David Ignatius observes that, in the new, morally-improved age of Obama, sleep deprivation, face slaps, and body shakes are out, but sudden death by high explosive is thriving as never before.
Liberal scruples about interrogation and unlimited detention and the significant percentage of released detainees returning to the jihad have very obviously modified the American approach to war. If you can’t gain any information from captured insurgents and you are going to wind up in the end playing catch-and-release, the likelihood that you are going to take any prisoners at all declines dramatically.
Most amusingly, the consciences of the intelligentsia have been found to be surprisingly comfortable with the more recent remote-killing campaign.
Every war brings its own deformations, but consider this disturbing fact about America’s war against al-Qaeda: It has become easier, politically and legally, for the United States to kill suspected terrorists than to capture and interrogate them.
Predator and Reaper drones, armed with Hellfire missiles, have become the weapons of choice against al-Qaeda operatives in the tribal areas of Pakistan. They have also been used in Yemen, and the demand for these efficient tools of war, which target enemies from 10,000 feet, is likely to grow.
The pace of drone attacks on the tribal areas has increased sharply during the Obama presidency, with more assaults in September and October of this year than in all of 2008. At the same time, efforts to capture al-Qaeda suspects have virtually stopped. Indeed, if CIA operatives were to snatch a terrorist tomorrow, the agency wouldn’t be sure where it could detain him for interrogation.
Michael Hayden, a former director of the CIA, frames the puzzle this way: “Have we made detention and interrogation so legally difficult and politically risky that our default option is to kill our adversaries rather than capture and interrogate them?”
It’s curious why the American public seems so comfortable with a tactic that arguably is a form of long-range assassination, after the furor about the CIA’s use of nonlethal methods known as “enhanced interrogation.” When Israel adopted an approach of “targeted killing” against Hamas and other terrorist adversaries, it provoked an extensive debate there and abroad.
“For reasons that defy logic, people are more comfortable with drone attacks” than with killings at close range, says Robert Grenier, a former top CIA counterterrorism officer who now is a consultant with ERG Partners. “It’s something that seems so clean and antiseptic, but the moral issues are the same.”