More alarming facts have emerged surrounding President Obama’s drone campaign. The newest report is a Washington Post piece by correspondents Greg Miller and Karen De Young. They suggest that not only are drone strikes becoming America’s most popular counter-terrorism weapon, but they are here for a while.
Miller and De Young’s report confirms fears echoed by many about drones: America’s reliance upon them will reach a point of no return. As drones continue to become the most popular mode of warfare against terrorists, a policy regime will evolve to ensure they are used with more ease, resulting in more strikes. And this is precisely what Miller and De Young suggest is already happening, through the establishment of the ‘disposition matrix.’
The Disposition Matrix
The disposition matrix is a revamped version of what is referred to as President Obama’s “kill list,” an intricate directory of terrorist suspects containing their profiles, details of their whereabouts, associates, etc. In theory, the list’s purpose is to ensure the utmost precision in a drone strike while minimizing the costs involved, such as the number of civilian casualties. Similarly, the disposition matrix ensures that terrorist suspects are targeted with the most precision. However, it goes several steps beyond the kill list to streamline and institutionalize the drone strike process.
The Institutionalization of a Drone Regime
The disposition matrix, which is currently being developed, aims to reduce the number of steps involved in carrying out a drone strike. Although President Obama authorizes every drone strike in the kill list, there is still a chain of personnel that must deliberate over the proposed strike. These steps can be difficult to take in the event of a narrow timeframe for a strike.
The disposition matrix will minimize this chain by putting in place policies for every contingency that may arise while tracking a suspected terrorist. Prior to the creation of this matrix, there were complications that arose in pursuing suspects. The CIA, for example, set up secret prisons that made it difficult for the U.S. security administration to keep tabs on suspects. The disposition matrix would solve problems like this by delineating every agency’s role in case a suspect surfaces in an unexpected location.
Calling the system a ‘matrix’ implies it will map out procedures for eliminating terrorists, by establishing protocols for their various possible locations. This includes strategies for extradition requests, capture operations, and drone patrols. In other words, the institutionalization of drone attacks will further ease their implementation
The Future of Drone Strikes
As drone strikes continue to occur, there remains no immediate end in sight to the program. After hundreds of strikes, officials continue to claim that a “handful” of militants still exist who need to be eliminated.
At the very least, it may be comforting to think that the disposition matrix might, in crafting a policy regime around strikes, work to minimize civilian casualties and establish a legal process, which might regulate when and how attacks occur. However, if there is anything to take away, it is that a policy regime is evolving to accommodate the drone regime and ensure that strikes continue to occur. Miller and De Young put this succinctly, “officials seem confident that they have devised an approach that is so bureaucratically, legally and morally sound that future administrations will follow suit.”
Read the full report here.