Capture Preferred Over Lethal Strikes

Some critics of the Obama administration’s aggressive use of remotely piloted aircraft to kill high-level terrorists complain that the practice precludes the opportunity to gain valuable intelligence by capturing and interrogating them. But the newly released presidential policy guidance on lethal strikes states that the capture of high-value terrorists is “the preferred option over lethal action” because of the value of collecting intelligence. The guidance contains a lengthy section on the approval process for capture and “long-term disposition of certain suspects.” And it states that “lethal action should be taken in an effort to prevent terrorist attacks against US persons only when capture of an individual is not feasible.” Any proposed plan for capture of a high-value terrorist must include a proposal for long-term detention that is consistent with US and international law. If that plan is for custody by a third nation it must include “assurance of humane treatment.” The preferred object of US detention is prosecution in civilian court or military commission, if applicable. But it declares that “in no event will additional detainees be brought to the detention facilities at Guantanamo Naval Station” in Cuba, a reflection of the president’s insistence on closing that facility.