At a highly anticipated speech on counterterrorism this afternoon, President Obama announced reforms that would dramatically ratchet down the administration’s drone program. But one thing that will not change, two highly placed administration sources tell The Daily Beast, is Obama’s singular involvement in making individual kill decisions—this despite the fact that the military made an aggressive push to wrest back control over final targeting calls from the commander in chief.
In fact, it is likely that Obama’s role in deciding who will die and who will be spared will actually increase over time. That is because Obama has decided to transfer the CIA’s targeted-killing program to the U.S. military. Since the beginning of Obama’s presidency, the government has run parallel programs, one housed at the CIA and the other run by the Pentagon. While Obama had broadly signed off on the CIA’s targeted-killing program through a presidential finding for covert action, he did not authorize individual killings except in rare instances. But from the outset of his presidency, Obama personally insisted that he make the final decision on the military’s kill or capture orders, so-called direct action operations. Obama wanted to assume the moral responsibility for what were in effect premeditated government executions. But sources familiar with Obama’s thinking say he also wanted to personally exercise supervision over lethal strikes away from conventional battlefields to avoid getting embroiled in new wars. As responsibility for targeted strikes in places like Yemen, Somalia, and, over time, Pakistan shifts to the military’s Joint Special Operations Command, Obama will be the final decider for the entire program.
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