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President Obama and John Brennan, his top counterterrorism adviser, in the Oval Office on Jan. 4, 2010. Brennan is a key voice about who gets put on the "kill list." (White House)

A 'Macabre' Process: Nominating Terrorists To Nation's 'Kill List'

May 29, 2012 (All Things Considered)

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One of the day's most-discussed stories has to be The New York Times' report headlined "Secret 'Kill List' Proves A Test Of Obama's Principles And Will."

It's a long, detailed look at how the president has "placed himself at the helm of a top secret 'nominations' process to designate terrorists for kill or capture, of which the capture part has become largely theoretical."

Obama himself, the Times' Joe Becker and Scott Shane report, approves "every new name on an expanding 'kill list,' poring over terrorist suspects' biographies on what one official calls the macabre 'baseball cards' of an unconventional war." Those who end up on the list become targets of potential drone strikes.

This afternoon, All Things Considered host Melissa Block asked Shane what surprised him most among the things he and Becker discovered.

For Shane, it was the Defense Department's "rather open process by which they nominate" suspects to that kill list. As he and Becker wrote:

"It is the strangest of bureaucratic rituals: Every week or so, more than 100 members of the government's sprawling national security apparatus gather, by secure video teleconference, to pore over terrorist suspects' biographies and recommend to the president who should be the next to die."

It is "this strange, secret trial in a way," Shane told Melissa.

The nominees get sent to the White House, where the president and his top advisers hold "Terror Tuesday" meetings to go over the list and related topics. If, when it comes time to fire a missile at one of the suspects and it appears there might be family members or other civilians nearby, Obama "has reserved to himself the final moral calculation," the Times reports.

More from Melissa's conversation with Shane is due on All Things Considered later today. Click here to find an NPR station that broadcasts or streams the show. Later, we'll add the as-broadcast version of the interview to the top of this post.

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