Rachel Maddow in her Tuesday night show came forward with pointed questions on the use of drones and targeted drone kills that “keep her up at night”. She observed that these questions were originally put to John Brennan by Dem Senator Ron Wyden. Basically the questions can be summarized, as Rachel put it, with: “Can the President order you dead? How do they determine who’s the bad guy?”
This is germane, irrespective of WHO is in the White House. As a nation ruled by laws (and Obama is a former Constitutional law professor), we cannot have the executive branch doing anything it wants, without parameters. Simply declaring an American an “enemy combatant” and hence invoking a license to kill is not good enough and one could argue it violates precepts inherent in the Constitution – including the right to trial by one’s peers before execution. Hence, Rachel’s questions weren’t spawned in vacuo.
Her questions are then as follows, based on Sen. Wyden’s written questions to Brennan:
1) How much evidence does the President need to determine that a particular American can be lawfully killed?
And the ones that "keep Rachel up at night":
2) Does the President have to provide individual Americans with the opportunity to surrender before killing them?
3) Does this obligation change if the President’s determination that a particular American is a valid target has not been publicly announced or publicly reported?
As Rachel put it:
"Think about that. If you’re an American citizen and the President is going to kill you, do you have the right to give yourself up instead so you don’t get killed?”
And: “How do you know you should do that if the President’s decision to kill you is a secret decision that nobody ever tells you?”
Brennan’s answers yesterday were not particularly awe- inspiring and basically could be summarized with the catchall: “I’ll get back to you on that.” Let us hope he does, since currently the U.S. government's position is that it declines on national security grounds to declassify the full legal justification for its covert drone attacks. This can mean only one of two things: 1) they have no genuine legal justification that can withstand hard scrutiny, or 2) there are inflammatory 'justifications' embedded that will have the entire American Left on their case, as well as the International Court of Law in The Hague. (Interestingly, btw, it is the Senate Democrats that pressed Brennan for more openness and clarity, while the Repukes chastised him for possibly giving away too much. Methinks the Reeps are ok with their future prez being able to kill "socialists, leftists, communists" at will like Hitler did with his own methods.)
More daunting a question – when configured with the previous ones, is:
4) Are there any geographic limitations on the intelligence’s community’s authority to use lethal force against Americans? (Do any intelligence agencies have the authority to carry out lethal operations inside the United States?)
Some background here:
Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick in their book ‘The Untold History of the United States’ note on p. 572 that:
“Pakistani press reports over three years (2006 to 2008) killed over 700 civilians to only 14 terrorists or 50 civilians to one terrorist”. The authors note the ratio was lowered somewhat (to 15:1) after Pakistani photographer Noor Behram held a graphic 2011 exhibition in London, of 27 drone air strikes.”
Such results helped explain the radicalization of Muslims in Pakistan given 97% viewed drones negatively according to the authors (p. 573) while the number who saw the U.S. as an enemy climbed from 64% in 2009 to 74% in 2012. (Ibid.) Hence, the evidence supports the notion that we are creating more terrorists rather than de-populating them
Adding fuel to the fire is the recent news report (ABC, Feb. 6th) that the U.S. has a drone base in Saudi Arabia from which drone strikes have been launched into 6 countries. This is unsettling. Recall the 9/11 blowback from al Qaeda was based on using Saudi Arabia as a base for U.S. operations in the Gulf War.. Thus, the 9/11 attacks were blowback (according to author Chalmers Johnson, in his book Blowback) for defiling the holiest Muslim nation - the ancestral home of the Wahabbi sect and the host nation for the holiest Muslim shrine of Mecca. Johnson basically attributed the 9/11 blowback to U.S. foreign policy, which antagonized too many groups over decades. Stone and Kuznick in their own book, essentially concur with this assessment.
Stone and Kuznick also note the near universal criticism that drones are “a cowardly form of warfare” even quoting the Thailand Nation newspaper (p. 576) that these aerial robots are merely used to "satisfy the lily –livered need to eavesdrop kill and destroy without the slightest chance of reciprocation”.
Morally this troubled Director of National Intelligence Admiral Dennis Blair who: “tried to curb drone attacks and other CIA covert activities believing them a blot on America’s reputation” (p. 577)
He was replaced by retired Lt. Gen. James Clapper in 2010.
