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Obama's 'Playbook' for Targeted Strikes Has a Gaping Hole--CIA's Killer Drones in Pakistan Exempted

The CIA's deadly campaign of drone strikes in the tribal areas of Pakistan will be exempt from the Obama administration's attempt to codify rules for targeted killings.
 
 
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The Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) campaign of drone strikes in tribal areas in Pakistan will continue to run wild in the coming year. A “playbook” for how the U.S. conducts targeted killing operations by drone that is nearly completed will exempt the CIA’s drone strikes in Pakistan, making the “playbook” essentially useless, considering that the vast majority of strikes occur in Pakistan.

The Washington Post, which reported the news over the weekend, noted that the exemption “would allow the CIA to continue pounding al-Qaeda and Taliban targets for a year or more before the agency is forced to comply with more stringent rules spelled out in a classified document that officials have described as a counterterrorism ‘playbook.’” The desire to codify the U.S.’s drone strike and targeted killing programs have accelerated in recent months, leading critics to say the Obama administration has prepared the ground for perpetual war by drone.

The codification of rules is “a step in exactly the wrong direction, a further bureaucratization of the CIA’s paramilitary killing program,” the American Civil Liberties Union’s Hina Shamsi told the Post.

The subjects covered in the “playbook,” which would cover drone strikes in Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere, include “the legal principles that govern when U.S. citizens can be targeted overseas and the sequence of approvals required when the CIA or U.S. military conducts drone strikes outside war zones.”

But the numbers of drone strikes in Yemen and Somalia pale in comparison to the CIA’s strikes in Pakistan. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which closely tracks the drone program, the Obama administration carried out 300 strikes in Pakistan during his first term. Given the fact that drone strikes in Yemen from 2002-2013 were carried out about 50 times, it’s clear that Pakistan is the epicenter of the campaign. The strikes in Pakistan carried out by the Obama administration have killed 2,152 people, including 290 civilians, leading to immense anger at the U.S. and the president. Islamists trying to carry out attacks on the United States have cited drone strikes as a core motivation.

The fact that strikes in Pakistan are exempted mean that the issue of so-called “signature strikes,” the most controversial aspect of the drone program, will also be left out of the “playbook.” “Signature strikes,” as the Post puts it, “refers to the CIA’s practice of approving strikes in Pakistan based on patterns of suspicious behavior — moving stockpiles of weapons, for example — even when the agency does not have clear intelligence about the identities of the targets.” These “signature strikes” do the most harm on civilians in Pakistan.

The “playbook” for drone strikes was reportedly developed by John Brennan, the current high-level counterterror adviser in the Obama administration who is about to leave to be chief of the CIA. While news reports say that Brennan has been in the lead in pushing for a codification of rules for drone strikes that would impose “stringent rules,” it is Brennan who has presided over the massive expansion of drone strikes during the Obama administration.

Alex Kane is AlterNet's New York-based World editor, and an assistant editor for Mondoweiss. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

 
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