[News] Obama to approve drone assassination manual

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Jan 21 11:22:21 EST 2013

    Obama to approve drone assassination manual

          By Patrick Martin
          21 January 2013


President Obama is about to sign off on a manual that will 
institutionalize the process by which the White House orders and 
approves killings by remote-controlled drones, according to a report Sunday.

The so-called counterterrorism "playbook" will define the circumstances 
under which the CIA and the military's Special Forces Command, the two 
agencies that operate drones in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia 
and other parts of the Middle East and Africa, may use lethal force.

The front-page article in the /Washington Post/ amounts to a 
semi-official announcement by the White House and is based on statements 
by unnamed government officials. Its publication, on the same day that 
Obama officially took the oath of office for his second term as 
president, demonstrates the role of his administration as an instrument 
of the military-intelligence apparatus.

The US government is so deeply engaged in assassinations all over the 
world that top officials believe a manual is required to regularize the 
process. According to the /Post/ account, the drafting of the drone 
warfare manual has been delayed by infighting between the CIA and other 
agencies, with the CIA seeking greater latitude to conduct missile 
strikes. These include "signature" strikes, in which the target is not 
an identified member of Al Qaeda or some other alleged terrorist group, 
but individuals who appear to be engaged in activity that bears the 
"signature" of terrorism, such as congregating with weapons, or loading 
vehicles with what appear to be explosives.

This means, in practice, targeting for murder people who appear to be 
engaged in resistance against US occupations or military actions in the 
Middle East, Central Asia and Africa. Moreover, since most drone strikes 
target rural areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and other countries 
where tribal gatherings are common and weapons are omnipresent, the 
demand for "signature" strikes amounts to a license for the CIA to 
murder anyone in the population of these territories.

The newspaper reported that the dispute was settled by the CIA gaining 
an exemption for wider attacks in Pakistan for a period of at least one 
year, more likely two years, and with a possible extension of even 
greater duration. The mountainous areas of northwest Pakistan, along the 
border with Afghanistan, have been the most frequent target of drone 
missile strikes, killing thousands, including hundreds of women and 

The /Post/ reports that the drone missile "playbook" will be submitted 
to Obama within weeks. The newspaper observes that it "marks the 
culmination of a year-long effort by the White House to codify its 
counterterrorism policies and create a guide for lethal operations 
through Obama's second term."

In other words, throughout Obama's reelection campaign, top White House 
officials have been negotiating and concretizing the details of a secret 
document that takes as its point of departure the principle that the 
president is above the law and can order the death of any individual on 
the planet, including American citizens, without any legal recourse or 

According to the report, "Among the subjects covered in the playbook are 
the process for adding names to kill lists, the legal principles that 
govern when US citizens can be targeted overseas and the sequence of 
approvals required when the CIA or US military conducts drone strikes 
outside war zones."

The Obama administration has refused to disclose what "legal principles" 
supposedly give the president the power of life and death over all 
humanity. Legal memoranda drafted by the Department of Justice have been 
kept secret from the American people, with the administration prevailing 
in a series of court hearings where judges have bowed to its assertion 
of an absolute right to maintain "state secrets," regardless of the 
provisions of the Bill of Rights.

Even the legal requirements drawn up by the Obama administration, 
however, will not actually impose any limits on the CIA and military. 
One former official told the /Post/ that the CIA exemption for Pakistan 
would be in effect for "less than two years but more than one," but 
added that any final decision "will undoubtedly be predicated on facts 
on the ground."

One purpose of the planted account in the /Post/ is to bolster the image 
of White House counterterrorism coordinator John Brennan, nominated by 
Obama to head the CIA. Brennan was Obama's first choice as CIA director 
in 2009, but the newly elected president dared not nominate him because 
of his role as an advocate of rendition and torture while a top CIA 
official during the Bush administration.

The article published Sunday conforms to recent efforts by the White 
House to present Brennan as the advocate of moderation and restraint in 
the waging of drone warfare. He is described as the driving force of the 
"playbook," his aim being "to impose more consistent and rigorous 
controls on counterterrorism programs that were largely ad-hoc in the 
aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks."

Insofar as this is anything more than puffery before Brennan's 
nomination hearing next month, the account suggests that Brennan's role 
is like that of the Nazi bureaucrats who wanted order and system in the 
operation of the Final Solution, rather than uncontrolled, spasmodic and 
therefore inefficient violence.

Meanwhile, the US killing machine continues its grisly operations. Over 
the weekend, US drone strikes killed at least six, and perhaps as many 
as sixteen, in several attacks in southern Yemen. Drone-fired missiles 
killed three people Saturday in Maarab province and three more in a car 
in the same province Sunday. Another ten were killed in an explosion at 
a house in al-Bayda province, said to be an accidental detonation during 
bomb-making, but possibly the result of another US strike, since the US 
government never comments publicly on drone operations.

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