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What If We Had Captured Al-Somali?

3:39 PM, Dec 11, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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ABC reports that the high-level al Qaeda operative killed in Tuesday's drone strike in Pakistan was Saleh al-Somali. According to ABC, U.S. officials believe al-Somali "was responsible for al Qaeda's operations outside of the Afghanistan-Pakistan region and formed part of al Qaeda's senior leadership circle."

No doubt we should enjoy the battlefield execution of a thug like al-Somali, and no doubt the Obama administration deserves credit for stepping up the drone war in Pakistan, where al Qaeda's upper echelons have been battered to the point of seeking refuge in Afghanistan according to some accounts. But you have to wonder what kind of information al-Somali might have produced if exposed to the vigorous interrogation methods this administration has renounced. This guy was in operational control of all al Qaeda cells in Europe and North America -- he had to have some useful information. Now if this administration had ordered a bunch of special ops guys in to capture al-Somali, they would have had to read him his rights and ship him straight to NYC for a meeting with the public defender (that or the "black prison" at Bagram, which doesn't exist, because this administration rejects the false choice between our ideals and our security). It would be foolish for this administration to risk American lives to capture a terrorist like al-Somali, only to waste millions in taxpayer dollars to go through a years-long trial just for the chance that we might get to execute him instead of paying for him to live out his days in a prison in your neighborhood.

But what if this administration could have used the most effective enhanced interrogation techniques on al-Somali? Imagine the intel this guy could have produced, the operations he could have given up, the cells he could have destroyed ... unfortunately we'll never know how much damage this terrorist could have done to his own networks.