Rockville resident Warren Weinstein, held hostage for more than three years in Pakistan, died in captivity in a U.S. counterterrorism operation in January, President Barack Obama said on April 23.
“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. “As soon as we determined the cause of their deaths, I 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.”
The U.S. bombed what officials believed to be an Al-Qaeda compound in January. Obama said officials did not think the compound contained any civilians, but then found the drone strike killed Weinstein and Italian worker Giovanni Lo Porto. Al-Qaeda captured Weinstein in 2011 while he worked with economic development firm J.E. Austin Associates as a contractor for U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
“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,” said Weinstein’s wife, Elaine. “We do not yet fully understand all of the facts surrounding Warren’s death but we do understand that the U.S. government will be conducting an independent investigation of the circumstances. We look forward to the results of that investigation.”
Obama said on Thursday he has ordered a full review of what happened to glean any lessons learned from the operation.
Although some officials, including Congressman John Delaney (D-6), Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and FBI employees, worked to secure her husband’s return, Elaine said the governments in both countries could have done more.
Elaine called the response from other parts of the U.S. government “inconsistent and disappointing” and she said she hopes her experience will lead to a more coordinated support system for families of hostages.
She said her husband devoted his life to helping Pakistan – he worked as a development advisor for the area from 2004-2011 – and the Pakistani government should have placed more importance on his return.
“Warren’s safe return should have been a priority for them based on his contributions to their country, but they failed to take action earlier in his captivity when opportunity presented itself, instead treating Warren’s captivity as more of an annoyance than a priority,” she said.
Al Qaeda had appealed to the family in the past to try to negotiate a prisoner swap with the United States, but to no avail. They also issued several videos of Weinstein during his captivity, the most recent of which came in 2013 and showed Weinstein’s health deteriorating.
Elected officials sent their condolences to the family. Cardin, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he has requested a full account of the events leading to Weinstein’s death.
“The United States government, including members of my staff, worked tirelessly to bring him home safely. The manner in which Dr. Weinstein and Mr. Lo Porto were killed makes this situation all the more difficult to process. He and the men and women like him, of all nationalities, who give of themselves to better the world, are assets to humanity,” Cardin said.
Outside the Weinsteins’ Rockville home, residents have left flowers and other trinkets as a memorial to Weinstein.