Holder: Obama’s New Drone-Strike ‘Playbook’ Has Arrived

The Obama Administration formally admits to killing four Americans by drone. But the bigger story might be its secret new document guiding future drone strikes

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Steve Helber / AP

An X-47B Navy drone does a flyby the USS George H.W. Bush after it was launched from the ship off the coast of Virginia, on May 14, 2013.

The big story this afternoon is the formal admission by the Obama Administration, via a letter to Congress from Attorney General Eric Holder, that it has killed four American citizens in drone strikes. That’s an interesting sign of the pressure Obama is under to be more transparent about his targeted killing operations in the fight against al-Qaeda. But the information itself is not surprising: it has long been known that Obama approved the killing of the al-Qaeda preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, and that other Americans (including al-Awlaki’s teenage son) have been killed inadvertently — although one of the deaths, Jude Kenan Mohammad, had not previously been reported.

Perhaps more significant, however, is something Holder’s letter mentions only briefly in its second-to-last paragraph: the Attorney General writes that Obama has approved a policy document that “institutionalizes the Administration’s exacting standards and processes for reviewing and approving operations to capture or use lethal force against terrorist targets.” This appears to be the “disposition matrix” that Obama officials, led by former counterterrorism adviser (and now CIA director) John Brennan, spent much of last year assembling. Casually referred to as the drone “playbook,” the document reportedly aspired to clear up questions like who should pull the trigger on drone strikes — some are conducted by the Pentagon, some by the CIA — and just what legal authorities and restrictions apply to them. It may codify a reported shift of some drone activity from the CIA to the Defense Department.

So while the deaths of Americans by drone — including the targeting of al-Awlaki — aren’t really news, the implementation of a formal new policy guiding Obama’s targeted killing against suspected al-Qaeda terrorists is a big deal. But the veil of secrecy is not being lifted entirely. Holder writes that the new policy document will remain classified, although “relevant congressional committees” will be briefed on its contents. We may hear more about it, in broad unclassified terms, when President Obama gives a big speech on his counterterrorism policies.

97 comments
petersen
petersen

No doubt that there may be reasonable enough justification and legal permissives for this type of action by our government in regards to protecting US interests. No one should be questioning the reasoning why the administration has acted on these and other policies. However, the direct targeting of any American citizen anywhere in the world must be carefully judged and always clearly disseminated by our leaders. Hiding this can never be tolerated. Let the people make their judgment as to whether there has been just cause for these drone attacks.   -  progress

jarheadkp
jarheadkp

It is funny that Obama wants to close Guantanamo and stop Water Boarding for terrorist, and be brought to a civil court and not to a military tribunal for their crimes. But when an American citizens are suspected of being a terrorist and anyone around them will be collateral damage, without due process. It sacres me too death we have this idoit in an office of power! I guess now I'll be hearing from the IRS for an audit on my taxes?

meddevguy
meddevguy

Conservatives will jump all over this -- the outrage! Four. It's not intended to take everybody's attention off the fact that three of the most powerful investigative organizations in the world, working for the Administration, methodically influenced a Presidential election. No Really!

DualityPoliticDC
DualityPoliticDC

Holder said the teenager wasn't "targeted by the United States," and he also emphasized the need not to harm national security. This leaves open the possibility that someone without approval at the highest levels killed him, and Holder won't inform about it because it would motivate terrorists, like it did in Boston. According to the fullest account, Obama was suprised when he heard about the teenager being killed, so it's assumed he didn't know, and it was reported he was angry. How someone could have accidentally done it is beyond reason, but the vagueness leads the media to make the speculation into a "hard fact."

mbhposter
mbhposter

@petersen The problem is that you cannot always be transparent because you many end up compromising sources or strategies and such. You have to have some level of trust for the folks you elected to do this job for you.

Pres: "We killed an american today with a drone attack who was head of a terrorist cell"

Us:"How did you know he was?"

Pres:"Because we had information from a mole who has inflitrated at a high level" 

See, we can't always GET the whole story, the Pres could neve say that last line without compromising a vital ongoing source of information. So you get half a story, you get outrage that it was done with no proof. Tough line to ride sometimes. We need to accept that there WILL be classified information in all instances and we simply cannot get the entire true story most times.

MrObvious
MrObvious

@jarheadkp 

Not all, but some. I don't defend it - but it's not like every single enemy ex-pat is targeted and killed. Also - why could 'Bush' bring terrorists to civilian courts but 'Obama' can't?

Is there some special circumstances that made it possible before but not now? Or is it simply ODS?

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@jarheadkp How scared were you when we had an idiot in power who invaded a country that never attacked us with no idea of what to do with it post conquest?

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@meddevguy Really three organizations influenced the election? And the GOP's uncanny ability to anger everyone except old white men had nothing to do with the results?

