As I posted earlier this week, Sean Higgins asked if killing rather than capturing terrorists was an Obama administration policy. National Journal is now reporting that, at least in the case of bin Laden, it was:
The SEALs’ decision to fatally shoot bin Laden — even though he didn’t have a weapon – wasn’t an accident. The administration had made clear to the military’s clandestine Joint Special Operations Command that it wanted bin Laden dead, according to a senior U.S. official with knowledge of the discussions. A high-ranking military officer briefed on the assault said the SEALs knew their mission was not to take him alive….
Capturing bin Laden alive would have also presented the administration with an array of nettlesome legal and political challenges. The White House would have needed to decide where to imprison him, how harshly to interrogate him about potential new attacks, and how – and when – to put him on trial for the killings of the thousands of Americans who died at his direction.
A bin Laden trial, even before a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay, would have attracted enormous media attention, potentially giving the terror mastermind a high-profile platform for spreading his extremist views, and also could have inspired more terrorist attacks. Given the political firestorm that erupted over Attorney General Eric Holder’s aborted plan to try 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Muhammed in New York City, the administration was also wary of the congressional scrutiny that would have surrounded every decision it made about bin Laden’s legal fate.
Killing terrorists like bin Laden is obviously not a bad thing, and maybe holding him rather than killing him would have inspired more terrorist attacks as the administration apparently feared. But it is worth asking what valuable intelligence might be lost in the quest to avoid “nettlesome legal and political challenges.”