Obama’s “Disposition Matrix” – Let’s Take The Red Pill

Much is being written about the WaPo’s blockbuster article “Plan for hunting terrorists signals U.S. intends to keep adding names to kill lists” today.

Please, take some time to read the commentary, rather than swallowing the blue pill and going back to a happy partisan sleep. Any defense that “a Romney presidency would be far worse” has to explain what exactly “worse” could possibly look like. Still, you can be sure the next incumbent after Obama will take his precedent and run with it, no matter which party they belong to.

Greenwald: Obama moves to make the War on Terror permanent.

The creepiest aspect of this development is the christening of a new Orwellian euphemism for due-process-free presidential assassinations: “disposition matrix”….What has been created here – permanently institutionalized – is a highly secretive executive branch agency that simultaneously engages in two functions: (1) it collects and analyzes massive amounts of surveillance data about all Americans without any judicial review let alone search warrants, and (2) creates and implements a “matrix” that determines the “disposition” of suspects, up to and including execution, without a whiff of due process or oversight. It is simultaneously a surveillance state and a secretive, unaccountable judicial body that analyzes who you are and then decrees what should be done with you, how you should be “disposed” of, beyond the reach of any minimal accountability or transparency.

… The core guarantee of western justice since the Magna Carta was codified in the US by the fifth amendment to the constitution: “No person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” You simply cannot have a free society, a worthwhile political system, without that guarantee, that constraint on the ultimate abusive state power, being honored.

And yet what the Post is describing, what we have had for years, is a system of government that – without hyperbole – is the very antithesis of that liberty. It is literally impossible to imagine a more violent repudiation of the basic blueprint of the republic than the development of a secretive, totally unaccountable executive branch agency that simultaneously collects information about all citizens and then applies a “disposition matrix” to determine what punishment should be meted out. This is classic political dystopia brought to reality (despite how compelled such a conclusion is by these indisputable facts, many Americans will view such a claim as an exaggeration, paranoia, or worse because of this psychological dynamic I described here which leads many good passive westerners to believe that true oppression, by definition, is something that happens only elsewhere).

Privacy Matters:

The NCTC collects impossibly enormous reams of data about all of us, routinely, stores it for a long time (maybe forever), and “data mines” it to look for “suspicious patterns” or whatever else the government wants to look for. Now we know that the NCTC is also the government outfit in charge of crafting a “disposition matrix” to oversee the management and institutionalization of the US government’s extrajudicial assassinations — a power the Obama administration asserts it can (without due process) apply to US citizens as well as foreigners.

Micah Zenko, Council on Foreign Relations:

After following this program closely for the past half-dozen years, I have stopped being surprised by how far and how quickly the United States has moved from the international norm against assassinations or “extrajudicial killings.” … Recently, I spoke to a military official with extensive and wide-ranging experience in the special operations world, and who has had direct exposure to the targeted killing program. To emphasize how easy targeted killings by special operations forces or drones has become, this official flicked his hand back over and over, stating: “It really is like swatting flies. We can do it forever easily and you feel nothing. But how often do you really think about killing a fly?”

Spencer Ackerman, Danger Zone:

Obama did not run for president to preside over the codification of a global war fought in secret. But that’s his legacy. Administration officials embraced drone strikes because they viewed them as an acceptable alternative to conventional ground warfare, which it considered too costly and too public, but the tactic has now become practically the entire strategy. Micah Zenko at the Council on Foreign Relations writes that Obama’s predecessors in the Bush administration “were actually much more conscious and thoughtful about the long-term implications of targeted killings,” because they feared the political consequences that might come when the U.S. embraces something at least superficially similar to assassination. Whomever follows Obama in the Oval Office can thank him for proving those consequences don’t meaningfully exist — as he or she reviews the backlog of names on the Disposition Matrix.

My post yesterday, The “Imperial Presidency” Didn’t Start, Wont Stop, With Obama, most definitely refers here.

Update: Chris Floyd – Welcome to the Age of Hell: Entrenching Murder as the American Way

Like last year’s NY Times piece that first detailed the murder racket being run directly out of the White House, the new Washington Post story is replete with quotes from “senior Administration officials” who have obviously been authorized to speak. Once again, this is a story that Obama and his team WANT to tell. They want you to know about the murder program and their strenuous exertions to make it permanent; they are proud of this, they think it makes them look good. They want it to be part of their legacy, something they can pass on to future generations: arbitrary, lawless, systematic murder.