Hadrewsky
Hadrewsky

@DualityPoliticDC 

Sadly these 3 Americans I dont really mind being in several places at once.... i just dont care

drudown
drudown

@DualityPoliticDC 

You are just spinning speculative yarn with no nexus to anything within your personal knowledge. Show me the authority. 

curt3rd
curt3rd

"Now let me be clear -- I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power. He has repeatedly defied UN resolutions, thwarted UN inspection teams, developed chemical and biological weapons, and coveted nuclear capacity. He's a bad guy. The world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him."

State Senator Barack Obama (Democrat, Illinois)
Speech at Federal Plaza, Chicago, Illinois
October 2, 2002

meddevguy
meddevguy

@mantisdragon91 @meddevguy Racism and age discrimination in one sentence!

And yes three -- State, IRS, and DOJ / FBI all shaped the truth because a Presidential election was weeks away AND gathered information about the candidates opposing the party in power in the White House. Nixon's guys "influenced" some "third rate burglars" who failed to gather anything -- and it cost him his job.

But you may be right that the President's campaign crew didn't have to be that desperate -- they may well have won anyway, but arrogance and mistrust of the American voters causes an incumbent to abandon morality.

DualityPoliticDC
DualityPoliticDC

True. I am speculating, but the media is buying it too easily. Holder's letter was vague. He didn't provide any details on the three non-"targeted by the United States" Americans killed. And, the way he said "by the United States" leaves it open to speculation. This is not transparent.

The fullest account I was referring to was from Jeremy Scahill in Dirty Wars.

When a teenage American boy, who by all accounts was in no way a terrorist, is killed, there should be an explanation.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@curt3rd Yet again you are quoting things out of context the UN inspectors were in Iraq in 2003 and clearly stated that there were no WMDs. Why was the administration still scaring us with talk of nukes and claiming that Saddam was behind 9/11?

curt3rd
curt3rd

"My position is very clear: The time has come for decisive action to eliminate the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. I'm a co-sponsor of the bipartisan Resolution that's presently under consideration in the Senate. Saddam Hussein's regime is a grave threat to America and our allies. We know that he has chemical and biological weapons today, that he's used them in the past, and that he's doing everything he can to build more. Every day he gets closer to his long-term goal of nuclear capability.

Democracy will not spring up by itself overnight in a multi-ethnic, complicated society that's suffered under one repressive regime after another for generations. The Iraqi people deserve and need our help to rebuild their lives and to create a prosperous, thriving, open society. All Iraqis, including Sunnis, Shia and Kurds, deserve to be represented. This is not just a moral imperative. It's a security imperative. It is in America's national interest to help build an Iraq at peace with itself and its neighbors, because a democratic, tolerant and accountable Iraq will be a peaceful regional partner, and such an Iraq could serve as a model for the entire Arab world."

Senator John Edwards (Democrat, North Carolina)
Speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies
October 7, 2002

Apparently there were Democrats saying it to

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@curt3rd We all were. When you president tells you Saddam has a nuclear weapon was behind 9/11 and is prepared to use it on us, why wouldn't you be.

curt3rd
curt3rd

Was Obama scared by Cheney and GWB?

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@curt3rd After they got scared by Cheney and GWB with talks of yellow cake and mushroom clouds of course they did. And yet the UN inspectors on the ground were clearly saying that Iraq had nothing, Why were they marginalized and ignored?

curt3rd
curt3rd

The whole country wanted to invade Iraq including Obama

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@curt3rd The world would be better of without a lot of people, starting with the ruling Saudi Monarchy. And yet we don't run around invading all of them.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@curt3rd They were in Iraq prior to our invasion and were told to leave by us. Why are you denying an obvious fact?

curt3rd
curt3rd

They were kick out several times.

curt3rd
curt3rd

They were kick out by Saddam.  Everyone thought he had WMDs including Hillary

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@curt3rd And yet the UN inspectors were in the country in 2003 and clearly stating there were no WMDs. Why were we in such a rush to hustle them out and invade? Did we not already have enough to deal with in Afghanistan?

curt3rd
curt3rd

"In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members...

It is clear, however, that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons. Should he succeed in that endeavor, he could alter the political and security landscape of the Middle East, which as we know all too well, effects American security.

Senator Hillary Clinton (Democrat, New York)
Addressing the US Senate
October 10, 2002

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@meddevguy @mantisdragon91 And how can we forget the "Political Purity Tests" that were given by Monica Goodling to all Justice Department employees, the disclosure of which led to the resignation of Alberto Gonzalez.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@meddevguy @mantisdragon91 And this is different how from when the IRS, FBI and NSA did the same in the run up to 2004 by monitoring and intimidating anyone who spoke up against the Iraq war?

DualityPoliticDC
DualityPoliticDC

I don't think I'm a populist. I support policies that public opinion is against. I thought the committee did a good job of ginning up the media. Good luck with your work.

drudown
drudown

@DualityPoliticDC 

It's been real; I have to do some lawyer's work. I will try to write "straightforward" just for you. 

