Thursday, November 15, 2012

The perverse incentive of drones

The election is over,  but I’d like, for a moment, to return to the third presidential debate. Bob Schieffer asked Mitt Romney the following question:
Let — let me ask you, Governor because we know President Obama’s position on this, what is — what is your position on the use of drones?
We all do know President Obama’s position on drones--he sees little issue with using them. But consider the details, as related by Newsweek correspondent Daniel Klaidman in Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency:
Barack Obama’s ferocious campaign of targeted killings was for many the central paradox of his war on terror. While running for president, he had railed against waterboarding, illegal detentions, and the Bush administration’s penchant for secrecy. In lofty speeches, he promised to restore America’s reputation as a benign superpower, a paragon of international law and human rights. But a year into his presidency, the most noticeable strategic shift in his fight against al-Qaeda was the unrelenting use of hard, lethal power in the form of the CIA’s covert drone program. By the time Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in December 2009, he had authorized more drone strikes than George W. Bush had approved during his entire presidency. (There were only 9 strikes conducted in Pakistan between 2004 and 2007. In 2010 there were 111.) By his third year in office, Obama had approved the killings of twice as many suspected terrorists as had ever been imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay.
The expansion of drone use, combined with the curtailment of interrogation and the shutting down of detention sites, led to the situation where there was a policy for killing, but not for capturing, suspected terrorists. Klaidman continues:
The inability to detail terror suspects was creating perverse incentives that favored killing or releasing suspected terrorists over capturing them. “We never talked about this openly, but it was always a  back-of-the-mind thing for us,” recalled one of Obama’s top counterterrorism advisers. “Anyone who says it wasn’t is not being straight.”
Months of campaigning, billions spent, and outside of a couple articles from the left, no one talked about this.

Bob  Schieffer correctly noted that we know about the current drone policy--generally, that is. But I doubt we really want to think about what this drone war means. If waterboarding is inhumane and indefinite detention without any hearing is a human rights violation, how is routine remote execution--more drastic than waterboarding and more permanent than indefinite detention--an improvement?
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