President Obama said today that a U.S. drone strike in January on the border region killed two Western hostages: American Warren Weinstein, and Italian Giovani Lo Porto.
Weinstein was abducted Aug. 13, 2011, by armed gunmen who burst into his Lahore home. The Rockville, Md., resident put in several years with USAID and the World Bank before becoming an economic development consultant in 2003.
Last August, al-Qaeda needled the Obama administration about forgetting the contractor, charging the U.S. government “wants Warren Weinstein to die in prison so that it may absolve itself of responsibility regarding his case.”
In a letter and video released in 2013, the 73-year-old begged President Obama for help. “You are now in your second term as president of the United States and that means that you can take hard decisions without worrying about reelection,” he said. “I hope and pray to God that you, as leader of the United States, along with your administration, will feel an adequate level of responsibility toward me and work for my release.”
The Weinstein family was told yesterday, as was Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. Warren’s wife, Elaine, said they still don’t fully understand the circumstances of Weinstein’s death but look forward to an independent investigation.
“On behalf of myself, our two daughters, our son-in-law, and two grandchildren, we are devastated by this news and the knowledge that my husband will never safely return home. We were so hopeful that those in the U.S. and Pakistani governments with the power to take action and secure his release would have done everything possible to do so and there are no words to do justice to the disappointment and heartbreak we are going through,” Elaine said.
“They will have to face their God to answer for their actions,” she said of his al-Qaeda captors.
Though the family said over the years that they were frustrated by what they saw as a lack of administration action, Obama said today that after Weinstein’s kidnapping “I directed my national security team to do everything possible to find him and to bring him home safely to his family.”
“Based on information and intelligence we have obtained, we believe that a U.S. counterterrorism operation targeting an al-Qaeda compound in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, accidentally killed Warren and Giovani this past January,” Obama said. “As a husband and as a father, I cannot begin to imagine the anguish that the Weinstein and Lo Porto families are enduring today. I realize that there are no words that can ever equal their loss. I know that there is nothing that I can ever say or do to ease their heartache.”
“And today, I simply want to say this: As president and as commander-in-chief, I take full responsibility for all our counterterrorism operations, including the one that inadvertently took the lives of Warren and Giovanni. I profoundly regret what happened. On behalf of the United States government, I offer our deepest apologies to the families.”
Obama said he “directed that the existence of this operation be declassified and disclosed publicly. I did so because the Weinstein and Lo Porto families deserve to know the truth.”
“We believed that this was an al-Qaeda compound, that no civilians were present and that capturing these terrorists was not possible. And we do believe that the operation did take out dangerous members of al-Qaeda,” he said. “What we did not know, tragically, is that al-Qaeda was hiding the presence of Warren and Giovanni in this same compound. It is a cruel and bitter truth that in the fog of war generally and our fight terrorists specifically, mistakes, sometimes deadly mistakes, can occur.”
He added that “one of the things that sets America apart from many other nations, one of the things that makes us exceptional is our willingness to confront squarely our imperfections and to learn from our mistakes.”
The Weinsteins’ congressman, Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.), called the loss “devastating, a tragic event that we must never forget.”
“Warren represented the very best of our country; he was a gentle and loving man who dedicated his career to building a better world. We need more Warren Weinsteins in the world,” Delaney said.
The congressman lashed out at the White House, stressing he’s “saddened, disappointed and outraged that our government was not able to bring Warren home.”
“Today’s news is a personal tragedy for Warren’s family but also a sobering national security and government failure,” Delaney continued. “As Warren’s representative, I feel like his country failed him in his greatest time of need. I’m determined to ensure that Warren’s story is not forgotten, that we get to the bottom of why Warren wasn’t found and how he was killed, and that we drive tangible improvements to our hostage response process from an intelligence and resources coordination perspective.”
Delaney has been working on legislation “to reform, streamline and upgrade our ability to respond to hostage taking… in the hope that more families don’t suffer the same fate.”
“It is essential that the review of this tragic accident be a true investigation that focuses on the events surrounding Warren’s death and the intelligence efforts that were deployed to locate him,” he said. “Our national security and intelligence response to hostages must improve and improve quickly.”