Is the fog of war to blame for the death of Warren Weinstein? President Barack Obama suggested as much on April 23 when he told the country about the U.S. drone strike in January on an al-Qaeda camp in Pakistan that mistakenly killed Weinstein, a kidnapped USAID worker, and Giovanni Lo Porto of Italy, who was also being held hostage by the terrorist group.
Weinstein, a 72-year-old Jewish Rockville resident, was kidnapped from his hotel room in Lahore, Pakistan, in 2011. At the time, Weinstein was days away from returning to the United States. His family spent the intervening years trying to secure his release and pressuring the U.S. government to act on his behalf.
That his death came because of U.S. actions makes it all the more tragic and leaves us with questions.
First, even after “hundreds of hours of monitoring,” CIA intelligence only detected four people in the al-Qaeda compound (there were actually six) and did not know their identities. Is such incomplete intelligence the result of America’s increasing reliance on long-distance observation and attacks to the detriment of on-the-ground intelligence, as has been suggested? Is this failure of intelligence the price that must be paid for a war by remote control rather than in person?
Second is the related question, does the U.S. drone policy actually works? Do the benefits outweigh the costs? Drones have become the weapon of choice to extend American reach without risking American lives on the ground. Those are worthy goals. But sadly, even that wasn’t accomplished in the January attack.
As with most issues of national security, we probably won’t get complete answers to these questions for many years. But these are serious questions that impact U.S. policy, America’s image abroad and the effectiveness of our military deterrence. As such, these issues need to be vetted and resolved by our leaders.
In the meantime, our condolences go out to the Weinstein family, who surely never expected Warren’s kidnapping and captivity to end this way. And our thanks to members of the Maryland congressional delegation — Rep. John Delaney and Sens. Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski — who tried to work the levers of government bureaucracy to dedicate more resources to freeing Weinstein.
If blame is to be laid, it should be on al-Qaeda, for whom no Western life has meaning, other than as a bargaining chip. For us and for his family, may Warren Weinstein’s life and memory be for a blessing.