Posted by on October 29, 2012 in Blog

On Wednesday, the Washington Post published a story about the Obama administration’s continued expansion of the drone war, the counterterrorism security apparatus, and the secretive “kill-list” of high-value assassination targets. The article is a shocking look at at the extent to which the war on terror has profoundly eroded our civil liberties and inched us ever-closer to a state of perpetual war.

The primary focus is on the administration’s new “disposition matrix,” which “contains the names of terrorism suspects arrayed against an accounting of the resources being marshaled to track them down, including sealed indictments and clandestine operations... mapping plans for the “disposition” of suspects beyond the reach of American drones.” Put simply, the matrix streamlines the process by which counterterrorism officials can prioritize, find, and kill high-value targets.

Moreover, administration officials interviewed in the story claim that “there is a broad consensus that such operations are likely to be extended at least another decade,” which would extend the “war on terror” to at least 20 years, making it the longest American war in history. As Glenn Greenwald notes in the Guardian, it also casts a dark shadow on promises that extrajudicial powers like indefinite detention and targeted assassinations will be rolled back at the “end of hostilities.”

It also demonstrates a growing acceptance of post-9/11 security prerogatives, many of which would have been unthinkable 10 years ago. AAI’s own polling shows that youth are less concerned about their civil liberties than seniors, a trend which does not bode well for the future of civil liberty advocacy.

This growing institutional momentum for extrajudicial killing, detention, and interrogation would be odious enough for its clear disregard for basic human rights and civil liberties, but studies have shown that such tactics often create more problems than they solve. As Greenwald mentions, “continuous killing does not eliminate violence aimed at the US but rather guarantees its permanent expansion.” Numerous government officials have also admitted what should be patently obvious: it is impossible to kill every person who wishes the United States ill. All the more so because every drone strike produces another set of people with grievances against Washington. The problem is aptly summarized by Chris Hayes: “If you have a ‘kill list’, but the list keeps growing, are you succeeding?”

Equally troubling is the US government's heavyhanded approach to detractors of the drone program, including prominent Pakistani politician Imran Khan, who was recently removed from a flight to New York and questioned about his opinions on the use of drones. "My stance is known. Drone attacks must stop," he tweeted after the event. Khan has previously organizing rallies against the drone program in Pakistan, which has killed approximately 3,000 Pakistanis, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. 

Though these developments raise serious questions about the future direction of our country, they are questions that have remained unaddressed by the two main presidential candidates, who have thus far eschewed any mention of civil liberties in their respective campaigns. President Obama’s track record on many of these issues, which he advocated strongly in his 2008 campaign, has been so compromised that his current campaign website fails to mention civil liberties once. Romney has effectively agreed with the President on every major issue related to national security.

Since the issue won’t be brought up in the presidential campaign, it is even more important to makes sure that the protection of our civil liberties does not fade quietly into the background. There are many principled organizations, individuals, and even members of Congress from both parties who have fought bravely on this issue. We must continue to support them to ensure that they continue to fight for our most basic freedoms.

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