Following a court order, the Obama administration has unveiled the documents that guide its decisions to capture or kill individuals who are involved in terrorist activities around the world. The documents provide a new look at the infrastructure that supports drone operations across the Middle East.
The redacted, 18-page Presidential Policy Guidance (PPG) was drafted in 2013, and provides crucial insight into how the administration will take direct action against individuals who represent a threat to the United States. The documents were released following a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Targeted individuals must represent an "imminent" threat
The declassified documents outline the steps that need to be taken before any suspect is captured or killed, as well as the oversight by administration officials. Individuals who have been targeted for killing must be identified and represent an imminent threat to United States citizens. The documents also outline the steps that must be taken to limit non-combatant casualties.
According to the document, each agency must put together an operational plan that must go through a legal review before being submitted to the National Security Staff (NSS) for an interagency review. The operational plan must outline the legal basis for taking action against the HVT, what assets will be used, and the conditions that need to be met before taking action. The plan passes through its review process, it’s passed along to the president.
The decision to take lethal force does not reside solely with the President
However, the decision to take lethal force does not reside solely with the president. If principle figures within an agency agree that lethal action is required, they are required to notify "the President through a DNSA of his intention to approve lethal action and has received notice from a DNSA that the President has been apprised of that intention." The guidelines lay out that the decision to take lethal goes to the President in instances where the target is a US citizen, or if there is a "lack of consensus among Principals regarding the nomination."
The document also notes that "in no event will additional detainees be brought to the detention facilities at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base."
ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer noted that the organization welcomed the release of the documents, because it "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."
However, the document was redacted, and failed to answer some questions about several crucial issues: it does not provide guidance about the threshold required to target someone. The ACLU also questioned the report, which noted that despite "stringent standards," there is strong evidence from "eye witnesses, journalists, and human rights researches who have documented large numbers of bystander casualties."