in the process. “We wanted to take a prisoner,” a senior military officer said of the Nabhan operation. “It was not a decision that we made.”

Even during the Bush administration, “there was an inclination to ‘just shoot the bastard,’ ” said a former intelligence official briefed on current operations. “But now there’s an even greater proclivity for doing it that way. . . . We need to have the capability to snatch when the situation calls for it.”

One problem identified by those within and outside the government is the question of where to take captives apprehended outside established war zones and cooperating countries. “We’ve been trying to decide this for over a year,” the senior military officer said. “When you don’t have a detention policy or a set of facilities,” he said, operational decisions become more difficult.

The administration has pledged to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; Congress has resisted moving any of the about 190 detainees remaining there, let alone terrorism suspects who have been recently captured, to this country. All of the CIA’s former “black site” prisons have been shut down, and a U.S. official involved in operations planning confirmed that the agency has no terrorism suspects in its custody.

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