An arrest warrant needs a name on it; a death warrant needs none.

In the narrative that sketches the legality of the war on terrorism, the tribal nature of the “battlefield” is the pretext used to justify killing people instead of attempting to arrest them. Counterterrorism experts scoff at the notion that FBI agents (or Pakistani law enforcement officials for that matter) could possibly waltz into a village in South Waziristan and handcuff a Taliban or al Qaeda suspect. The logistics of such an operation would indeed be daunting.

But here’s the thing: The United States is now killing people when it doesn’t even have a legal basis for even initiating their capture.

In the US — and most other legal jurisdictions — an arrest warrant needs to show probable cause connecting a crime that has been committed to the person named on the warrant.

In Pakistan, the CIA can target someone for assassination without knowing their name, without witnessing them commit a crime — simply on the Orwellian pretext that their “pattern of life” can be deemed a threat to the United States.

The Los Angeles Times reports:

The CIA received secret permission to attack a wider range of targets, including suspected militants whose names are not known, as part of a dramatic expansion of its campaign of drone strikes in Pakistan’s border region, according to current and former counter-terrorism officials.

The expanded authority, approved two years ago by the Bush administration and continued by President Obama, permits the agency to rely on what officials describe as “pattern of life” analysis, using evidence collected by surveillance cameras on the unmanned aircraft and from other sources about individuals and locations.

The information then is used to target suspected militants, even when their full identities are not known, the officials said. Previously, the CIA was restricted in most cases to killing only individuals whose names were on an approved list.

The new rules have transformed the program from a narrow effort aimed at killing top Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders into a large-scale campaign of airstrikes in which few militants are off-limits, as long as they are deemed to pose a threat to the U.S., the officials said.

At a time when Faisal Shahzad — a name that might not evoke much terror — is a name uppermost in many people’s minds, it’s worth remembering Mir Aimal Kasi.

In 1993 he too had conducted a pattern of life analysis, having noted the turn lane that directed traffic into the CIA’s Langley headquarters. In his targeted killing operation, he too had found the high-value targets of his choice — James Woollsey and Robert Gates — were too illusive and so he opted to shoot CIA employees whose names he didn’t know.

Soon before receiving a death sentence in 1998, Kasi told Salon:

“I am not against the USA or the American people. I am against the policies of the U.S. government toward Islamic countries or toward Muslims.”

“A lot of young people in Pakistan,” he said, “think mostly the same.”

Whoever follows in the footsteps of Faisal Shahzad may have less interest in constructing a Rube Goldberg type contraption than in causing mayhem the America way — as did Mir Aimal Kasi, John Allen Muhammad, and Nidal Malik Hasan.

“This is a blow back. This is a reaction. This is retaliation. And you could expect that,” Pakistani Foreign Minister Mahkdoom Qureshi told CBS News after the Times Square bombing attempt. “Let’s not be naive. They’re not going to sort of sit and welcome you eliminate them. They’re going to fight back.”

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