According to a report published Sunday on the front page of the New York Times, the Obama administration is pushing ahead with plans to establish a more systematic and regular program of using unmanned drones to kill people selected by the White House for death.
The newspaper estimated that US drone strikes have killed more than 2,500 people -- a death toll approximating the number killed in the attacks of September 11, 2001.
The article was written by Scott Shane, the same reporter who was the conduit for administration propaganda last May, glorifying drone missiles as a great advance in the "war on terror" and detailing Obama's personal role in the approval of targets.
Like the earlier report, Sunday's article describes the assassination program in entirely uncritical terms, raising questions only over the political motivation of the decision to "develop explicit rules for the targeted killing of terrorists by unmanned drones." This effort was supposedly spurred by concern that Republican Mitt Romney might win the presidential election and inherit an open-ended drone missile program that he would then be able to define as he pleased.
The Times article claims that Obama and his top aides "are still debating whether remote-control killing should be a measure of last resort against imminent threats to the United States, or a more flexible tool, available to help allied governments attack their enemies or to prevent militants from controlling territory."
The language is remarkable, since what is being discussed is nothing less than acts of political murder, and the two sides in the official "debate" are wrangling, like a Mafia council of war, over who should be targeted for "hits" and how to do it.
The language used to describe various "options" in relation to the drone killings marks a further debasement in American political discourse.
According to Shane, "The Defense Department and the C.I.A. continue to press for greater latitude to carry out strikes; Justice Department and State Department officials, and the president's counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, have argued for restraint, officials involved in the discussions say."
Early in his term, Obama originally planned to name Brennan CIA director, but had to scrap that plan because of questions over his role in authorizing torture of CIA prisoners under the Bush administration. Given that history, the fact that Brennan supposedly represents "restraint" in the internal debate should give readers of the Times article a chill.
The Times notes that most other countries, with the exception of Israel, regard the US drone missile strikes as illegal under international law. The article draws no conclusion from this consensus, which suggests that Obama and other top administration officials could face war crimes charges for the escalation of the drone war.
Shane reports without comment that the United Nations will open an investigation into the US drone strikes early next year.
The article also drew attention to remarks made by Obama during an October 18 appearance on "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart, where the president said, in relation to the drone strikes, "One of the things we've got to do is put a legal architecture in place, and we need Congressional help in order to do that, to make sure that not only am I reined in but any president's reined in terms of some of the decisions that we're making."
Subsequently, in an interview with Mark Bowden, author of The Finish, a new book on the bin Laden killing, Obama said of the drone killings, "There's a remoteness to it that makes it tempting to think that somehow we can, without any mess on our hands, solve vexing security problems."
The Times article acknowledges that the nature of the drone missile strikes has changed during the years since Obama entered the White House. It no longer is focused on top leaders of Al Qaeda in Pakistan, the majority of whom are now dead. Instead, the targets include "militants whose main battle is with the Pakistani authorities or who fight with the Taliban against American troops in Afghanistan" or, in Yemen, "militants who were preparing to attack Yemeni military forces."
In other words, the targets are no longer individuals who have some alleged connection, however tenuous, to the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington, but include virtually anyone who takes up arms against a regime allied with the US government anywhere in the world.
Moreover, the article admits, "there is the matter of strikes against people whose identities are unknown." These are the victims of what the CIA calls "signature strikes," where the targets are supposedly acting in a fashion typical of terrorist groups, even if no actual terrorists have been identified.