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The Obama Administration’s Deadly Playbook Released

epa03938357 A Yemeni boy looks at a graffiti depicting a US drone at a street in Sana?a, Yemen, 06 November 2013. Reports state the US launched at least 92 drone strikes on suspected al-Qaeda militants in Yemen between 2002 and mid-2013, killing between 680 and 880 people, including at least 60 civilians.  EPA/YAHYA ARHAB

America’s Lethal Drone Strike Policies & the Normalization of Killing with Robots

On August 6, 2016, the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, announced the long sought release of a redacted version of the Presidential Policy Guide, or PPG, for drone strikes outside of areas of “actual hostilities” as a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the ACLU.  The ACLU published the document, which has been referred to as “the Playbook,” on their website along with three other related documents that were released.

ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer was quoted in the announcement as saying, “the PPG provides crucial information about policies that have resulted in the deaths of thousands of people, including hundreds of non-combatants, and about the bureaucracy that the Obama administration has constructed to oversee and implement those policies.  The PPG should have been released three years ago, but its release now will inform an ongoing debate about the lawfulness and wisdom of the government’s counterterrorism policies.  The release of the PPG and related documents is also a timely reminder of the breadth of powers that will soon be in the hands of another president.”

The PPG itself states that it “establishes the standard operating procedures for when the United States takes direct action, which refers to lethal and non-lethal uses of force, including capture operations, against terrorist targets outside the United States and areas of active hostilities.”  It goes on to say that the primary goal is to capture, not kill, any targeted individuals, that “lethal action should be taken in an effort to prevent terrorist attacks against U.S. persons only when capture of an individual is not feasible and no other reasonable alternatives exist to effectively address the threat.”  The PPG adds that lethal action should not be punitive or a “substitute for prosecuting a terrorist suspect.”

The truth is, the PPG has a lot of vague language that allows for an awful lot of leeway that the administration has already demonstrated a willingness to take in the use of drones to target individuals.  It talks of “near certainty that the individual being targeted is in fact the lawful target and located at the place where the action will occur,” and that there is “near certainty” that no non-combatants will be harmed in the attacks.

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