By Mick Krever, CNN
On the day that two major human rights organization released reports lambasting the U.S. use of drones, a former CIA official defended their use in an interview with CNN’s Hala Gorani, sitting in for Christiane Amanpour.
“Americans want war to be antiseptic,” Philip Mudd, who worked for the CIA Counterterrorism Center, said. “Precision to me means you identify a target and you strike a target. If that definition extends to meaning ‘We will never kill a civilian,’ I’m going to tell you, that’s not war.”
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International examined the cases of dozens of civilians killed by U.S. drones in Yemen and Pakistan.
They accuse of the U.S. of “extrajudicial killings,” amounting even at times to “war crimes.”
“People have come to understand that war equates to tragedy,” Mudd said.
Some skeptics, however, argue that the tragedy can have real consequences – that drone strikes foment anger and, in turn, terrorism.
“I don’t buy it,” Mudd told Gorani. “I understand people are angry with these attacks. … But if you’re arguing as a practitioner whether this kills terrorists and eliminates terrorism, I think that the track record on the elimination of al Qaeda operational leaders is indisputable.”
The former CIA official did acknowledge that we are in “chapter one of a debate” on drones that will last years – a debate that he called “fair.”
Despite being “dramatically” effective at killing terrorists, he said, “this is not a long term solution to a problem.”
He also agreed with the guideline set out by President Barack Obama, that capturing terrorists is indeed a better alternative to killing them in drone strikes.
Mudd says that he did not have that option available to him when he worked in counterterrorism at the CIA.
Just earlier this month, the U.S. staged two high-profile raids to capture suspected terrorists – one in Somalia and one in Libya.
The big question that policymakers must consider, Mudd said, is risk.
“I think the operation in Somalia looked good,” he told Gorani. But “if you’d had three Seals killed there, I’m sure people in your shoes and other shoes would have said, ‘Why didn’t we use a drone? Why did we put Special Forces at risk?’”
“I agree that capture is not only a viable alternative, it’s the best alternative,” he said. But “if the risk is killing a bunch of American kids, or special operators, I’d say stand back – the drone is a better option.”
Going forward, there is a “bigger question” to examine regarding the use of drone strikes, he told Gorani.
“This drone capability gives the president of the United States and others the option to intervene in places we could not intervene before,” Mudd said. “So in 2015 or 2020, when there’s a threat in Nigeria, a threat in Mali, a threat in Mauritania – how do you develop … the international law and the international basis for operations that says you can go kill somebody?”