President-elect Donald Trump will be inheriting an executive branch that has expanded massively in scope and power under President Barack Obama. And that power includes the claimed authority to use armed drones to kill those the administration determines to be terrorists in foreign countries.
What does this actually look like? With the help of leaked documents, Jeremy Scahill and the staff of The Intercept produced The Assassination Complex: Inside the Government’s Secret Drone Warfare Program. Scott Shackford reviewed the book for the December issue of Reason magazine:
With the help of confidential documents leaked to The Intercept, the book is able to offer some hard numbers. In a yearlong operation in northeastern Afghanistan, the United States killed more than 200 people; only 35 were intended targets. The source who leaked the documents explained: “Anyone caught within the vicinity is guilty by association,” but “there is no guarantee that those persons deserved their fate…so it’s a phenomenal gamble.”
Regardless of the success rate of that gamble, it appears to have become the status quo. Two competing pressures have made it so. One is the push to protect Americans from radical forces gathering in the Middle East. The second is the demand that, in the wake of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the president reduce the footprint of actual U.S. troops in these areas. Adm. Dennis Blair, a former director of national intelligence, sums it up: “It is the politically advantageous thing to do—low cost, no U.S. casualties, gives the appearance of toughness. It plays well domestically, and it is unpopular only in other countries. Any damage it does to the national interest only shows up over the long term.”