Obama administration has expanded kill lists to a "matrix"

A new Washington Post report shows assassinations and drone strikes could be "limitless"

Published October 24, 2012 1:40PM (EDT)

Forget about kill lists, the Obama administration has already moved on to developing a "disposition matrix" -- the next generation of targeted, extrajudicial assassination programs. A lengthy Washington Post report  by Greg Miller Tuesday revealed that the developing terrorist database "is designed to go beyond existing kill lists, mapping plans for the 'disposition' of suspects beyond the reach of American drones."

The WaPo story, based on interviews with current and former national security officials, illustrates that kill lists -- once considered emergency measures post 9/11 -- have been crystallized as a permanent fixture of our national security apparatus. All the while the question of targeted assassination overseen by the president remains an untouched topic in this year's election campaign. WaPo's Greg Miller wrote:

Although the matrix is a work in progress, the effort to create it reflects a reality setting in among the nation’s counterterrorism ranks: The United States’ conventional wars are winding down, but the government expects to continue adding names to kill or capture lists for years... The administration has taken tentative steps toward greater transparency, formally acknowledging for the first time the United States’ use of armed drones. Less visible is the extent to which Obama has institutionalized the highly classified practice of targeted killing, transforming ad-hoc elements into a counterterrorism infrastructure capable of sustaining a seemingly permanent war. Spokesmen for the White House, the National Counterterrorism Center, the CIA and other agencies declined to comment on the matrix or other counterterrorism programs.

Privately, officials acknowledge that the development of the matrix is part of a series of moves, in Washington and overseas, to embed counterterrorism tools into U.S. policy for the long haul.

Miller's article details the streamlining of a "single, continually evolving [terrorist] database in which biographies, locations, known associates and affiliated organizations are all catalogued." The news of ever-growing kill lists comes the same week as the CIA's request to expand its drone fleet, further cementing the U.S.'s shift into permanent, covert war. Miller's report also reveals the unwavering surety among administration officials about the controversial counterterrorism programs as "bureaucratically, legally and morally sound". "Internal doubts about the effectiveness of the drone campaign are almost nonexistent," he reported. Meanwhile, a recent extensive report on Pakistan's drone struck regions called U.S. attacks "counterproductive" with evidence that civilians live in constant terror.

"The number of militants and civilians killed in the drone campaign over the past 10 years will soon exceed 3,000 by certain estimates, surpassing the number of people al-Qaida killed in the Sept. 11 attacks," Miller noted, later citing Paul Pillar, a former deputy director of the CIA’s counterterrorism center, who said, “We are looking at something that is potentially indefinite.” And yet, in an interview flagged by Glenn Greenwald, Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz after the second presidential debate told an independent journalists that she had "no idea" about kill lists, dismissing questions about the issue as not serious.

By Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

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