Saturday, June 02, 2012

New presidential duty: The 'kill list'

Jun 02, 2012

By David Jackson, USA TODAY
Updated 2012-06-03 2:26 PM

The nation learned details this week of a new and deadly presidential duty: The 'kill list."Early in his term, President Obama, counterterrorism adviser John Brennan and Gen. James Cartwright formed what author Daniel Klaidman calls "a kind of special troika on targeted killings" of suspected al-Qaeda members and other terrorists.
"The three men were making life-and-death decisions, picking targets, rejecting or accepting names put forward by the military, feeling their way through a new kind of war -- Obama's war," Klaidman writes in his forthcoming book, Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency.
It's another sign of the new times in war. It involves not battalions on open battlefields, but intelligence gathering, legal analysis, and unmanned drones aimed at specific targets. The list can range from Osama bin Laden to al-Qaeda foot soldiers whose names are virtually unknown to the American public.
In a book excerpt published in Newsweek magazine, Klaidman writes that Obama has made "brutally difficult" decisions that have taken a toll on him and his staff.
Writes Klaidman:
In quiet conversations with his advisers, the president would sometimes later reflect on whether they knew with certainty that the people they were targeting posed a genuine and specific threat to American interests.
Similar angst and debate was coursing through the administration as a whole. Every targeted killing, in fact, had to be lawyered -- either by the CIA's attorneys, in the case of agency operations, or by other lawyers when the military was involved.
The New York Times also provided details of a process in which "Mr. Obama has placed himself at the helm of a top secret 'nominations' process to designate terrorists for kill or capture, of which the capture part has become largely theoretical."
Obama often looks over yearbook-like charts with pictures, bios, and allegations against potential targets, the Times reports:
He had vowed to align the fight against Al Qaeda with American values; the chart, introducing people whose deaths he might soon be asked to order, underscored just what a moral and legal conundrum this could be.
Mr. Obama is the liberal law professor who campaigned against the Iraq war and torture, and then insisted on approving every new name on an expanding "kill list," poring over terrorist suspects' biographies on what one official calls the macabre "baseball cards" of an unconventional war.
When a rare opportunity for a drone strike at a top terrorist arises -- but his family is with him -- it is the president who has reserved to himself the final moral calculation.


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