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Top Obama Officials, Secretive Process Create 'Assassination List'

President Obama's counter-terrorism chief has "seized the lead" in secretly determining who will die by US drone

- Common Dreams staff

US officials with firsthand knowledge of how the government determines who gets put on the CIA and Pentagon's lists for 'targeted killing' have confessed concern over the implications and nature of the process.  In conversations with the Associated Press, one official involved -- who spoke with assurances of anonymity -- said that some of those carrying out the policy have become leery of "how easy it has become to kill someone," under the rules established under the Obama administration and orchestrated by Obama's top counter-terrorism adviser, John Brennan.

White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan speaks in Washington. The Pentagon is likely to be largely sidelined from decisions on which terror leaders are targeted for drone attacks. The plan, aimed at streamlining the counterterror war, would concentrate the power to strike with lethal U.S. force outside war zones within one small team at the White House. (Photo: AP/Carolyn Tester) Brennan, who last month offered the first public admission by a White House official of the existence of the clandestine drone assassination program in places like Pakistan and Yemen, has amassed unique powers by consolidating the decision-making process to a select and tightly-controlled group of people, according to AP's reporting.

"Under the new plan, Brennan's staff compiles the potential target list and runs the names past agencies such as the State Department at a weekly White House meeting," the report cites officials as describing. "Previously, targets were first discussed in meetings run by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen at the time, with Brennan being just one of the voices in the debate. Brennan ultimately would make the case to the president, but a larger number of officials would end up drawn into the discussion."

... some of those carrying out the policy have become leery of "how easy it has become to kill someone."

Human rights and civil liberties groups have called for the White House to disclose to the public the legal process by which names end up on the targeting lists, but this report will likely give them little comfort.

"The targeted killing program goes beyond the law by claiming unprecedented authority for the executive branch," wrote the ACLU's Josh Bell after learning the White House had again delayed filing requirements in response to a FOIA request for records regarding the program. "Releasing information about how the program works is the first step in the process of bringing it in line with the Constitution," he said.

Glenn Greenwald, writing at Salon.com, responding to the AP story today by observing: "Reuters previously described the secret process used to determine which human beings, including American citizens, would be targeted for due-process-free death-by-CIA: they “are placed on a kill or capture list by a secretive panel of senior government officials” with “no public record” nor “any law establishing its existence or setting out the rules” — an actual death panel, though one invented by the White House rather than established by law. And now John Brennan has even more control over the process, and fewer checks, when issuing these death sentence decrees."

And journalist Jeremy Scahill, a vocal critic of the US assassination program, tweeted with noted sarcasm:

 

 

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Associated Press reports: [with emphasis provided by Greenwald]:

White House counterterror chief John Brennan has seized the lead in choosing which terrorists will be targeted for drone attacks or raids, establishing a new procedure for both military and CIA targets.

The effort concentrates power over the use of lethal U.S. force outside war zones within one small team at the White House.

The process, which is about a month old, means Brennan’s staff consults with the State Department and other agencies as to who should go on the target list, making the Pentagon’s role less relevant, according to two current and three former U.S. officials aware of the evolution in how the government goes after terrorists. . . .

Brennan’s effort gives him greater input earlier in the process, before making final recommendation to President Barack Obama. Officials outside the White House expressed concern that drawing more of the decision-making process to Brennan’s office could turn it into a pseudo military headquarters, entrusting the fate of al-Qaida targets to a small number of senior officials. . . .

Some of the officials carrying out the policy are equally leery of “how easy it has become to kill someone,” one said. The U.S. is targeting al-Qaida operatives for reasons such as being heard in an intercepted conversation plotting to attack a U.S. ambassador overseas, the official said. . . .

Human rights and civil liberties groups have argued for the White House to make public the legal process by which names end up on the targeting lists.

“We continue to believe, based on the information available, that the (drone) program itself is not just unlawful but dangerous,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU National Security Project. “It is dangerous to characterize the entire planet as a battlefield.”

Shrinking the pool of people deciding who goes on the capture/kill list means fewer people to hold accountable, said Mieke Eoyang from Third Way, a centrist Democratic think tank.

“As a general principle, if people think someone is checking their work, they are more careful,” Eoyang said. “Small groups can fall victim to group-think.”

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Glenn Greenwald: John Brennan's New Power

Remember in the Bush era when little things like the Patriot Act and warrantless eavesdropping and military commissions were the Radical and Lawless Assaults Trampling on Our Constitution and Our Values? Now, all those things are completely normalized — controversies over those policies are like quaint and obsolete relics of a more innocent era — and we now have things like unelected Death Sentence Czars instead.

Needless to say, all of this takes place in total secrecy, with no legal framework and no oversight of any kind. Indeed, even after they had Brennan publicly defend the CIA drone program, the Obama administration continue to insist in federal court that the program is too secretive even to confirm its existence. It’s just a tiny cadre of National Security State officials who decide, in the dark, whom they want dead, and then — once the President signs off — it is done. This is the Change with which the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize laureate has gifted us: ”some of the officials carrying out the policy are equally leery of ‘how easy it has become to kill someone.’”

Reuters previously described the secret process used to determine which human beings, including American citizens, would be targeted for due-process-free death-by-CIA: they “are placed on a kill or capture list by a secretive panel of senior government officials” with “no public record” nor “any law establishing its existence or setting out the rules” — an actual death panel, though one invented by the White House rather than established by law. And now John Brennan has even more control over the process, and fewer checks, when issuing these death sentence decrees.

Remember in the Bush era when little things like the Patriot Act and warrantless eavesdropping and military commissions were the Radical and Lawless Assaults Trampling on Our Constitution and Our Values? Now, all those things are completely normalized — controversies over those policies are like quaint and obsolete relics of a more innocent era — and we now have things like unelected Death Sentence Czars instead.

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