Magazine article The New Yorker

After Pakistan

Magazine article The New Yorker

After Pakistan

Article excerpt

Pakistan has a way of cutting careers short, some tragically. One Prime Minister was sent to the gallows after being toppled in a coup. Nine years later, the general who led the putsch died in a plane crash; conspiracists posit that it was brought down by combustible crates of mangoes on board. Benazir Bhutto, the daughter of the hanged Prime Minister, perished in a suicide blast. Two Americans were killed when radicals overran the U.S. Embassy in 1979; two more died in the plane crash. Two C.I.A. station chiefs have been forced to flee in the past few years. Most recently, the U.S. Ambassador, Cameron Munter, retired prematurely because, according to a colleague quoted in the Times, "he didn't realize his main job was to kill people."

Now that he's back from Pakistan and is settling into a visiting professorship at Columbia Law School, Munter wants to set the record straight. "Of course I knew part of my job was killing people," he said recently. For a man whose affect is more bike-shop owner--rimless glasses, tousled gray hair--than terrorist hunter, this was a startling admission. Before he was deployed to Iraq in 2006, he had never fired a gun. Yet Munter's twenty months in Islamabad coincided with a particularly torqued and testy period for U.S.-Pakistan relations. Soon after he arrived, a C.I.A. contractor named Raymond Davis was jailed for killing two men who were trying to rob him. Not long afterward, Munter helped spring Davis from jail, and a team of SEALs choppered into Abbottabad and killed Osama bin Laden. Later, American helicopters and warplanes strafed Pakistani border posts, killing twenty-four soldiers.

And then there were the drones.

A couple of weeks ago, on his first day at Columbia, Munter admonished a class of fourteen law students not to blog his comments--"These are very sensitive things"--before dishing about the C.I.A.'s classified drone program. He distinguished three types of drone attacks: high-value targets ("Article Fifty-one of the U.N. charter gives us the right to go after these people. . . . I don't have a problem with that"); imminent threats, mostly to troops in Afghanistan ("Those, too, are fairly uncontroversial, at least inside our government"); and signature strikes, firing a missile at guys who "look like they're up to no good" ("targeting based on behavior, rather than identity"). This became a source of contention between Munter and the C.I.A.: "When you kill people and you don't know who they are, what are you leaving yourself open to?"

A hand went up. A student suggested that, from a military standpoint, "If you can't say, 'That thing is a military target,' you can't pull the trigger. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.