The question of how to extract a dangerous man from a residential neighborhood is one of the fundamental problems of our time, happening everywhere from Gaza to Rio to Abbottabad. Sometimes hundreds or thousands of civilians are caught in the middle of such manhunts. When the smoke clears there are bodies on the ground of indeterminate status. Yesterday, they were living and breathing civilians; today, they are presumed to be dead combatants. The question of who among them deserved to be killed is answered posthumously, through forensics and public relations. In other words, history. The process yields much evidence and little certainty. The survivors are rarely in a position to claim their share of the narrative.
Earlier this spring, The New Yorker received a batch of video footage from the Drug Enforcement Administration that shows the beginning of one such operation carried out in Kingston, Jamaica, on May 24, 2010, when Jamaican security forces stormed the barricaded neighborhood of Tivoli Gardens. The target was not a terrorist but Christopher "Dudus" Coke, the powerful drug lord and "don," loved and feared in Tivoli Gardens, who has since pled guilty to racketeering. As I reported in "A Massacre in Jamaica," in 2011, at least seventy-three civilians, including one U.S. citizen, were killed in the process. Many firsthand accounts suggest that the killings were carried out by the Jamaican security forces long after the neighborhood was under their control. The operation was assisted by a surveillance plane from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which was flying above the neighborhood and relaying information to the Jamaican authorities.