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Dead Men Don’t Talk

February 15, 2010

This article from the Washington Post reports how the Obama administration’s obvious inability to deal with captured terrorists is already resulting in the preference of killing enemy combatants rather than detaining them:

When a window of opportunity opened to strike the leader of al-Qaeda in East Africa last September, U.S. Special Operations forces prepared several options. They could obliterate his vehicle with an airstrike as he drove through southern Somalia. Or they could fire from helicopters that could land at the scene to confirm the kill. Or they could try to take him alive.

The White House authorized the second option. On the morning of Sept. 14, helicopters flying from a U.S. ship off the Somali coast blew up a car carrying Saleh Ali Nabhan. While several hovered overhead, one set down long enough for troops to scoop up enough of the remains for DNA verification. Moments later, the helicopters were headed back to the ship.

The strike was considered a major success, according to senior administration and military officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the classified operation and other sensitive matters. But the opportunity to interrogate one of the most wanted U.S. terrorism targets was gone forever. […]

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.”

In the case of the Christmas Day Bomber the Obama administration has made its unpreparedness to deal with terrorists targeting US soil a spectacle for the world to watch. It was obvious that Obama had not set any clear guidelines on how to treat foreign terrorists when captured within the US and – as if an attack had been the last thing to be expected – the administration was completely caught by surprise by the Undie-bomber and is now trying to defend the ad hoc decisions made.

Obama came into office promising that during his reign illegal combatants attacking America will not be subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques. He should have left it at that. Instead – maybe in an exaggerated zeal to be the Anti-Bush, maybe from ideological persuasion – Obama declared to close Guantánamo last month (just close your eyes and it’s no longer there) only to realise later that, for storing individuals hellbent to indiscriminately kill as many of your citizens as possible, Gitmo isn’t such a bad place after all – or more precisely: there is no better alternative.

Furthermore, the White House is now talking as if there was only one correct way to deal with captured terrorists and that is to give them an accused US citizen’s right to remain silent, to lawyer up and to get a public trial in a civilian court. The majority of Americans don’t like this and there are many effective voices of criticism raised against the administration’s treatment of the Undie-bomber, not all coming from Republicans. Obama can try hiding behind the “This is how it is and nothing can change it” authority of US law as interpreted by his AG Holder as much as he wants, he’s losing a lot of political brownie points with the public on the issue.

Obama and his minders must be well aware of this, and because it appears that, on foreign policy, Obama is a narcissist first and an ideologue second, I think that the White House is already regretting their decisions on Abdulmutallab. They are losing politically and this won’t help them to usher in the new era of Obama-spawned US socialism. But the administration, never admitting a not-imaginary mistake, chose to stick with their decisions and administration officials have been sent out to convince a skeptic public.

So, after all his talk and promises, Obama can’t send captured terrorists to Guantánamo and, having not found a valid alternative, he can’t send them anywhere else either. Also, Obama can’t interrogate them because, 5 months after its announcement, his “High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group” isn’t set up yet and because the White House claims that telling such a detainee that he has the right to remain silent does not mean forfeiting potentially lives-saving intelligence.

As a result, with voters watching the administration’s incompetence, any captured terrorist is a political nightmare for Obama’s presidency. A terrorists killed in some faraway country, in contrast, can only help Obama’s image: Americans like to see their troops being successful and the anti-war Left can’t get any madder at Obama than they already are.

The obvious problem with this is, of course, that a dead terrorist isn’t much of an intelligence source. If all we get from a successful strike is a DNA sample to confirm that terrorist T is no more, the question arises whether, on occasion, going through the trouble of getting one of them alive isn’t worth it. But, naturally, if you have no policies in place on dealing with live terrorists other than killing them while they’re on foreign soil and if every captured terrorist is a major political headache for you, there is a strong incentive to choose “kill” over “capture”. And judging by the relative radio slience from so-called human rights groups, those seem to prefer it that way, too.

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