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Friday, October 16, 2015

The Assassination Complex

The Assassination Complex

By Jeremy Scahill
The Intercept.com
October 16, 2015

From his first days as commander in chief, the drone has been
President Barack Obama’s weapon of choice, used by the military
and the CIA to hunt down and kill the people his administration
has deemed — through secretive processes, without indictment
or trial — worthy of execution.

There has been intense focus on the technology of remote killing,
but that often serves as a surrogate for what should be a broader
examination of the state’s power over life and death.

DRONES ARE A TOOL, not a policy. The policy is assassination.

While every president since Gerald Ford has upheld an executive
order banning assassinations by U.S. personnel, Congress has
avoided legislating the issue or even defining the word,
“assassination.”

This has allowed proponents of the drone wars to re-brand
assassinations with more palatable characterizations, such
as the term du jour, “targeted killings.”

When the Obama administration has discussed drone strikes
publicly, it has offered assurances that such operations are
a more precise alternative to boots on the ground and are
authorized only when an, “imminent” threat is present and
there is, “near certainty” that the intended target will be
eliminated.

Those terms, however, appear to have been bluntly redefined
to bear almost no resemblance to their commonly understood
meanings.

The first drone strike outside of a declared war zone was conducted
more than 12 years ago, yet it was not until May 2013 that the
White House released a set of standards and procedures for
conducting such strikes.

Those guidelines offered little specificity, asserting that the U.S.
would only conduct a lethal strike outside of an, “area of active
hostilities” if a target represents a, “continuing, imminent threat
to U.S. persons” without providing any sense of the internal process
used to determine whether a suspect should be killed without being
indicted or tried.

The implicit message on drone strikes from the Obama
administration has been one of trust, but don’t verify.

The Intercept has obtained a cache of secret slides that provides a
window into the inner workings of the U.S. military’s kill/capture
operations at a key time in the evolution of the drone wars —
between 2011 and 2013.

The documents, which also outline the internal views of special
operations forces on the shortcomings and flaws of the drone
program, were provided by a source within the intelligence
community who worked on the types of operations and programs
described in the slides.

The Intercept granted the source’s request for anonymity because
the materials are classified and because the U.S. government has
engaged in aggressive prosecution of whistleblowers.

The stories in this series will refer to the source as, “the source.”

The source said he decided to provide these documents to
The Intercept because he believes the public has a right to
understand the process by which people are placed on kill
lists and ultimately assassinated on orders from the highest
echelons of the U.S. government.

“This outrageous explosion of watch listing — of monitoring people
and racking and stacking them on lists, assigning them numbers,
assigning them ‘baseball cards,’ assigning them death sentences
without notice, on a worldwide battlefield — it was, from the very
first instance, wrong,” the source said.

“We’re allowing this to happen. And by, ‘we’ I mean every
American citizen who has access to this information now, but
continues to do nothing about it.”

The Pentagon, White House, and Special Operations Command
all declined to comment.

A Defense Department spokesperson said, “We don’t comment
on the details of classified reports.”

The CIA and the U.S. military’s Joint Special Operations Command
(JSOC) operate parallel drone-based assassination programs, and
the secret documents should be viewed in the context of an intense
internal turf war over which entity should have supremacy in those
operations.

Two sets of slides focus on the military’s high-value targeting
campaign in Somalia and Yemen as it existed between 2011 and
2013, specifically the operations of a secretive unit, Task Force
48-4.

Additional documents on high-value kill/capture operations
in Afghanistan buttress previous accounts of how the Obama
administration masks the true number of civilians killed in
drone strikes by categorizing unidentified people killed in a
strike as enemies, even if they were not the intended targets.

The slides also paint a picture of a campaign in Afghanistan
aimed not only at eliminating al Qaeda and Taliban operatives,
but also at taking out members of other local armed groups.

One top-secret document shows how the terror, “watchlist”
appears in the terminals of personnel conducting drone
operations, linking unique codes associated with cellphone
SIM cards, and handsets, to specific individuals in order to
geo-locate them.

https://theintercept.com/drone-papers/the-assassination-complex

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