Perhaps this fact should be borne in mind by all those anguished progressives out there who keep telling themselves that Obama will “be different, that he will “turn to the left,” if we can only get him a second term. No; the legacy of arbitrary, lawless, systematic murder is the legacy he wants. It is the legacy he has been building, with remarkable energy and meticulous attention to detail, day after day, week after week, for the past four years. This is what he cares about. And it is this — not jobs, not peace, not the environment, not equal rights for women and ethnic and sexual minorities, not the poor, not the middle class, not education, not infrastructure, not science, not diplomacy — that he will apply himself to in a second term. (Along with his only other political passion: forging a “grand bargain” with Big Money to gut the remaining shreds of the New Deal.)

Floyd’s right about that second part of Obama’s “legacy” too.

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Steve Hynd

Most recently I was Editor in Chief of The Agonist from Feb 2012 to Feb 2013. My blogging began at Newshoggers and I’ve had the immense pleasure of working with some great writers there and around the web ever since, including at Crooks & Liars. I'm a late 40′s, Scottish ex-pat, now married to a wonderful Texan, with Honours in Philosophy from Univ. of Stirling, UK 1986. I worked most of life in business insurance industry (fire, accident, liability) including 12 years as a broker/underwriter/correspondent at Lloyd’s of London. Being from the other side of the pond, my political interests tend to focus on how US foreign policy affects the rest of the planet. Other interests include early and dark-ages British history, literature and cognitive philosophy/science.

4 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Steve,What more can one add? Red pills, blue pills? Doesn’t seem to matter as there’s seemingly no end to this rabbit hole; imperialism, fascism, totalitarianism, managed democracy! I have no idea how traffic is here these days but your posts have been stellar and I really hope they’re widely read and circulated. I do my small part to pass them along, mostly to the “critically thinking” people I know who ultimately don’t seem all that moved to action. So perhaps it’s a meaningless compliment to say, “I appreciate your honesty
    and candor” in the midst of so damned much dishonesty and spin constituting our public culture. Defenders of democracy be damned! Honestly, I just don’t care about democracy anymore, managed or otherwise. There can be no democracy without justice and justice, well, that’s just some people talking right?Personally, I’m not sure how many more daily doses of dystopian reality I can take but I refuse to take the blue pill, or the red pill, or any more pills for that matter. None the less, your tenure here thus far has been a breath of fresh air and I wish you and the site continued success, whatever that means.  

  • People can talk about this until the cows come home, but until they put the same effort into actually laying the rhetorical groundwork for alternatives that they do into decrying current policy, there is no “red pill” option. Serially identifying the problem (bitching to those of us less charitable fuckers) notably does not constitute laying rhetorical groundwork (frankly it looks a lot like some bizarre form of self-administered outrage therapy).

    For all the heartfelt passion people on the virtual homefront of the Internet pour into this, until the guy on the ground out in the great beyond – where the vast majority of the virtual homefront folks have never been and never will be – has a visibly better set of options than kinetics that he/she can run up the line, there’s no real prospect for change.

  • A CIA veteran transforms U.S. counterterrorism policy

    Washington Post, By Karen DeYoung, October 24

    This is the second of three articles.

    In his windowless White House office, presidential counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan is compiling the rules for a war the Obama administration believes will far outlast its own time in office, whether that is just a few more months or four more years.

    The “playbook,” as Brennan calls it, will lay out the administration’s evolving procedures for the targeted killings that have come to define its fight against al-Qaeda and its affiliates. It will cover the selection and approval of targets from the “disposition matrix,” the designation of who should pull the trigger when a killing is warranted, and the legal authorities the administration thinks sanction its actions in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and beyond.

    “What we’re trying to do right now is to have a set of standards, a set of criteria, and have a decision-making process that will govern our counterterrorism actions — we’re talking about direct action, lethal action — so that irrespective of the venue where they’re taking place, we have a high confidence that they’re being done for the right reasons in the right way,” Brennan said in a lengthy interview at the end of August.

    Apparently, Jesuit-educated, devout Catholic Saint Brennan is the conscience of the program, but is planning to leave it soon. Whoo, doggie, watch out then, world!

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