Post Date: January 23, 2006
The following Op-ed by Professor Martha Minow and Amos N. Guiora, Guess who's coming to dinner?, was published in The Boston Globe on January 21, 2006.
The airstrike in Damadola, Pakistan, on Jan. 13 is yet another example of how the Bush administration's policies are harming the interests of the United States. The short-term and long-term harm to the US military is clear. The seemingly botched job, with five children among those killed, increases the risk of revenge to US soldiers should they be captured. The credibility of the military is shaken because it seems that those planning the operation did not know who was coming to dinner.
By violating the sovereignty of an ally, we embarrassed a key US partner in the fight against terrorism and jeopardized General Pervez Musharraf's already tenuous hold on power as president of Pakistan. In the justified but failed attempt to eliminate Osama bin Laden's top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, it may well turn out that the attack did take out important Al Qaeda operatives, but the apparent guessing game indicates accidentalism, itself a symptom of a deeper problem.
The apparent lack of sophistication in intelligence gathering, operational planning, and policy four years into the fight against terrorism reveals failure to establish a reliable and institutionalized process that serves America's interest at this crucial point in history. At least according to media reports, the administration did not have accurate information about who was going to attend the dinner targeted by the airstrike and still lacks full information about who was there and who was killed. The loss of innocent civilians may be an unavoidable consequence of targeted killing, even when justified, but the unanswered question here is whether sufficient efforts were undertaken to minimize such killings.
The violation of Pakistan's sovereignty in contravention of international law raises a red flag about what legal advice was rendered or followed prior to the attack. This event puts all of our allies, especially those in Arab and Muslim countries, in a difficult box. And we've created a public relations boon for bin Laden's supporters and a fiasco for ourselves.
A reliable and sophisticated process must include the following:
Comprehensive intelligence gathering based on open sources, human intelligence, and signal intelligence, with the expertise in language and culture necessary to understand and analyze what is seen and heard.
Sophisticated operational capability able to pinpoint a target while minimizing ''collateral damage" through the highest technical skill and real-time intelligence.
Rigorous and independent legal advice even in the face of pressures from military or political decision makers.
Realistic foreign policy analysis, especially attentive to the worlds of our allies and our enemies.
The capability to integrate these resources, act nimbly, and remain able to say no so as to best serve America's interests.
Counterterrorism is not a perfect science; military commanders must have the flexibility to act even without complete knowledge. Even the best planned operation may go awry and innocent lives may tragically be lost even in operations that are deemed a success. A sophisticated process must include a sober and informed assessment about the risks and benefits of any military operation. To proceed without the elements of a sophisticated process is reckless and potentially counterproductive.
Until there is active oversight from Congress and the courts, we should not be surprised that the administration and the military have not devised such a sophisticated process. Enormous sums are being spent daily in our name, but without sophisticated application, our safety will remain elusive.
Unlike Israel -- which has clearly approved targeted killings based on a sophisticated, integrative process of the sort described here -- America is still struggling with whether to approve this kind of strategy. Surely, it should never be approved without the integration, comprehensive intelligence capability, refined operational capacity, rigorous and independent legal advice, realistic foreign policy advice, and the judgment worthy of the confidence of the American people.
We need to know who is coming to dinner.
Amos N. Guiora is a professor of law and director of the Institute for Global Security Law and Policy at Case Western Reserve University School of Law. Martha Minow is a professor at Harvard Law School.