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Targeted Killing Program Emblematic of How Disgraceful America is Ten Years After 9/11

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To mark the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the ACLU released a report that looks at how "ever-expanding claims of national security" have subverted freedoms and justified an assault on civil liberties. The report scrutinizes how racial and religious profiling has become common, the expansion of surveillance in society, the impunity that has been granted to Bush administration officials who created legal justification for torture and the framework that has dominated America since the attacks--the belief that America is in an "everywhere and forever war" that justifies any programs that might undermine civil liberties or the rule of law.

One of the programs instituted in the aftermath of 9/11 that the ACLU highlights is the US government's "targeted killing" program. The program started by the Bush administration and "vastly expanded" by the Obama administration depends on secret "kill lists" of targets. The "legal criteria" for targeted killing decisions, such as what can get one placed on a "kill list," is kept secret by the government. As the ACLU notes, "There is no way for the American public to know whether the targeted killing program is lawful, let alone whether the specific people the government kills in the name of our security truly present an imminent threat to our nation."

However, the ACLU makes clear:

In the decade since 9/11, the government has repeatedly labeled people as terrorists--including at Guantanamo--only for us to find out later (or for a court to find) that the government's evidence was exaggerated, wrong, or nonexistent. If we invest the government with unchecked authority to impose death sentences on people who are far from any battlefield and who have never been convicted of or even charged with a crime, it is inevitable that--despite the government's unverifiable claims to the contrary--innocent people will be executed.

The recent episode of PBS's FRONTLINE, "Top Secret America," brought into further focus how the government employs assassinations to supposedly protect against terrorism. The CIA has expanded a Counterterrorism Center (CTC) and a drone campaign in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. The US military's Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) oversees elite military teams that collaborate with the CIA. JSOC "turns" prisoners, who are believed by JSOC to be members of the Taliban, into "cooperative assets." The "turned" prisoners look at satellite images and video feeds and help find targets that are to be captured or killed.

As Dana Priest and William M. Arkin write in their book Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State, US national security agencies keep four "kill lists." The National Security Council (NSC) has one that is reviewed "at weekly meetings attended by the president and vice president. The CIA has one, which is put together with no input from the NSC or the Defense Department. And the military and JSOC each have their own "kill list."

"Permission to kill" depends on the agency and the target. In the case of the CIA, acting general counsel John Rizzo was the one man who acted as "judge and jury" on terrorism files and decided to grant "legal approval" for killings.

Rizzo was involved in daily operations in the decade following the 9/11 attacks. He had been part of the spy world for thirty-three years, and never had he found himself in such a strange and lonely position. He would remove the two-to-five-page dossier from the envelope and read it alone in his office. It was information on the habits and history of the next man whom officers at the CTC wanted to kill -- without a hearing, without giving the targeted man a chance to refute the information or even to admit guilt and surrender.

The decision-making appears to be meticulous. Sophisticated technology obtained through million (sometimes billion) dollar contracts has given government the tools to hunker down in centers where operations can be carried out. Someone sits behind a screen and locates a target. When the target is in sight, a person waits for confirmation to shoot to kill. A drone then attacks and the target is taken out. Of course, along with the target, others inevitably die too, but there is just as little sympathy for their deaths as there is for the target's death. The others are "militants." The government may not know who they are or why they are nearby the target but to the wider public they are to be known forever as dead "militants."

Asserting the authority to use lethal force and carry out state-sanctioned extrajudicial executions of individuals suspected of being involved in terrorism is a culmination of policies and procedures that are justified by the permanent state of war of which all countries in the world are ensnared. The world is a battlefield and the targets are part of an "insurgency" that must be dealt with. If that is acceptable, in fact, to be applauded, what separates these targeted killings from the killings by security forces in countries like, for example, Bangladesh or the Philippines?

Read the rest of the article at FDL's The Dissenter

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Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure." He was an editor for
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