Despite that the Obama administration stubbornly insists that it prefers to capture suspected terrorists rather than kill them, most suspected terrorists end up dead before they can be brought to trial.
Scott Shane of the New York Times reports on one suspected terrorist who was captured. To Shane's credit, he wades through the administration's double speak on capture vs kill:
“I have heard it suggested that the Obama administration somehow prefers killing Al Qaeda members rather than capturing them,” said John O. Brennan, in a speech last year when he was the president’s counterterrorism adviser; he is now the C.I.A. director. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”(emphasis added).
In fact, he said, “Our unqualified preference is to only undertake lethal force when we believe that capturing the individual is not feasible.”
Despite Mr. Brennan’s protestations, an overwhelming reliance on killing terrorism suspects, which began in the administration of George W. Bush, has defined the Obama years.
The myth is that the Obama administration would rather capture a suspected terrorist than kill one. The facts tell a different story. Shane reports that
Since Mr. Obama took office, the C.I.A. and military have killed about 3,000 people in counterterrorist strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, mostly using drones.(And, the numbers of drone deaths are notoriously underestimated).
Meanwhile, Human Rights First reported last summer on some 494 terrorism convictions won in Federal Courts - far more than in the constitutionally-inferior kangaroo court military commissions at Guantanamo - but nowhere near the number of suspects wiped off the planet courtesy of U.S. drone strikes.
The Osama Bin Laden raid demonstrates a similar disconnect. Obama administration officials have maintained that the order was to capture Osama Bin Laden, but somehow Bin Laden ended up dead instead.
Shane lays bare the simple truth that killing is simply easier:
Though no official will publicly acknowledge it, the bottom line is clear: killing is more convenient than capture for both the United States and the foreign countries where the strikes occur.And, as Shane's colleague Mark Mazzetti reported over the weekend, the killing business is booming thanks to a secret deal that led to the killing of one supposed enemy, who the CIA wasn't really targeting, but didn't mind killing because his life gave the U.S. the freedom to drone other suspected terrorists.
Curiously, the capture vs. kill debate often forgets that when we drone a suspected terrorist we deprive him of life and liberty without due process - a concept completely at odds with the Constitution, which requires pesky processes like a jury trial and the right to counsel. The Supreme Court has held that even non-American terrorist suspects have Habeas Corpus rights.
The goal of a drone strike is to kill - the antithesis of capture. Drones do not capture. They do not distinguish between a suspected terrorist and a convicted one. There is no restitution for someone mistakenly droned - that person is dead. (See Anwar Al-Awlaki's innocent 16-year old son.)
Administration officials talk of kill lists and playbooks and "disposition matrices", and it's all too easy to forget what should be obvious: killing is not a sport. Intentionally taking the life of another human being, whether with a drone or an order or an Apache helicopter, is not a game.
If the goal is to capture suspects, as the Obama administration claims, then sending a drone will not do the job. Nonetheless, it is the "convenient" killing and drone warfare that has dominated the Obama administration's counterterrorism policy. It's a contradiction between rhetoric and action that we cannot afford. The costs are too great, both in human life and to our democracy.