John Robb: The Official US Process of Death by Powerpoint

Government, IO Deeds of War, Law Enforcement, Military
John Robb

The US President's Hit List or “Death by PowerPoint”

Posted: 29 May 2012 12:01 PM PDT

Last Friday, I wrote a post on how:

– US national security agencies increasingly use computerized analysis of collected data to designate a person as an enemy combatant.

– The US currently uses non-judicial Presidential “hit lists” to simplify the killing of people (including US citizens) designated as enemy combatants.

– The US is rapidly increasing its use of drones to kill enemy combatants nearly anywhere in the world 24x7x365.

The scary part is that the combination of these trends is the path of least resistance to an automated totalitarianism.

For those of you out of the loop on what is going on, it probably seemed to be a bit of a stretch.  Particularly, the idea that the President could put American citizens on a military hit list without going through a judicial process.

If you were skeptical on the existence of a hit list, here's an article from today's (almost on cue) New York Times.

Some choice bits from the article.  It shows there are still humans in the loop, although the process used to nominate people (including Americans) to kill is largely ad hoc.

Obama has placed himself at the helm of a top secret “nominations” process to designate terrorists for kill or capture, of which the capture part has become largely theoretical.

Obama … insisted on approving every new name on an expanding “kill list,” poring over terrorist suspects’ biographies on what one official calls the macabre “baseball cards” of an unconventional war.

Obama’s ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron P. Munter, has complained to colleagues that “he didn’t realize his main job was to kill people”

a disputed method for counting civilian casualties… counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials…

“It bothers me when they say there were seven guys, so they must all be militants,” the official said. “They count the corpses and they’re not really sure who they are.”

It [the hit list nomination process] is the strangest of bureaucratic rituals: Every week or so, more than 100 members of the government’s sprawling national security apparatus gather, by secure video teleconference, to pore over terrorist suspects’ biographies and recommend to the president who should be the next to die.

This secret “nominations” process is an invention of the Obama administration, a grim debating society that vets the PowerPoint slides bearing the names, aliases and life stories of suspected members of Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen or its allies in Somalia’s Shabab militia.

The video conferences are run by the Pentagon, which oversees strikes in those countries, and participants do not hesitate to call out a challenge, pressing for the evidence behind accusations of ties to Al Qaeda.

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