THOSE who naïvely believed that Osama bin
Laden’s death and America’s forthcoming departure from Afghanistan would
usher in a new era free of threats from Al Qaeda have been proved
After Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens was
killed on Sept. 11 in Benghazi, Libya, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb
issued a statement praising the murder and calling for further attacks
against American diplomats in the region. Al Qaeda in the Arabian
Peninsula made similar calls for violence.
Then, last week, new evidence emerged
suggesting that the attack had been planned by Al Qaeda — and was linked
to Sufian bin Qumu, a Libyan who had been detained at the American
prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. In 2007, Mr. Qumu was transferred
to Libyan custody and held in a Libyan prison; he was later freed by the
Qaddafi government and rejoined terrorist groups.
The ongoing fight against Al Qaeda is not
limited to Afghanistan and Pakistan; Qaeda affiliates and supporters
operate actively in North Africa Yemen, and beyond. And if Mr. Qumu was
indeed involved with the mission attack, it raises serious questions
about what other countries do with captured terrorists who remain a
threat. It also reminds us that America’s ability to effectively hold
and interrogate those it captures in this fight is crucial.
At the moment, the United States has nowhere
to hold and interrogate newly captured terrorists. America just handed
over control of its detention facility at Bagram Air Base in
Afghanistan, a significant step toward transferring security operations
to Afghans. And while Guantánamo Bay remains home to nearly 170 men that
the United States believes are still a threat, no captured terrorist
has been transferred there since August 2008. Yet in the past four
years, drone strikes and airstrikes targeting Al Qaeda affiliates in
Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia have increased dramatically.
Since 2010, there have been about 2,000 such
strikes in Pakistan alone, with hundreds more in Yemen and North Africa.
Meanwhile, only one alleged terrorist outside of Afghanistan — a Somali
named Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame — was captured, held and interrogated.
He was later flown to New York to stand trial.
It’s true that drone strikes and other tactics
that aim to kill, rather than capture, terrorists are an effective tool
for combating serious threats. They increase America’s ability to
quickly attack targets in remote regions where American troops cannot
easily operate. Such strikes allow the United States to respond quickly
to time-sensitive intelligence about a known terrorist’s location or
plans. They avoid the political risks and the costs, in money and lives,
of supporting a large-scale military operation on foreign soil. And
they help the White House avoid controversial issues of long-term
detention and interrogation, which remain a political liability at home
But this one-sided approach — always opting to
kill instead of capture — is a major weakness of America’s current
approach to counterterrorism. It deprives us of significant amounts of
intelligence about what Al Qaeda is thinking and planning, and
information that could help find other senior terrorists. After all, it
was intelligence from a detainee that helped American forces track down
America’s heavy reliance on drones also
creates more sympathy for Al Qaeda in some countries and, ultimately,
may radicalize more people and encourage them to join forces with
terrorists — creating more enemies for America, not fewer. One young
Yemeni told me this summer that he and his friends “are like mobiles
with two SIM cards,” his way of saying that American drone attacks make
them shift allegiances, just as they easily switch their cellphone
service providers and they become sympathetic with local Al Qaeda
The fact that the United States now has
nowhere to hold a terrorist — and no policy to deal with him once
captured — means that a dangerous suspect might very well be let go. At
present, there is no standard course of action approved by the president
and relevant government agencies for what to do in the days and months
This situation creates disturbing incentives
for troops on the battlefield. It encourages soldiers and policy makers
in Washington to opt for the “five-cent solution” — a bullet. Rather
than shooting people, we should be exercising due process, and bringing
transnational terrorists to justice. That’s an approach that would help
America maintain the moral high ground in the ongoing fight against Al
The United States has had numerous
counterterrorism successes in the past few years, but this month’s
events prove that we are still fighting a serious battle against
terrorists in North Africa, Yemen, Pakistan and elsewhere. It is a
battle that requires multiple weapons — not just airstrikes and drone
attacks — and one that requires detention facilities where transnational
terrorists can be safely held after they are captured.
As the election approaches, we need to start
asking both candidates how they would handle high-profile terrorists.
“Kill them” should not be the only answer.
Who they trying to kid, "those" would be them and other O supporters.