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Drone Wars: From ‘Kill Lists’ to the ‘Disposition Matrix’

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Posted on Oct 25, 2012
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The “conventional wars” the U.S. is waging may be winding down, but the war on terrorism is far from over. According to a new report in The Washington Post, more names have been added to the Obama administration’s controversial “kill list,” ensuring that drone attacks designed to hunt down those on the list will likely continue for at least another decade. What that means is that the global war on terror—which began after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks—is just reaching its midpoint.

The Washington Post:

Targeting lists that were regarded as finite emergency measures after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, are now fixtures of the national security apparatus. The rosters expand and contract with the pace of drone strikes but never go to zero.

Meanwhile, a significant milestone looms: 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-Qaeda killed in the Sept. 11 attacks.

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Enter Phase 2: the “disposition matrix.” That matrix, writes The Washington Post’s Greg Miller:

... contains the names of terrorism suspects arrayed against an accounting of the resources being marshaled to track them down, including sealed indictments and clandestine operations. U.S. officials said the database is designed to go beyond existing kill lists, mapping plans for the “disposition” of suspects beyond the reach of American drones.

By institutionalizing the “kill list,” The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald notes, the Obama administration is moving closer to making permanent “the most extremist powers it has exercised in the name of the war on terror.”

However, as Greenwald also points out, there’s another issue here that every American should be concerned about. The National Counterterrorsim Center (NCTC) ultimately keep the criteria by which it’s determined who is targeted and killed. But the NCTC also operates a vast data-mining operation in which it monitors, collects, stores and analyzes information about all Americans.

According to Greenwald:

In other words, the NCTC—now vested with the power to determine the proper “disposition” of terrorist suspects—is the same agency that is at the center of the ubiquitous, unaccountable surveillance state aimed at American citizens.

... What has been created here—permanently institutionalized—is a highly secretive executive branch agency that simultaneously engages in two functions: (1) it collects and analyzes massive amounts of surveillance data about all Americans without any judicial review let alone search warrants, and (2) creates and implements a “matrix” that determines the “disposition” of suspects, up to and including execution, without a whiff of due process or oversight. It is simultaneously a surveillance state and a secretive, unaccountable judicial body that analyzes who you are and then decrees what should be done with you, how you should be “disposed” of, beyond the reach of any minimal accountability or transparency.

In short, this is tantamount to the antithesis of the due process guaranteed to Americans by the Fifth Amendment. As Greenwald writes:

It is literally impossible to imagine a more violent repudiation of the basic blueprint of the republic than the development of a secretive, totally unaccountable executive branch agency that simultaneously collects information about all citizens and then applies a “disposition matrix” to determine what punishment should be meted out.

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—Posted by Tracy Bloom.

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