To sum up yesterday’s confirmation hearing for John Brennan to lead the CIA, he never believes “it’s better to kill a terrorist than to detain him,” but if we catch a terrorist, waterboarding will “never will be” used to interrogate said terrorist.
Brennan, who is often called the “architect” of Obama’s drone program might think catching terrorists is a grand idea, but how many terrorists have we actually captured since we started blowing them up with drones? Here’s a piece from The New Atlantis in 2010 asking if President Obama is relying on drone strikes to avoid the annoying issue of where to actually detain terrorists captured alive:
The Obama administration has not been blind to the effectiveness of these targeted killings. And perhaps the administration’s opposition to Guantánamo and to enhanced interrogation has led it to see even more clearly the convenience of taking the fight to the enemies’ homes and hideouts and killing them before they come within the purview of the U.S. justice system. For example, the Los Angeles Times reported that an al Qaeda-linked suspect named Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan was killed by a September 2009 helicopter attack in Somalia, rather than captured, because “officials had debated trying to take him alive but decided against doing so in part because of uncertainty over where to hold him.”
Targeted killing may be expedient for a president who disdains detention and interrogation, but as a matter of strategy, it is not costless. First, a dead terrorist isn’t always as good as a detained terrorist. As Jeffrey Smith, a former CIA general counsel, put it in 2002: “If they’re dead, they’re not talking to you, and you create more martyrs.” When possible, argues Daniel Byman, the director of Georgetown University’s Center for Peace and Security Studies, “It’s almost always better to arrest terrorists than to kill them. You get intelligence then. Dead men tell no tales.”
And as far as waterboarding, Brennan was quite happy with its results back in 2007.
Summary: Waterboarding was good, before it was bad; and we should capture as many terrorists as possible, if our drones don’t get them first.