NEW YORK - US President Barack Obama, who ran the office vowing to close Guantanamo, end the Iraq war and torture, has now become a President who personally oversees a covert assassination programme that monitors, selects and marks those deemed as a threat to national security, according to a dispatch published in The New York Times on Tuesday.

The report, based on interviews with three dozen of his current and former advisers, said that when Obama - often chided as a ‘liberal Constitutional professor’ – ‘applies his lawyering skills to counterterrorism, it is usually to enable, not constrain, his ferocious campaign against al Qaeda — even when it comes to killing an American cleric in Yemen, a decision that Obama told colleagues was ‘an easy one’.

In Pakistan, Obama had approved not only ‘personality’ strikes aimed at named, high-value terrorists, but ‘signature’ strikes that targeted training camps and suspicious compounds in areas controlled by militants, the newspaper said in an in-depth dispatch about the working of the programme.

This ‘kill list’ comes as part of a stepped-up fight against al Qaeda and its affiliates in Pakistan and Yemen. ‘He is determined that he will make these decisions about how far and wide these operations will go’, the Times quotes National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon as saying. ‘His view is that he’s responsible for the position of the United States in the world... He’s determined to keep the tether pretty short’.

The US President insisted on approving every new name on an expanding ‘kill list’, it reported, citing dozens of senior officials.

In interviews with The New York Times, the current and former advisers described Obama’s evolution since taking on the role, without precedent in Presidential history, of personally overseeing the shadow war with al Qaeda. Obama’s enthusiasm for the programme, however, has already shown consequences. As the Times notes: ‘Drones have replaced Guantanamo as the recruiting tool of choice for militants; in his 2010 guilty plea, Faisal Shahzad, (an American of Pakistani origin), who had tried to set off a car bomb in Times Square, justified targeting civilians by telling the judge, ‘When the drones hit, they don’t see children’.

One official quoted in the Times report also called into question the administration’s method for tabulating civilian casualties in drone attacks, saying that the CIA’s recent claim that the number of civilians killed in drone strikes in Pakistan was in the ‘single digits’ was unrealistic.

‘It bothers me when they say there were seven guys, so they must all be militants’, the official said. ‘They count the corpses and they’re not really sure who they are’.

And, when the fact that targeted killings are on the rise as the capture of alleged al Qaeda militants is now rarely seen, one creeping suspicion lurks for many. Has the Obama administration ‘avoided the complications of detention by deciding, in effect, to take no prisoners alive’.

‘Their policy is to take out high-value targets, versus capturing high-value targets’, said Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the top Republican on the intelligence committee. ‘They are not going to advertise that, but that’s what they are doing’. The administration’s failure to forge a clear detention policy has created the impression among some members of Congress of a take-no-prisoners policy, the dispatch said. 

And Obama’s Ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, has complained to colleagues that the CIA’s strikes drive American policy there, saying ‘he didn’t realise his main job was to kill people’, it said, citing his colleague.