The latest issue of TIME (Feb. 11) in its drone cover story, notes (p. 30) that the UK Bureau Of Investigative Journalism estimates that up to 891 civilians were killed in Pakistan since 2004 by drone strikes. TIME goes on to note that Brennan has argued that drone attacks are lawful under a 2001 authorization that allows “use of force” for those responsible for the 9/11 attacks – but technically all those perps are dead and gone including Osama bin Laden. Hence, one can argue that the authorization for the use of the drones is now expired.
Beyond that the continued use of such attacks presents the dangerous element of unintended consequences and expanded use beyond that originally intended. This has been the argument made by Jameel Jaffer of the ACLU. Interestingly, on January 24 the UN announced a special investigation into civilian deaths arising from drone attacks.
But the radicalizing nature of drone attacks goes far beyond the immediate killing to their unsettling and pathological effects on targeted populations’ psyches. (By ‘targeted population I mean all of those affected if a drone is covering x square miles and its ominous noise is being received as a kind of inflicted terror in its own right.) People quoted in the ABC News report, for example, reported the constant anxiety (as well as sleeplessness) in their own homes induced from the incessant whine of the drones circling outside. Imagine - if you will - the Chinese putting thousands of these fuckers in OUR skies and monitoring us every second then justifying kills based on their own judicial precepts. Would you not go ape shit? I believe most 'Muricans would reach for their Bushmasters or AKs.
We know there’ll likely be over 3.5 million drones in operation in U.S. skies by 2017, so what are they all going to be doing? Perhaps the Predator drones will be mandated to kill U.S. citizens for any number of reasons, and not necessarily by an Executive decision. A disturbng case cited in TIME (p. 32) is that of a North Dakota Sheriff who in June, 2011, called in a Predator drone from a local Air Force Base to hunt for three men believed associated with some missing cows. The drone spotted the men and could have killed them on the spot with a Hellfire missile, but ascertained they were unarmed, so they were just arrested. But who's to say this couldn't have suddenly gone south on another occasion? Three dead guys and they may not even know why they've been vaporized.
Hell, maybe a hard core Tea Party repuke like Marco Rubio is in power and he mandates the CIA to off all JFK researchers plumbing into the assassination who are digging into why the files weren’t released as scheduled. Or maybe this guy of Cuban descent doesn’t want us mucking around into Luis Posada’s terror background and connections to the Bay of Pigs Brigade 2506. We don’t know unless the parameters for targeted kills are judicially spelled out. Maybe a hard core fundie like Paul (Moron) Broun is elected Prez and has commandeered all atheists and evolutionists be drone-killed for promoting ideas and “theories from the pit of Hell”. We don’t know! Not with the flimsy and vague criteria as given, or rather not given.
Oh, as a sideline, I had to laugh hard and long at a remark in the recent TIME article on drones (Feb. 11, p. 28), when the author noted he was pulled up by critics for using the word “drone”. As he put it (p. 29):
“I’ve been corrected and upbraided by drone users and manufacturers, military and civilian, for failing to use terms like ‘unmanned aerial vehicle’ or ‘unmanned aircraft system’ or ‘remotely piloted vehicle’. While technically accurate these terms have a clumsy, euphemistic feel"
This led Gerald Ford to issue an Executive Order banning assassinations.
Indeed, one can make the case, as I did earlier, that targeted assassinations in other nations is a counterproductive foreign policy in that it succeeds in creating more terrorists than it diminishes! It also erodes the moral basis of the nation and exposes it as an enclave of hypocrisy. For example, why haven’t right wing terrorists been targeted to the same extent? How the fuck is it that Luis Posada Carriles is still walking around alive and not dead from a Hellfire missile, while assorted accused other Americans (e.g. Anwar al-Alwaki) have been offed? Has there been the same degree of justification for the latter kills, as for the terrorist bone fides for Posada? I don’t believe so!
Add to that all the dead civilians as collateral damage and we’re really on shaky moral, legal grounds.
As Sen. Wyden noted last night on Rachel: Americans have a right to know if and when a President wants to kill them. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Right wing Alpha 66 terrorist like Luis Posada Carriles, or a run of the mill al-Qaeda tool like al-Awaki.
Wyden’s other ancillary point is equally crucial: that laws need to be public, not kept secret or private. We are either a society and a nation of laws and accountability or we’re no different from the Nazis with their special “Reich laws”.
We better decide and soon if we're going to continue to take the easy, lazy (I'd add cowardly) and expeditious path that leads to perdition, or if we will adhere to the American principles of yesteryear, so well enunciated in Kennedy's American University ('Pax Americana') speech in June, 1963. It's our choice and we better damned sure make the right one!