U.S. creates database mapping where and when it can kill its enemies

The Obama administration clearly doesn’t like the name “kill list” applied to the individuals it has targeted for remote-control execution. It has instead crafted an Orwellian alternative: “disposition matrix.”

A Washington Post report on this “blueprint for pursuing terrorists” doesn’t explain how it works until paragraph 25.

The database is meant to map out contingencies, creating an operational menu that spells out each agency’s role in case a suspect surfaces in an unexpected spot. “If he’s in Saudi Arabia, pick up with the Saudis,” the former official said. “If traveling overseas to al-Shabaab [in Somalia] we can pick him up by ship. If in Yemen, kill or have the Yemenis pick him up.”

The report says:

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.
In focusing on bureaucratic refinements, the administration has largely avoided confronting more fundamental questions about the lists. Internal doubts about the effectiveness of the drone campaign are almost nonexistent. So are apparent alternatives.

And the report says nothing about the most fundamental issue: how does the U.S. government determine “guilt” and issue death sentences without any legal process? Multi-agency processes of review and approval in which the accused has no defense are not means through which it can be determined that someone deserves to die; they are no more than legal cover designed to protect the executioners from legal culpability.

If government officials are ever seriously questioned about the principles on which they operate this policy, I expect they will employ the same logic that Israelis have used: that no one is targeted because of actions they have already committed; it will always be on the basis of the threat that they supposedly pose. That logic is meant remove the motive of revenge which would clearly entail disregard for legal process. Instead, execution is turned into a form of risk management. In other words, people are being killed because they are judged as likely to commit crimes at some point in the future.

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