Obama’s ‘secret kill list’ shows president is final word on terrorist killing missions

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.'"

[Related: Terror plans hidden in porn?]

And Obama's success limiting civilian deaths in drone strikes is, in part, due to "a disputed method for counting civilian casualties" embraced by Obama. According to the Times, the White House considers "all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants ... unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent."

Obama's personal involvement in counterterrorism operations can be seen in his study of the "baseball card"-like "kill list." For example, in January 2010, Obama questioned the ages of some of the al-Qaida suspects on it.

"How old are these people?" Obama asked during his regular Tuesday briefing with intelligence officials--dubbed the "Terror Tuesday" meeting—in the White House Situation Room. "If they are starting to use children, we are moving into a whole different phase."

[Related: Calif. 9/11 fund raided for deficit]

The White House has also struggled with the so-called "Whac-A-Mole" approach to counterterrorism—an al-Qaida leader killed in, say, a drone strike is simply replaced with another.

"One guy gets knocked off, and the guy's driver, who's No. 21, becomes 20?" William M. Daley, Obama's chief of staff in 2011, told the Times. "At what point are you just filling the bucket with numbers?"

More popular Yahoo! News stories:

Marco Rubio visits Guantanamo Bay in Cuba

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman on Rob Portman: 'He's polite … not a pain in the ass'

Polls: Obama leads Romney in Florida, Ohio and Virginia

Want more of our best political stories? Visit The Ticket or connect with us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter or add us on Tumblr. Handy with a camera? Join our Election 2012 Flickr group to submit your photos of the campaign in action.

Loading...

Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • Philippine economic growth slows to three-year low
    Philippine economic growth slows to three-year low

    Philippine economic growth in the first quarter slowed to a three-year low of 5.2 percent, well below forecasts, due to lethargic government spending and weak exports, officials said Thursday. "While growth in the private sector remains robust, the slower than programmed pace of public spending, particularly the decline in public construction, has slowed down the overall growth of the economy," Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan told reporters. "Exports were the other source of the …

  • EM ASIA FX-Won near 2-month low on plunging yen, peso pares gains as growth weakens

    * S.Korea intervention spotted, won hits 7-year high vs yen * Philippine peso briefly weaker after Q1 growth disappoints (Adds text, updates prices) By Jongwoo Cheon SEOUL, May 28 (Reuters) - South Korea's ... …

  • Britain's tied visa rules fuel abuse of live-in maids, nannies

    By Katie Nguyen LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - When Susi, a single mother from the Philippines, left for a job in Qatar, she convinced herself it was a sacrifice worth making for her children at home. For more than a year, Susi's sacrifice involved waking before dawn and working past midnight, cooking, cleaning and looking after a Qatari family. Conditions deteriorated when Susi was brought to Britain by her boss. …

  • SE Asia Stocks - Philippines at four-month low after Q1 GDP miss

    BANGKOK, May 28 (Reuters) - Philippine shares hit a more than four-month low on Thursday after economic growth in the first quarter was slower than expected, while Thai stocks retreated after disappointing ... …

  • Philippine economic growth slows to 5.2 percent in 1Q

    Sluggish government spending slowed Philippine economic growth in the first quarter of this year, officials said Thursday. The country's gross domestic product grew by 5.2 percent in the first quarter, ... …

  • PSE to sell Makati and Ortigas offices
    PSE to sell Makati and Ortigas offices

    Set to move to a unified headquarters in Bonifacio Global City in 2016, the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) has issued plans to sell their offices in Makati and Ortigas. PSE President Hans Sicat issued that PSE means to sell the offices, but that they may also opt to rent them out instead. …

  • ‘Inland areas could be exposed to tsunami-like waves’
    ‘Inland areas could be exposed to tsunami-like waves’

    While strong earthquakes cause tsunamis in coastal areas, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) warned that inland areas could also be exposed to tsunami-like waves, or seiche, if located near or around bodies of water. In a recent earthquake awareness seminar in Muntinlupa, Phivolcs supervising science research specialist Joan Salcedo explained that a seiche is a large wave similar to a tsunami, triggered by strong ground shaking from an earthquake or volcanic …

  • China gives ‘gentle reminder’ to Phl, warns small nations
    China gives ‘gentle reminder’ to Phl, warns small nations

    China gave the Philippines a “gentle reminder” last Tuesday that Beijing will not bully small countries but warned these nations not to make trouble willfully and endlessly. “Here is a gentle reminder to the Philippines: China will not bully small countries, meanwhile, small countries shall not make trouble willfully and endlessly. The Chinese Foreign Ministry also said that China would continue to build other civilian facilities on relevant maritime features in the disputed Spratly Islands …

POLL

Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Loading...
Poll Choice Options