The State Department announced Monday a total of up to $23 million in rewards for information on terrorists in West Africa, the first time the Department's Rewards for Justice program has offered rewards in that part of the continent. Although the Obama administration has repeatedly insisted that the leadership of al Qaeda has been decimated, four of the five terrorists on this new list are either current al Qaeda leadership or alumni of the organization according to the State Department press release. And from the wording of the new reward offers, as well as many of the previous outstanding reward offers, capturing and taking these men into custody is not the primary focus of Rewards for Justice [emphasis added]:
The Secretary of State has authorized rewards of up to $5 million each for information leading to the location of AQIM leader Yahya Abu el Hammam and Signed-in-Blood Battalion leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar [former AQIM]; rewards of up to $3 million each for information leading to the location of AQIM leader Malik Abou Abdelkarim and MUJWA spokesperson Oumar Ould Hamaha [former AQIM]; and a reward of up to $7 million for information leading to the location of Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram.
One of the distinguishing features of the Rewards for Justice program is the more limited qualification attached to most of the reward offers. While other government reward programs for information on fugitives depend on information leading to an arrest or even an arrest and conviction, the vast majority of rewards offered by the State Department's Rewards for Justice ask only for "information leading to the location" of the terrorists in question.
There are exceptions, such as the $10 million for "[i]nformation leading to the arrest or conviction of Hafiz Mohammad Saeed," but even the $25 million reward for Ayman al-Zawahiri, founder of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, requires only "location." In fact, rewards on only five of the 58 terrorists currently listed call for "capture" or "arrest." The remainder, including all of the new West Africa additions, the first added to the program since President Obama's speech on counterterrorism policy two weeks ago, are subject to the location-only standard.
In a recent speech, the president justified his drone policy by saying, "despite our strong preference for the detention and prosecution of terrorists, sometimes this approach is foreclosed."
Since 53 of 58 Rewards for Justice offers simply ask for the "location" of the terrorists, it seems safe to assume that "detention and prosecution" is less a "strong preference" and more a rare exception, at least in this collection of high-value targets. And with the president's renewed call for closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, the administration arguably has more incentive than ever to keep the number of high-ranking terrorist leaders in custody low. The current structure of the Rewards for Justice program would seem to reflect the administration's intentions to do just that.