National Security

These Are The Key Takeaways From Obama’s Drone Playbook

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Saagar Enjeti White House Correspondent
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The Obama administration released its “drone playbook” Friday, revealing the guiding set of procedures it uses when deciding to target terrorists outside of active combat zones.

The administration revealed July 1 it believes the U.S. has killed between 64 and 116 civilians and 2,500 terrorists in drone strikes outside of active war zones since President Barack Obama took office in 2009.

Obama must only personally authorize a strike when the target is a U.S. citizen, according to the playbook. The only U.S. citizen to ever be targeted by is Anwar Al-Awalki, an al-Qaida emir who was hiding deep inside Yemen. In all other cases, the president is “apprised” of the targeting decision after a consensus is reached among U.S. intelligence agencies.

The document reveals the National Security Council (NSC), which is predominantly made up of presidential appointees and U.S. intelligence community personnel, is responsible for “operational planning” of all drone operations. While “appropriate members of congress” are notified under the playbook, the drone program is entirely under the purview of the executive branch.

The Obama administration released its drone playbook after a court order in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Jameel Jaffer, a lawyer for the ACLU, told The Guardian the centralization of power in the National Security Council may have been done to thwart Freedom Of Information Act requests. Jaffer elaborated, “The Obama administration notably has taken the position that the NSC is not an agency and is therefore beyond the reach of the Freedom of Information Act.”

An NSC spokesman defended the practice to The Guardian, “Our counter-terrorism actions are effective and legal, and their legitimacy is best demonstrated by making public more information about these actions as well as setting clear standards for other nations to follow.”

While the playbook supposedly prioritizes high-value target capture missions above drone missions, it also explicitly says “In no event will additional detainees be brought to the detention facilities at the Guantánamo Bay naval base.” The U.S. has taken no terrorists into custody under Obama. In the cases where Obama authorized capture missions, captured terrorists were turned over to U.S. allies like the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq.

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