In 2013, the Obama Administration drafted what became known at "the Playbook," an 18-page drone strike policy guideline laying out how the President orders a targeted killing of an enemy combatant abroad. A few days ago, the administration released a redacted version of the policy as a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union.
An MQ- Reaper remotely piloted aircraft performs aerial maneuvers over Creech Air Force Base, Nev., June 25, 2015. The MQ-9 Reaper is an armed, multi-mission, medium-altitude, long endurance remotely piloted aircraft that is employed primarily as an intelligence-collection asset and secondarily against dynamic execution targets. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Cory D. Payne)
The Presidential Policy Guidance (or PPG, the official name of Obama's "playbook") first place an emphasis on capturing the enemy, instead of raining death from above. If capturing the terrorist (referred to in the PPG as the "HVT," or High-Value Terrorist) is not "feasible," the policy outlines the steps to be taken to designate an HVT for "Lethal Action."
1. We know who we're supposed to be killing
According to the PPG, only "an individual whose identity is known will be eligible to be targeted."
2. They're definitely up to something
The strike will be approved if the "individual's activities pose a continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons."
3. We definitely know where the person is
U.S. forces have to know with "near-certainty" that an HVT is present.
4. Only lawful combatants are hit
The attacking drone operator has to have "near certainty that non-combatants will not be injured or killed."
President Barack Obama attends a meeting on Afghanistan in the Situation Room in the White House. (White House photo by Pete Souza)
6. Capture isn't a feasible possibility
This rule actually only means that capture isn't feasible at the time of the operation. So this really just means the U.S. could capture the HVT or just wait and kill it later.
7. The HVT's host country is no help
The government where the terrorist lives isn't going to do anything about it, so we have to handle it ourselves.
8. We really just have to kill this person
"No other reasonable alternatives to lethal action exist."
At this point, number five might be glaring at you, but there's not even a hint at what the redacted criterion might be. Even the 2013 PPG summary memo released by the White House left out this factoid and any glimmer of its contents.
President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 25, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Since Obama took office, there have been 373 drone strikes abroad, with an estimated 4,000 killed. (Up to 966 of those deaths were civilians.) Four Americans have been killed by such drone strikes, but only one – the 2011 targeting of American-born Yemeni cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki – was a planned target.