Droning On

I’m of two minds of this latest dust-up in military strategy and national security:

A Justice Department memo determined the U.S. government can use lethal force against an American citizen overseas if the person is a senior operational leader of al Qaeda or one of its affiliates, according to a document posted on the NBC News website.

The paper provides insights into the Obama administration’s policy of targeted killings carried out by the use of drone strikes against suspected terrorists. Several of those strikes have killed Americans, notably Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni American who had been connected to plots against the United States but never charged with a crime. Awlaki died in a drone attack in September 2011 in Yemen.

The 16-page white paper – titled “Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a U.S. Citizen who is a Senior Operational Leader of Al Qaida or an Associated Force” – is a policy paper rather than an official legal document.

The reservations one should have about this are numerous and obvious: American citizens deserve due process and this opinion doesn’t even provide for any legal oversight whatsoever. That right there opens a rather large can of worms.

And of course, other nations’ sovereignty, the idea of assassinating anyone else on foreign soil…as I said, a whole raft of issues.

And yet, I can’t completely oppose the measure, at least based on the memo that has been leaked.

It appears that proper diligence has been used to be outline that an “imminent threat” exists from an American citizen who has all but repudiated his American citizenship. “Turned traitor,” we used to call it. Also, due care must be exercised and attempts to capture this citizen for judicial process must be exhausted first and war conventions observed. 

Yes, I know, it’s lip service without judicial oversight, to be sure.  

The Supreme Court has already acknowledged that due process does not apply to an American citizen who has joined opposition forces actively engaged militarily against us and much of this seems to fall under those and other guideliness the courts have already established.

Yes, there is danger of over-reach, to be sure, and I’m troubled mostly by the lack of oversight in real time (I have no doubt there will be plenty of oversight in arrears from Congress and the courts.)

But a lot of the case I’m reading against this policy seems to me to fall into nearly the same categories that rightwing gun nuts use to justify assault weapons: hypothetical cases of heavy-handed government bearing down on its citizenry, when in point of fact, the number of people this policy has affected so far number in the single digits and most of those have actively repudiated any reasonable measure of citizenry or fealty to the US.

Still, this is worth keeping an eye on.

7 comments to Droning On

  • nihil obstet

    But a lot of the case I’m reading against this policy seems to me to fall into nearly the same categories that rightwing gun nuts use to justify assault weapons: hypothetical cases of heavy-handed government bearing down on its citizenry, when in point of fact, the number of people this policy has affected so far number in the single digits and most of those have actively repudiated any reasonable measure of citizenry or fealty to the US.

    You need someone to make the case against absolute dictatorship? Hey, the people deciding whom to kill seem reasonable and they don’t do it very much? Fine with me?

    The arbitrary exercise of power to deprive individuals of life or freedom is despotism. It marks a profoundly different relationship between people than a democracy where power is constrained within legal protections.

    • JustPlainDave

      It would seem that despotism is the natural, enduring state then. Power is exercised arbitrarily to deprive others of life or freedom by everyone on this board, all the time. That’s the nature of complex, industrial and post-industrial societies – the cogs mesh with a lubrication of bone chips. Only difference between this and that is that this is simply more visible.

      • actor212

        You know what I long for, Dave? The days when the people trusted their government. After all, we elected them and it’s our own damned fault that we’ve allowed money to trump electoral and vocal power.

        Sad, really. And that’s not to say that there isn’t a danger inherent (which I took pains to point out in my post), but…

        I have yet to see one, not one, incident where the United States government has threatened her people with widespread dictatorial overreach, at least since the internment camps of World War II.

        We all need to take a breath and think a little about all this first.

    • actor212

      You need someone to make the case against absolute dictatorship?

      Thank you for making my point so eloquently. Do you honestly think there will be drones over your head everytime you step out the door, targeting you and only you?

      Do you realize that, if you substitute “black helicopters,” you’ve just made the NRA argument?

      • nihil obstet

        Governments don’t worry about ineffective dissidents, and I’m pretty ineffective. So no, I don’t worry about a drone attack. As long as I’m good, I’m OK. If I want to protest something, I can report to the “First Amendment Zone” out of sight of the people I want to petition and mill around the caged area under the eyes of the police. If I join a visible protest, I run the risk of pepper spray in the eyes or a taser shot, with potentially dangerous consequences (there have been 535 taser-related deaths since 2001 in the U.S.)

