Monthly Archives: May 2012

The secret Killing List

The White House Situation Room, May 1, 2011. (Pete Souza/The White House

When it comes to the “secret kill list”—a regularly updated chart showing the world’s most wanted terrorists—President Barack Obama is the “final moral calculation” in the kill or capture debate, according to the third in a series of New York Times articles assessing his record.

And despite his liberal background, Obama has taken an aggressive approach to counterterrorism.

The Times said it interviewed three dozen current and former advisers to Obama, who described his “evolution since taking on the role, without precedent in presidential history, of personally overseeing the shadow war with Al Qaeda”:

They describe a paradoxical leader who shunned the legislative deal-making required to close the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, but approves lethal action without hand-wringing. While he was adamant about narrowing the fight and improving relations with the Muslim world, he has followed the metastasizing enemy into new and dangerous lands. When he applies his lawyering skills to counterterrorism, it is usually to enable, not constrain, his ferocious campaign against Al Qaeda—even when it comes to killing an American cleric in Yemen, a decision that Mr. Obama told colleagues was “an easy one.”

Part of Obama’s “evolution” on terror apparently began early in his term, when a drone strike resulted in civilian casualties:

Just days after taking office, the president got word that the first strike under his administration had killed a number of innocent Pakistanis. “The president was very sharp on the thing, and said, ‘I want to know how this happened,'” a top White House adviser recounted.

In response to his concern, the C.I.A. downsized its munitions for more pinpoint strikes. In addition, the president tightened standards, aides say: If the agency did not have a “near certainty” that a strike would result in zero civilian deaths, Mr. Obama wanted to decide personally whether to go ahead.

“The care that Mr. Obama and his counterterrorism chief take in choosing targets,” the Times said, “and their reliance on a precision weapon, the drone, reflect his pledge at the outset of his presidency to reject what he called the Bush administration’s ‘false choice between our safety and our ideals.'”

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