Thursday, June 7, 2012

Drone Attacks and the Rule of Law

The Obama Administration has really exploited a new weapon in the War on Terror -Drone Strikes. These strikes are cheap and effective. They have become the preferred weapon of choice and have killed a significant number of Al Qaeda leaders and others planning to kill Americans here and abroad. Just as importantly, they have spread fear and terror among the terrorists who now dive for cover whenever they see a bird flying across the horizon. I have no problem with this. I think this is a good thing, a very good thing. But, having said that, there is an aspect to all of this that I do have a serious problem with.

According to an article in the New York Times, President Obama spends time every week shuffling baseball cards with the names and bios of terrorist suspects and decides who is to be killed next. This is an awesome power and no one person, even the President of the United States, should wield it without oversight and specific, clear, constitutional authority. What would be wrong with the CIA or the military, going to a judge with prima fascia evidence  that a person is a terrorist, letting the judge, or even a panel of judges, review the evidence and issuing an arrest warrant and authorizing the use of deadly force against that suspect. We have a special "secret court" that the government can go to and get a warrant to tape communications and listen in on terrorist conversations - but there is no required procedure for the president to decide to kill those same people? Does that make any sense?

And, if the President is allowed this unfettered authority to decide who is and is not an enemy and can be killed without due process or warning -who is going to keep him or a future President from expanding that authority to "enemies" other than terrorists? Where does it stop? How about Assad? Why not just take him out with a drone strike -that is certainly cheaper and easier than military intervention. Or maybe the Iranian Supreme Council, they are certainly enemies of the United States. And what about our "home grown" terrorists? The President can save us the trouble of arresting and putting them through trials by just putting them on a "drone hit list".

No, the Rule of Law must be applied somehow and no one person, even President Obama, should have the ability to authorize killing people without being held accountable for the use of that authority.

There is also a certain hypocrisy in all of this that should not go without mention. The Obama Administration heavily criticized the Bush Administration for it's interrogations of terror suspects. They even threatened to take CIA and Military people involved in the interrogation process to court and charge them with criminal offenses. But now that same Administration authorizes the killing of those same types of suspects without even going to Congress and asking for the specific authority to do so.

As I said, I am not against the use of drones to take out terrorists. I think it is a great tool in our arsenal -one which has certainly helped keep Americas and innocent civilians a little safer. All I am saying is that the power these drones gives us must be tempered by the Rule of Law and used properly with oversight and accountability. Is that too much to ask?

Live Long and Prosper....

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