        The Civil Rights movement would not have been successful if the state had chosen to exercise dictatorial powers of removing threats to national security. It wasn’t all uplifting “I have a dream” and Kumbaya. Although very suspicious police action resulted in the deaths of a number of black leaders, it was not politically possible to simply make Martin Luther King disappear. Or to have government action just kill him, even though everybody knew that he was a dangerous Communist. Just ask the FBI chief at the time.

        I am concerned about the devastation of the country that is possible as our elites seek the wealth of an extractive economy. In 2005, the FBI identified “eco-terrorism” as the major domestic threat. Charges of terrorism have been leveled at peaceful anti-fracking demonstrators, persons opposed to mountaintop removal mining, those seeking to publicize destructive agriculture practices. The power of the government needs to be constrained.

        And none of this even gets into what is happening with whistleblowers.

        Dictators don’t send drone attacks against their people. They simply cut off the activists who work on the organizational infrastructure necessary for reform. It’s so efficient to sit in a room, be handed a list of dangerous people, and pick out the ones to dispose of. I want the possibility of democratic action and reform by and for the people to remain open.

        Sorry to have abandoned the brief eloquence that you appreciated so much.

  • Thomas Lord

    I have yet to see one, not one, incident where the United States government has threatened her people with widespread dictatorial overreach, at least since the internment camps of World War II.

    I am only hung up on your choice of the word “dictatorial”. That narrowly describes a particular “strong-man” modality of power.

    “Tyranny” is a broader term that I’d prefer. It encompasses a broader range of oppressive modalities. For example, East Germany was a bureacratic, party-run police state that was clearly tyrannical but we wouldn’t normally call it a dictatorship.

    So some post WW-II examples of “widespread tyrannical over-reach” in the United States, off the top of my head:

    The actions of HUAC and its corporatist crony’s.

    Hoover’s FBI and Reagan’s California lawless, covert attacks on so-called radicals.

    Led by the CIA, programs (loosely) under the MKULTRA umbrella that experimented harmfully on uninformed private citizens and populations in search of technologies of population control.

    Segregation, Jim Crow laws, and lawless government behavior to enact racial oppression.

    The Mulford Act in California, gun control enacted in response to the efforts by the Black Panthers to self-police streets dominated by lawless police forces.

    The broad expansions of warrent-less government surveillance powers, in partnership with corporatist cronies, as applied for example in response to the Occupy movement.

    The legislative invention and law enforcement abuse of broad powers of property seizure such as are currently being used in the power struggle between states and the federal government over the legal status of medical marijuana.

    The incarceration rate, its demographic distribution, prison conditions, and the drug war which have largely taken over the role formerly assigned to segregation laws etc.

    The blanket surveillance — right down to the level of individuals — of transportation and the imposition of secret, unchallengable, unadjudicated travel restrictions on individuals.

    The sometimes unadjudicated (and in California, retroactive) prohibition of gun ownership on the basis of alleged mental health status. (In California, this involves the literal seizing of guns from existing owners. They are looking for budget to expand the seizure program.)

    The sometimes violent marginalization of assembly and protest such as during the Viet Nam war era and more recently with “free speech zones”, anti-Occupy actions, and so forth.

    The legislative creation of “fusion centers”, uniting law enforcement at all levels into a new domestic surveillance super-agency.

    The federal issue of military grade weaponry, surveillance equipment, armor, and secretive training to state and local law enforcement agencies.

    Persistent legislative efforts to eliminate “reasonable expectations of privacy” through technological means such as imposing data retention requirements on some Internet-related services.

    I’m sure the list could go on.

    Since WWII, government tyranny has appeared extensively in many forms. It appears to be aimed mainly aimed at political suppression and racial (or economic class) oppression. Law enforcement at all levels has become increasingly powerful, well armed, more engaged in deep surveillance, and unaccountable. Along the way, many lives have been ruined, many in prison, and even some people killed.

    The particular lesson of how Governor Reagan and J. Edgar Hoover colluded in these activities should really give us pause when the federal executive starts “discovering” new authorities that those two tyrants would have absolutely loved.

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