Greg Miller, writing the first of three articles in a major series on targeted killing by the US government, has revealed for the first time details of the decision-making calculus of life and death used by the government:
Over the past two years, the Obama administration has been secretly developing a new blueprint for pursuing terrorists, a next-generation targeting list called the “disposition matrix.”
The matrix contains the names of terrorism suspects arrayed against an accounting of the resources being marshaled to track them down, including sealed indictments and clandestine operations. U.S. officials said the database is designed to go beyond existing kill lists, mapping plans for the “disposition” of suspects beyond the reach of American drones.
There have already been a number of responses to this, particularly Glenn Greenwald in the Guardian, and thousands of reader comments.
One of the key points is how this represents a (continued) shift in priorities, and the acceptance of counterterrrorism as part of the “Forever War” to use a well-known title by Joe Haldeman. The Post story adds:
Less visible is the extent to which Obama has institutionalized the highly classified practice of targeted killing, transforming ad-hoc elements into a counterterrorism infrastructure capable of sustaining a seemingly permanent war.
This is now the “new normal”:
Targeted killing is now so routine that the Obama administration has spent much of the past year codifying and streamlining the processes that sustain it.
How clearly this is an institutionalization that will continue with whoever the next president is, the story notes how close Obama and Romney are on this issue:
For an administration that is the first to embrace targeted killing on a wide scale, officials seem confident that they have devised an approach that is so bureaucratically, legally and morally sound that future administrations will follow suit.
During Monday’s presidential debate, Republican nominee Mitt Romney made it clear that he would continue the drone campaign. “We can’t kill our way out of this,” he said, but added later that Obama was “right to up the usage” of drone strikes and that he would do the same.
I probably don’t need to add nor emphasize that these policies depend upon the “enrollment” of political geographies and human geography concepts to operationalize the “targeted” strikes. For example, note that “pattern of life” analysis (or activity-based intelligence) depend upon social networks.
The story is not unproblematic. It relies on data for drone strikes from the New America Foundation rather than the Bureau of Investigative Journalists (New America has been the subject of critique and conflict of interest).
Yet this is a big story, and WaPo (which has had some shaky reporting on terrorism) is to be congratulated for running it.