The Obama administration has been secretive about its use of targeted drone strikes, boasted about the program's success, and fended off critics who say the strikes are killing and injuring too many civilians. A New York Times story published Tuesday has the administration's human rights critics buzzing again. A key revelation comes near the end of the article, written by Jo Becker and Scott Shane, under the heading, "'They Must All Be Militants.'"

Obama, Becker and Shane write, was angry when informed that the first drone strike after he took office had killed innocent Pakistanis. But one of the measures the administration embraced to prevent future innocent casualties was to embrace a method of counting combatants that would rope in more innocents.

"It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent," the Times reports. "Counterterrorism officials insist this approach is one of simple logic: people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good."

Earlier Tuesday, Jake Tapper of ABC News pressed White House spokesman Jay Carney on the reported policy, which one former CIA official called "guilt by association." But Carney didn't directly answer the question, instead ticking off other policies he says the administration has implemented to avoid killing innocents. "[O]ur military and our broader national security team is able to pursue al-Qaida in a way that significantly reduces the potential for and the fact of civilian casualties," Carney said.

Tapper pressed again. "[T]his is the question -- with the assumption that if you are with a terrorist when a terrorist gets killed, the presumption is that you are a terrorist as well and -- even if we don’t even know who you are, right? Isn’t that part of the reason you’re able to make these assertions?"

And Carney again ducked the question: "I am not going to get into the specifics of the process by which, you know, these decisions are made..."
(related: Obama's 'Kill List')