The Washington Post reports that the Obama administration is increasingly opting to kill al Qaeda terrorists rather than capturing them and attempting to find out what they know. For example, when a window of opportunity opened to kill or capture Saleh Ali Nabhan, the leader of al Qaeda in East Africa, the White House opted to eliminate him by firing from helicopters rather than trying to take him alive.
According to the Post, these decisions are being driven in part by the “dwindling options” for placing U.S. captives. As one “senior military officer” put it, “when you don’t have a detention politcy or a set of facilities,” the balance tends to shift in favor of simply eliminating the terrorist.
But this entails an obvious cost — lost opportunities to obtain important intelligence. Thus, says the Post, “some military and intelligence officials” are balking at the administration’s “shoot the bastard” policy. The decision to eliminate Nabhan appears to have come in for particular criticism, as well it should. It’s difficult to conceive that we might be more secure with the head of al Qaeda’s East Africa operations dead and dumb than we would be with him sidelined and singing.
On the other hand, given the administration’s stated policy on interrogation, it’s not clear how much intelligence could be extracted even if we did capture the likes of Nabhan.
What does the White House have to say about this issue? The Post quotes one senior official as follows:
There are certain upsides and certain downsides to certain paths. The safety and security of U.S. military personnel is always something the president keeps at the highest level of his calculus.
This represents a classic “non-denial denial” of the proposition that administration policy on the detention of terrorist is reducing our ability to find out what terrorists are up to, and thereby making our country less secure.