The top military official involved in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden said Tuesday that the Obama administration has no clear plan for handling suspected terrorist leaders if they are caught alive outside a war zone.
Vice Adm. William H. McRaven told a Senate panel that contingency plans for detaining terrorism suspects are developed on an ad hoc basis and approved by the White House, but that there are no set rules. “That is always a difficult issue for us,” he testified. “No two cases seem to be alike.”
Over at Lawfare Bobby Chesney summarizes the testimony as follows:
Afghanistan is off the table in light of the host-state resistance to being the locus of long-term detention for extra-theater detainees such as al Qaeda’s senior leadership, but GTMO remains foreclosed as well. What then would happen if tomorrow we had actionable intelligence on Zawahiri’s location, found him somewhere in Pakistan, and managed to nab him through some daring JSOC/CIA TItle 50/10 snatch-and-run operation? Presumably it would be back to the USS Carl Vinson or some other such vessel for the short term. But for the long term?
Bobby then proposes two possible solutions, both of which he rightly concludes would face political opposition. The likely scenario for the future? We’ll probably continue to stay stuck in the status quo, denying that we need a detention solution (as Ben Wittes points out in Detention and Denial). The status quo will endure until in some future conflict or future detention scenario we realize we are out of options, then we will be scrambling to find a solution.