The story of the last days of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has piqued our curiosity, as it has the doyenne of Conservatism William F. Buckley, Jr. The erudite and supremely connected Mr. Buckley is wondering out loud why it is we had to kill Zarqawi with two 500 pound bombs when we had him in our sights on the ground. Did we want him dead -- not captured alive -- because what he knew would embarass our government. Or even worse. Here's Buckley's view.
"We had armed men within range of the target house. A decision had to be made. It is always thought preferable to take a wanted man prisoner on the assumption that much critical information can be extracted from him. Twenty-four hours after the decision was made to go for the kill, military spokesmen made persuasive points. One of them was that, with night descending, the possibility of yet one more escape was conclusively the darkest cloud on the horizon. A second point was that to capture Zarqawi alive would require a firefight with his bodyguards. Even if they were easily overwhelmed, still there would be American dead. Why sacrifice more American lives?
"So the execution orders were given to fighter jets, two of them up there within striking distance. But one of them was busy with the pre-eminent need for marsupial refueling, so both 500-pound bombs came down from the second plane.
"It was instantly established that the target had been hit by the first bomb, but the naval commander told the pilot -- whose instruments now had the GPS coordinates, supplanting the laser signals that guided the first bomb -- to go with a second hit.
"It was a matter of minutes before our Delta Force was there to verify that the objective was accomplished. The drama produced: Zarqawi alive.
"Three plenary accounts of what then happened, taken from Time and Newsweek and The New York Times, advise us that Zarqawi was wounded but on a stretcher. He was speaking, presumably to whoever it was who had got the stretcher for him, but then -- suddenly -- he is dead. Of the wounds suffered from the bombing.
"We are told by reporters on the scene or with ready access to it that different men, but men with authority, began now to speak about the need to protect the delicate and valuable sources that had combined to give us the coordinates of the master killer.
"Was there somebody in the act there who decided that Zarqawi was much better, there and then, definitely dead, than headed for one of those chambers where Milosevic practiced his legal education, only finally dying of something not related to a noose or a guillotine? In such a chamber Saddam Hussein seems intent on living, perhaps longer than President Bush will remain in office."