Counterterror rulebook exempts drone war

The manual on targeted killing includes no guidelines for drone attacks in Pakistan

Published January 20, 2013 8:11PM (EST)

As part of its continuing series on the Obama administration's targeted killing program, the Washington Post reported Saturday that a proposed manual of rules for counterterrorism programs is near completion. However, according to the Post,  the manual "leaves open a major exemption for the CIA’s campaign of drone strikes in Pakistan, U.S. officials said."

In previous reports about the proposed Manual, the Post's Miller noted that the codification of kill lists and other current counterterror practices into a manual illustrates that programs once considered emergency post-9/11 measures have been crystallized as permanent fixtures of our national security apparatus. Miller, Ellen Nakashima and Karen DeYoung repeated this point Saturday:

The adoption of a formal guide to targeted killing marks a significant — and to some uncomfortable — milestone: the institutionalization of a practice that would have seemed anathema to many before the Sept. 11 , 2001, terrorist attacks... Critics see the manual as a symbol of the extent to which the targeted killing program has become institutionalized, part of an apparatus being assembled by the Obama administration to sustain a seemingly permanent war.

Among the subjects covered in the playbook are the process for adding names to kill lists, 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.

The decision to exempt CIA drone strikes in Pakistan from the manual (an exemption expected to last over a year) was, officials said, "a compromise that allowed officials to move forward with other parts of the playbook" after "disagreements among the State Department, the CIA and the Pentagon on the criteria for lethal strikes and other issues."

John Brennan, Obama's counterterrorism adviser who has been nominated CIA director, spearheaded the counterterror manual and led the meetings that decided to exempt the CIA's Pakistan drone program. As the Guardian noted, "the UK-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that there have been 362 drone strikes in the country since 2004 – 310 of them launched on Obama's watch. The strikes have killed up to 3,461 people, 891 of them civilians."



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

MORE FROM Natasha Lennard