Good questions

Some defenders of president Obama’s policy of using drones to kill people without even charging them with any crimes, let alone trying to apprehend them, have made the extraordinary argument that this is a good idea since it does not put US forces at risk the way any attempt to capture them would. This use of drones has considerable public support.

The practice of using unmanned drone aircrafts to attack suspected terrorists in foreign countries – a policy begun by the Bush Administration and expanded under President Obama – enjoys widespread and bipartisan support. Seven in 10 Americans favor using drones to attack suspected terrorists abroad, including most Republicans, Democrats, and independents.

Americans also support a more controversial measure, although in smaller numbers. Forty-nine percent of Americans favor the targeting and killing of U.S. citizens living abroad who are suspected of carrying out terrorist activities against the U.S.; 38 percent oppose that.

But Glenn Greenwald poses some interesting questions. If one takes those arguments at face value, then why not use drones to find and kill the fugitive ex-policeman Christopher Dorner? After all, officials are convinced that he is guilty of murder and have called him a terrorist, which these days is all that one needs to be summarily executed by the government.

Suppose the LAPD locates Dorner in a cabin in a remote area of the California wilderness, just sitting alone watching television. Why should they possibly risk the lives of police officers to apprehend him? Why would anyone care if this terrorist’s rights are protected? What’s the argument for not simply killing him the moment he’s located? Given that everyone seems certain of his guilt, that he’s threatened further killings of innocents, that he declared himself at “war”, and that the risk from capturing him would be high, what danger is created by simply shooting a Hellfire missile wherever he’s found?

Or suppose that, as feared, he makes his way into Mexico. What’s the objection to sending an armed drone to killing him there?

Greenwald is trying to expose the hypocrisy of those who create justifications for Obama’s drone policy in distant countries that completely bypasses any of the norms that we used to think applied when it came to carrying out justice. But he may be overestimating the public’s and the punditocracy’s sense of self-awareness. There is a real danger that those people are too far gone may actually think that this is a good idea.

We are hurtling down a dangerous road with the brakes that should prevent disasters (conscience, law, due process, and justice) no longer operational.