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December 29th, 2009 2:51 pm
Spare the Waterboard, Use the Bomb

Many anti-war Leftists like to taunt military planners with the Vietnam-era missive that it is sometimes “necessary to destroy the town to save it.” Coupling his distaste for enhanced interrogation techniques with the necessity to neutralize terrorists when possible, President Barack Obama seems to be applying that logic to the lives of individual terrorist leaders. In Pakistan, Afghanistan, and now Yemen, Obama is giving the lie to the notion that his approach to terrorists is more humane than his predecessor’s. As Marc Thiessen explains in today’s Washington Post:

President Obama has shut down the CIA interrogation program that helped stop a series of planned attacks — and in the year since he took office, not one high-value terrorist has been interrogated by the CIA.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has escalated the targeted killing of high-value terrorists. There may be times when killing a terrorist leader is the best option (for example, his location might be too remote to reach with anything but an unmanned drone). But President Obama has decided capturing senior terrorist leaders alive and interrogating them — with enhanced techniques if necessary — is not worth the trouble.”

In fact, Obama has been ordering drone assassinations of terrorist leaders since his first week in office. Unlike the Bush Administration’s model of capture, detain, and interrogate, Obama and his team are opting for the ultimate end-run around Attorney General Eric Holder’s epiphany to treat Guantanamo Bay detainees like American citizens: kill them before they’re contacted. If enemy combatants are really more like common criminals worthy of civilian trials, are common criminals now able to be killed by law enforcement prior to being contacted? Why hassle about the vagaries of Miranda rights when a cop can just shoot the bad guy on the street?

As Thiessen rightly notes, there may be situations where such attacks are warranted.  But killing people so you don’t have to feel queasy about dealing with their continued existence is not an elegant solution to a vexing moral problem. Then again, this isn’t the first time President Obama has applied such reasoning.

Besides these troubling inconsistencies, there is usually collateral damage in the form of neighbors and passers-by that get killed in the fallout. These are the fruits of an enlightened presidency? How provocative it is to think that terrorist leaders had it better under George W. Bush than Barack Obama. At least under the former they weren’t guaranteed a death sentence.

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