News & Politics

A 'Kill List' on Steroids: Obama Administration Expands Drone Assassinations to Wage 'Permanent War'

The Washington Post reports that the Obama administration has developed a new strategy over the past two years that will institutionalize and expand what has become known as the “kill list.”

Photo Credit: Gwoeii/

The Obama administration has developed a new strategy over the past two years that will institutionalize and expand what has become known as the “kill list,” or the list of terrorism suspects whose assassinations President Obama personally authorizes, according to a Washington Post report.

The administration even has a new, Orwellian term for the expanded “kill list”: the “disposition matrix,” which refers to the varied plans the administration has at its fingertips to “dispose” of terrorist suspects in countries ranging from Yemen to Somalia to Pakistan. For example, if a suspect is “in Saudi Arabia, pick up with the Saudis,” an unnamed official told Washington Postreporter Greg Miller. ““If traveling overseas to al-Shabaab [in Somalia] we can pick him up by ship. If in Yemen, kill or have the Yemenis pick him up.”

The Post reports that “officials described the matrix as a database in development, although its status is unclear. Some said it has not been implemented because it is too cumbersome.” But the paper also states that officials from the White House and Congress “described it as a blueprint that could help the United States adapt to al-Qaeda’s morphing structure and its efforts to exploit turmoil across North Africa and the Middle East.”

The expansion of the Obama administration’s drone strike program comes at a time when civil liberties groups have harshly criticized the administration for its secrecy over the program and how it conducts it. Civil liberties groups have also harshly criticized the secrecy around the process of how people get chosen to be on “kill lists.” But the question of drones and targeted assassinations has largely been left out of the political discourse around the presidential race. And the institutionalization of the “kill list” means that no matter who is president, targeted strikes by drones that are responsible for the deaths of scores of civilians will continue.

Indeed, the Washington Postinterprets the new “disposition matrix” as institutionalizing “the highly classified practice of targeted killing, transforming ad-hoc elements into a counterterrorism infrastructure capable of sustaining a seemingly permanent war.” Targeted killings by the U.S. used to be rare. But after September 11, 2001, it became “so routine that the Obama administration has spent much of the past year codifying and streamlining the processes that sustain it.”

“The problem with the drone is it’s like your lawn mower,” Bruce Riedel, a former Obama adviser, told the paper. “You’ve got to mow the lawn all the time. The minute you stop mowing, the grass is going to grow back.”

The “permanent war” the U.S. is waging has also been taken up by a number of American security sectors, with the CIA requesting an expansion of its fleet of drones and the Joint Special Operations Command moving into more countries in Africa to target terrorist suspects. And the officials quoted in the Washington Post article hint that the “permanent war” could expand to even more countries.

“Egypt worries me to no end,” an administration official told Miller. “Look at Libya, Algeria and Mali and then across the Sahel. You’re talking about such wide expanses of territory, with open borders and military, security and intelligence capabilities that are basically nonexistent.”

So while the administration winds down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the never-ending drone war will continue to expand. That could be the Obama administration’s most enduring legacy.

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Alex Kane is former World editor at AlterNet. His work has appeared in Mondoweiss, Salon, VICE, the Los Angeles Review of Books and more. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.