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Reporting from Washington— He’s considered one of world’s most dangerous terrorism suspects, and the U.S. offered a $1-million reward for his capture in 2005. Intelligence experts say he’s a master bomb maker and extremist leader who possesses a wealth of information about Al Qaeda-linked groups in Southeast Asia.
Yet the U.S. has made no move to interrogate or seek custody of Indonesian militant Umar Patek since he was apprehended this year by officials in Pakistan with the help of a CIA tip, U.S. and Pakistani officials say.
The little-known case highlights a sharp difference between President Obama’s counter-terrorism policy and that of his predecessor, George W. Bush. Under Obama, the CIA has killed more people than it has captured, mainly through drone missile strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas. At the same time, it has stopped trying to detain or interrogate suspects caught abroad, except those captured in Iraq and Afghanistan.“The CIA is out of the detention and interrogation business,” said a U.S. official who is familiar with intelligence operations but was not authorized to speak publicly.
Several factors are behind the change.
In January 2009, Obama ordered the CIA to abide by the interrogation rules of the U.S. Army Field Manual, which guides military interrogators and includes prohibitions on the use of physical force against detainees. Critics warn that Al Qaeda operatives could study the manual, which is available on the Internet, to learn how to resist its techniques, although no evidence has emerged suggesting that has happened.
Widespread criticism of Bush administration interrogation and detention policies as brutal and degrading led Obama to stop sending suspected terrorists to the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Public exposure also forced the CIA to close a network of secret prisons. That left U.S. officials with no obvious place to hold new captives.
In addition, some CIA officers are spooked by a long-running criminal investigation by a Washington special prosecutor into whether CIA officers broke the law by conducting brutal interrogations of suspected terrorists during the Bush administration.
“Given the enormous headaches involved … it’s not surprising there are fewer people coming into our hands,” said Paul Pillar, a former senior CIA official.
Just like most other sane, clear-thinking people who have not forgotten 9-11, I want just as many terrorist thugs eliminated as possible, but at the same time I realize that it’s also important to be able to capture, detain, and aggressively interrogate terrorists who are thought to have intelligence value because many of them will have vital information that will aid in the fight against Islamofascism both here at home and abroad. So while it’s unsurprising and, frankly, predictable that the CIA is taking the “kill rather than capture” approach to terrorists outside of those literally captured on the battlefield in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s nevertheless disturbing to read about all the same. CIA agents in the field simply cannot rely on this President nor his America-last Attorney General to back them up, so many of them are taking the safe route with this approach rather than risk career, legal, and international retribution. And in the process, bye bye, intelligence information.
By taking an insanely naive ideological rather than practical, tried and proven approach to handling known terrorists once we have them in our sights, this administration has effectively tied behind their backs the hands of some of the very people they rely on to gain valuable information that would lead to the capture of a high value terrorist like KSM, and/or information that would stop planned terrorist attacks before they happened. This is exactly the type of pre-9-11 mindset that, in part, got thousands innocents murdered on one beautiful September morning. This dangerous President and his head-in-sand administration cannot get voted out of office soon enough.
Hurry up, November 2012.