U.S. Releases Once-Secret Drone Strike “Playbook” Detailing Process for Kill Orders

Monday, August 08, 2016
(photo: Getty Images)


By Charlie Savage, New York Times


WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has disclosed its rules and procedures for targeting individuals for killing outside conventional war zones — including with drones — further lifting the secrecy surrounding one of its most disputed tactics for fighting terrorism.


The newly declassified document shows that if the top lawyers and leaders of the departments and agencies on the National Security Council agree that a proposed strike would be lawful and appropriate, the Pentagon or the CIA can proceed.


If they disagree, or if the person to be targeted is an American citizen, the matter must go to the president for a decision.


President Barack Obama issued the 18-page set of rules, sometimes called the drone strike “playbook” but formally known as the Presidential Policy Guidance (pdf), in May 2013. It was classified, although the administration publicly said it tightened standards for strikes — including requirements that targets must pose a threat to Americans and the “near certainty” that there would be no civilian deaths.


The government had said this year that it intended to make the guidance public as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union. It provided the document to the ACLU late Friday, and the organization posted it on its website Saturday.


“From one perspective it might be seen as reassuring, because it makes clear that these decisions are considered by many different senior people,” Jameel Jaffer of the ACLU said. “On the other hand, the document drives home how bureaucraticized, and therefore normalized, this practice of killing people away from conventional battlefields has become.”


Ned Price, a National Security Council spokesman, said in a statement Saturday, “The president has emphasized that the U.S. government should be as transparent as possible with the American people about our counterterrorism operations, the manner in which they are conducted and their results.”


The release joins the disclosure last month of previously classified statistics showing the government’s official count of the number of combatants and civilian bystanders killed in airstrikes where U.S. troops are not engaged in regular combat. These places include the tribal areas of Pakistan as well as Somalia, Yemen and Libya.


To Learn More:

Procedures for Approving Direct Action against Terrorist Targets Located Outside the United States and Areas of Active Hostilities (White House) (pdf)

Obama Gave CIA Waiver on Drone Strike Rules for Attacks in Pakistan (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

It Looks like Obama is Still Using “Signature Strikes” Aimed at Unnamed People After All (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Civilian Casualty Guidelines for U.S. Drone Strikes Not Applied to Bombing in Syria and Iraq (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Steve Straehley, AllGov)

New U.S. Counterterrorism Playbook to Exclude Pakistan from Drone “Kill” Rules (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


Leave a comment