On Thursday, John Brennan, President Obama’s nominee to be the new director of the CIA, went before the Senate Intelligence Committee to answer questions.
I watched all three and-a-half hours of the discussion and despite a few moments of genuinely challenging questions I was largely disappointed.
A lot of things from the hearing deserve comment, but today I’ll limit myself to just one: the capture or kill option.
According to Brennan’s testimony, the Obama administration always prefers to capture and not to kill terrorist suspects.
Here is how the Associated Press opens one of its stories on the hearing:
The man who is seeking to run the CIA says the Obama administration has never killed terror suspects when officials had the opportunity to capture them instead.
This is fine and makes sense, after all the US gets very little intelligence from the dead.
But does this theory – capture first and then if not feasible kill – actually work in practice?
Here, in my opinion, is where the senators on the committee dropped the ball.
Senator John McCain, who is not on the committee, published a list of written questions for Mr. Brennan. On page 5 – question 4.B. – McCain asks about a topic I have written about often here at Waq al-waq: the case of ‘Adnan al-Qadhi.
Relying on the great on-the-ground reporting of Adam Baron, Sen. McCain asks why the US did not try to capture al-Qadhi, who was killed in a drone strike on Nov. 7, 2012.
Unlike many of the drone strikes that take place in Yemen this one did not happen in territory outside the effective control of the Yemeni government, rather this strike took place just a short drive outside of Sanaa and, even more surprisingly, within sight of former president Ali Abdullah Salih’s house.
So why, given that al-Qadhi was living openly in his house did the US not seek to capture him?
Killing should indeed be a last resort, not just the most convenient option.