Steve Coll writes: Warren Weinstein was the forgotten man of the war against Al Qaeda. He was an Urdu-speaking aid worker on contract with U.S.A.I.D., a man past retirement age, who was kidnapped from his home, in Lahore, in the summer of 2011, days before he was supposed to return to the States. The kidnapping occurred three months after Navy SEALs raided a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and killed Osama bin Laden. Yet, despite efforts that the Obama Administration described on Thursday as extensive, no SEALs ever located or attempted to rescue Weinstein, who was seventy-three years old when he died.
Nor did the White House negotiate his release. Last May, after long talks with the Taliban, U.S. Special Forces flew into Waziristan to accept custody of Bowe Bergdahl, an Army soldier who had wandered off his base, on the Afghan border with Pakistan, and been captured by fighters with the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network. In exchange for Bergdahl’s release, the Obama Administration released four Taliban prisoners held at Guantánamo. Weinstein did not figure into the deal and was left behind. Judging by the videos that his captors released, he was ill and deeply demoralized.
Of course, Al Qaeda, not the Obama Administration, is responsible for Weinstein’s miserable fate. Still, the fact that Weinstein’s own government accidentally killed him — during his fourth year in captivity, and without a rescue ever being attempted — is a disturbing coda to the short history of drone warfare. It reminds us that the problem with drones is not just that their operators sometimes make mistakes. It is that the heavy reliance — in time, dollars, and bureaucratic priorities — on a technological panacea for the problem of terrorism can cause a government to lose sight of the people on the ground.