The case that drones are no more or no less moral than a SEAL team with orders to blow someone’s head off is, I think, an easy one to make. Bombs or bullets, manned or unmanned, the intent and motivation are the same. But a leaked DoJ document now posted online written with drones in mind could conceivably be used for any kind of force against anyone for any reason, or no reason at all. That’s not a drone issue, that’s a constitutional issue where the implications are chilling:
MSNBC — A confidential Justice Department memo concludes that the U.S. government can order the killing of American citizens if they are believed to be “senior operational leaders” of al-Qaida or “an associated force” — even if there is no intelligence indicating they are engaged in an active plot to attack the U.S.
The 16-page memo, a copy of which was obtained by NBC News, provides new details about the legal reasoning behind one of the Obama administration’s most secretive and controversial polices: its dramatically increased use of drone strikes against al-Qaida suspects, including those aimed at American citizens, such as the September 2011 strike in Yemen that killed alleged al-Qaida operatives Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan. Both were U.S. citizens who had never been indicted by the U.S. government nor charged with any crimes.
Why anyone would really try to cook up legal excuses for what is clearly about as unconstitutional and illegal an act as can be imagined is a troubling issue in itself. It suggests the administration has targets in mind, US citizens picked out by name and location, perhaps without hard evidence in hand. And it raises the possibility that Americans might have been killed by accident or by mere association already, or are about to be, and the administration is seeking to cover their ass. For our foreign readers, it’s not that we believe Americans are super special, it”s that we’re all covered by the US Constitution. Legal apologetics like this create a crisis, they pose a direct challenged to long established and high regarded rights of US citizenship.
There is no doubt in my mind that Barack Obama isn’t planning on using this to round up and snuff political enemies, I feel the same about George Bush and Dick Cheney for that matter. This deal reportedly went through a Senate committee — although the way that’s worked in the past is that caucus has zero say over the policy, they cannot even mention it outside of the secret meeting on secret stuff. The point, the fear, is a President could use it to intimidate, or in the extreme scenario, assassinate political opponents.
If the infamous torture memos from the last administration, and now this one, were to stand there would be no obstacle to whisking any American off the street anywhere in the world and shipping them off to a third-world shithole torture chamber and summary execution without a warrant, without a trial, without any cause other than the President said so. If that’s legal, then the US Constitution is now null and void.
If there are US citizens engaged in terrorist activities that threaten US lives or the lives of others, I’m no dove or idealist, they are fair game. But it cannot be one of those deals where anyone can be killed under super double secret programs, where it’s so secret that even the reasons its secret are secret. There has to be and there can be a process for dealing with those threats, one with oversight, with multiple branches of government involved — including the opposing party such as they are — and some semblance of review.
I hope we as progressives insist on that, and that we do not waver, simply because we may feel more comfortable with this administration running the operation than we were with Bush and Cheney.