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16 Feb, 2010 21:18

Do drones kill intelligence?

The US has boasted recent success in killing terrorist leaders in drone attacks, but some argue this policy leaves the country open to attack.

 Nearly every day brings the news of the death of yet another militant leader at the hands of US military or CIA operatives – but there may be an unexplored downside to these successes. In a recent article in Foreign Policy magazine, Marc Thiessen suggests that the Obama Administration’s decision to increase drone attacks in areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan makes the White House look tough on terror, but actually puts the United States at risk. By killing terrorists without questioning them, Thiessen argues, the US misses out on a valuable source of intelligence.

“When you vaporize a terrorist,” said Thiessen, “you vaporize the intelligence in his head.”

Thiessen, a speechwriter for former President George W. Bush, highlights the case of Qasim al-Raymi, a leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula – the group ostensibly behind the Christmas Day attempted bombing of an airplane on its way to Detroit. Al Raymi was recently killed in a drone attack, but Thiessen argues that we know so little about this group and their plans, it would have made more sense to capture him alive and subject him to interrogation.

While Thiessen says the drone program is an important weapon in the war on terror and in many cases drones are necessary to eliminate targets in hard-to-reach areas, he also argues that drone attacks have a high rate of civilian casualties and that this makes their use less idealistic than the Obama Administration would like the public to believe.

“The predator drone is a very important weapon in the war on terror when targets are in remote areas or you have a brief time to kill them or lose them, “ Thiessen said, "but when you have a chance to capture them, these people are a wealth of intelligence.”

Thiessen highlights a continuing problem for the US President Barack Obama, who has worked to eliminate torture in interrogation, close CIA black sites and hope to close Guantanamo.

“We need a robust program in the US government to detain and interrogate terrorist leaders,” Thiessen said. “We don’t have a policy on interrogation and we don’t have a place to put them [detainees] any more.”

This lack of policy results in suspects being interrogated in countries like Pakistan, which has fewer guidelines on prisoner treatment than the United States.

“He’s outsourcing the tough cases to Pakistan,” said Thiessen, “and that’s hypocrisy.”