Er, just this once. 

:)

DualityPoliticDC
DualityPoliticDC

The Apple hearing was a great move by Congress. The point was to build momentum to revise the tax code, which it did. Apple didn't break any laws.

DualityPoliticDC
DualityPoliticDC

I already cited the letter and the book. The information is confidential. Both the media and I are speculating.

drudown
drudown

@DualityPoliticDC 

So why do want to the President of the United States answering "tough questions" from the corrupted Congress that can't even hold tax dodging Apple accountable due to their financial bias via campaign contributors? You really think that the People are going to be "served" by having these elected officials being bribed by Corporate America making a mockery of the Separation of Powers, i.e., despite there being no precedent of such "transparency"?

DualityPoliticDC
DualityPoliticDC

You are wrong. My views are the opposite on all accounts.

drudown
drudown

@DualityPoliticDC 

Again, how is that ANY different given the unbroken precedent of Executive Privilege? 

Obviously you know that there is NO corollary for your position (whether your own or the "media's") or you'd cite it. 

DualityPoliticDC
DualityPoliticDC

I argued with your specific point. I already pointed out Holder's letter was incredibly vague. Lawyers are supposed to type-up straightforward documents.

drudown
drudown

@DualityPoliticDC 

You just want an emasculated Executive branch that isn't in the strategic interests of the People. I'm sure you likewise advocate for a "no new taxes" policy so that the State can't police and regulate its own markets. Do I have that right?

DualityPoliticDC
DualityPoliticDC

I'm not purporting to have anything, the media is up to that. I am pointing out that there speculating. The truth is confidential.

DualityPoliticDC
DualityPoliticDC

Of course, it isn't relevant. It's crazy to say that because the legislative branch is imperfect the executive branch should never interact with it. That is not what the founders intended.

drudown
drudown

@DualityPoliticDC 

Tell me, how can could possibly purport to testify as to what "reports" the CIA and/or Executive branch has on ANY suspected target? Get real.

DualityPoliticDC
DualityPoliticDC

I'm for drones. I never made any statement against them. I approve of Obama targeting al-Qaeda leaders. It really irked me that Bush didn't. We aren't conversing about a terrorist but the son of one, who was born and raised in America, and of whom there are 0 reports of terrorist activity. You should take a look at a picture of this kid.

drudown
drudown

@DualityPoliticDC 

I defer to the Executive branch and CIA that performs the due diligence. 

You have proffered nothing herein that changes my full faith thereto.

drudown
drudown

@DualityPoliticDC 

It's not relevant? Hahahahaha. Says the person calling for more "transparency". That's too much.

DualityPoliticDC
DualityPoliticDC

Why should the son be punished for the father's alleged crimes?

DualityPoliticDC
DualityPoliticDC

I agree with the problem with money in the legislative branch, but don't think it's relevant. The Administration should provide an explanation. That is how you prevent these "inadvertent" killings from happening again.

To your point again, there are good people in the legislative branch, politicians and staffers. It is the system that needs to be fixed.

drudown
drudown

@DualityPoliticDC 

Let's cut the chase. If not drones, how do YOU advocate the US deal with the Al Qaeda threat? Specifics please.

drudown
drudown

@DualityPoliticDC 

So, what, al-Awlaki hadn't taken up arms against the US military? Save your bogus straw man arguments for Rand Paul in a SF cafe.

drudown
drudown

@DualityPoliticDC 

Taken to its illogical conclusion, your skewed call for "transparency" renders the Separation of Powers a nullity. The Executive branch doesn't have such an obligation to "answer" to Congress per Marbury v Madison. Such independence is woven into the very fabric of our precedent. 

The fact the Congress is being perpetually bribed- often via Foreign governments through the "sham" charities the IRS was prudent to target- says enough about their inability to even act on our collective behalf, to say nothing of their financial bias towards their campaign contributors. By my count, the Legislative branch is the one without the Canon of Ethics. Yes or no.

DualityPoliticDC
DualityPoliticDC

So now we are prosecuting future crimes! We already live in a sci-fi world apparently.

DualityPoliticDC
DualityPoliticDC

No one said "all facts." The Boston bombing is proof that when you don't provide an explanation on something this horrendous it motivates terrorists. I would rather they weren't given that extra push.

drudown
drudown

@DualityPoliticDC 

As an aside, for you to saw with a straight face that THE TEENAGE SON of one of Al Qaeda's highest leaders "who was by all accounts in no way a terrorist" wouldn't become one after his his father was killed defies credulity. Get flipping real.

drudown
drudown

@DualityPoliticDC 

From whence comes this "the Executive branch has to fully disclose all material facts" precedent? Name ONE other Administration that operated under the parameters you expect here? Just one. 

That's right, there has NEVER been one and never will be one.