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More on Drones versus Enhanced Interrogation

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Saturday, February 16, 2013 at 3:25 PM

Further to Jack’s post yesterday on the politics of drones versus enhanced interrogation, and my post earlier in the week about Peter Baker’s article about the mounting criticism of the Obama Administration’s counter-terror policies, comes this article by Sara Sorcher in the National Journal, provocatively entitled “Is Obama’s Drone Policy Really Morally Superior to Torture? Bush was condemned for waterboarding. But this administration kills from above.”   Here are a few excerpts:

Yet where the morality of President Bush’s tactics chewed up years of public debate, Congress and the press seem less interested in the legitimacy of drone strikes than in the process (and secrecy) that surrounds them.

So why are drone strikes—which have reportedly killed 2,500 in Pakistan alone—different? Why do people impute more legitimacy to killing from afar (which sometimes ensnares innocent bystanders) than interrogating up close?

Perhaps first and foremost: evidence. Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo produced photos, and released detainees described their interrogations; ex post facto drone-strike images look like any other war photo.

Another problem for drone critics: verifiability. It’s nearly impossible to challenge the current White House claim that civilian casualties are limited because the strikes are effective and well supervised.

It’s also hard to argue with success: Drones decimated key Qaida militants in recent years, including Abu Yahya al-Libi in Pakistan and Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen.

One final difference between then and now is the way people perceive the president….  “By a certain point, virtually nothing President Bush did was going to win approval by anybody,” former Defense Secretary Robert Gates told CNN Sunday, explaining public support for drone strikes but not enhanced interrogation.

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