A secret policy document released by the Obama administration on 5 August, details the standard procedures on how people are targeted in drone strikes. An 18-page "playbook" called Presidential Policy Guidance (PPG) was released after a court ordered authorities to do so, while hearing a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The Obama administration expanded the targeted killing programme, which involved the CIA and US military forces bombing targets using unmanned drones. Until recently authorities refused to acknowledge the existence of the programme nor did they answer questions about how targets are chosen.

"Actions, including lethal action against designated terrorist targets, shall be as discriminating and precise as reasonably possible," the document reads. It also states that Obama must personally sign documents at target terror suspects located in Pakistan, Yemen, Libya and Somalia.

Ned Price, spokesperson for White House National Security Council said, "The president has emphasised that the US government should be as transparent as possible with the American people about our counterterrorism operations, the manner in which they are conducted, and their results."

"Our counterterrorism actions are effective and legal, and their legitimacy is best demonstrated by making public more information about these actions as well as setting clear standards for other nations to follow," he added.

The document establishes the National Security Council as a body that reviews operational plans for capturing or killing terror suspects. Appropriate members of the NSC review proposals before it is sent to the president for a final decision, the playbook states.

Interestingly, it also says that the government is not always sure of who it has killed. "The conditions precedent for any operation, which shall include at a minimum … [a] near certainty that an identified HVT or other lawful terrorist target other than an identified HVT is present," the booklet reads.

Most details of the drone programme run by the CIA and the military's secretive Joint Special Operations Command have not been made public.

Jameel Jaffer, the deputy legal director of the ACLU said, "The PPG should have been released three years ago, but its release now will inform an ongoing debate about the lawfulness and wisdom of the government's counterterrorism policies."

US military drone
The US military and intelligence services use unmanned drones to target suspected terrorists - Representational image Reuters