2013: ‘Yet another year of the drone’

A demonstrator holds up a burning US flag during a protest against drone attacks in Pakistan's tribal region, in Multan on December 6, 2012.
A demonstrator holds up a burning US flag during a protest against drone attacks in Pakistan's tribal region, in Multan on December 6, 2012.
S.S MIRZA/AFP/Getty Images

The new year is still young, but it already has a body count. According to the Bureau for Investigative Journalism, American drones have claimed three lives in Yemen and between nine and 15 lives in Pakistan since Jan. 1. The spate of bombings led national security report Spencer Ackerman to declare 2013 “yet another year of the drone.” And indeed, in the wake of President Obama’s re-election, his administration’s extensive targeted killing campaign—arguably the signature policy of his national security legacy—shows no signs of abating.

“What we saw last year was a move by the administration to make this program more permanent and more bureaucratized,” said Hina Shamsi, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project.

While drone strikes in Pakistan continue to drop off from their 2010 peak, they escalated significantly in Yemen over the course of 2012. In late October, the Washington Post revealed that the Obama administration had even developed a new protocol for determining who should be targeted by drones and other targeted killing methods: Called the “disposition matrix,” the secret database “contains the names of terrorism suspects arrayed against an accounting of the resources being marshaled to track them down, including sealed indictments and clandestine operations,” according to the Post.

Around the same time, the New York Times reports that the Obama administration rushed to codify the targeted killing program’s official rules, “so that a new president would inherit clear standards and procedures.” Shamsi told msnbc that the White House’s attempt to put in place clear guidelines before the outcome of the election was decided was “one of the more telling things” which occurred in the program’s recent history.

Meanwhile, expect more legal battles between the administration and drone program critics like the American Civil Liberties Union. On Wednesday, U.S. district court dismissed a large chunk of one of the ACLU’s lawsuits pertaining to targeted killing, though the ACLU announced that they had every intention of appealing the decision. This particular lawsuit is a Freedom of Information Act request for documents related to the alleged targeted killing of Anwar al-Aulaqi, an American citizen who was in Yemen at the time.

Though the Obama administration says that the targeted killing of American citizens would be legal under certain circumstances, they have declined to confirm or deny that any such killings have officially occurred. The ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights have alleged in a separate lawsuit that the CIA and Defense Department are responsible for the unlawful killing of al-Aulaqi and two other Americans, including al-Aulaqi’s 16-year-old son. On Dec. 14, the Justice Department filed a motion to dismiss that case, though the court has not reached a decision as of yet.

Meanwhile, the UN Human Rights Council also intends to investigate America’s drone war. In 2013, “the controversy and opposition is only going to grow,” said Shamsi.

2013: 'Yet another year of the drone'