There’s a disturbing trend taking place right now in Washington, which has been building for several years. You may or may not have heard the term “drone” thrown around during your favorite 24-hour news show while the talking heads yammer on about the various wars the United States is waging. To add some clarity, the term drone is used to refer to what the military calls an unmanned combat air vehicle, or UCAV. These drones carry various forms of weaponry, yet contain no human pilot or passengers, and are remote-controlled by a person in a manner not too dissimilar from the way one would play a combat flight simulator on their computer.
Man, talk about the effect of video games on violence.
Drones have been used in military conflict ever since the Iran-Iraq War, which saw Iran deploy a drone armed with six rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs). They have seen scarce uses since the 1980s, as other methods for airstrike had been preferred. During the most recent wars in both Afghanistan and in North-West Pakistan, however, the United States has increased its reliance on drone airstrikes significantly, utilizing its (questioned) precision to hit various targets with no risk of harm to American military personnel. While these attacks began with George W. Bush in the White House, the use of drones has grown exponentially under the presidency of Barack Obama, who has ordered hundreds of strikes on various targets in the United States’ Global War on Terror.
This sort of thing seems like a good idea, until the details of the operation are laid out. You see, the lawfulness of these airstrikes has been called into question on several occasions due to the fact that the United States Government, under Barack Obama, has ordered strikes on American citizens on more than one occasion. No due process. No trial. No arrest. Just a missile from the CIA — judge, jury, and executioner.
Yes, these American civilians were overseas, and yes, they were involved with some extremely, extremely unscrupulous people. However, to disregard some of our country’s most sacred laws under the guise of national security is to throw away centuries of progress. Simply put, it is barbaric and unbecoming of a country that sees itself as a shining example of freedom and fairness.
The fact that the President can order the assassination of an American citizen at will should be both alarming and unacceptable to not only the American people, but also the American media. However, the amount of criticism the Government has faced for these attacks has been met with equal justification from defenders both within Government, and outside of it. These defenders walk on both sides of the aisle, and see these drone strikes as both necessary and lawful.
Just days ago, a 16-page memo from the Department of Justice was leaked detailing the White House’s justification for the assassination of American citizens. This memorandum highlights the various requirements for which a citizen can be considered a target:
- The person must be outside the United States.
- The person is a senior, operational member of al Qaeda or its “associated groups.”
- The person is an imminent threat to the United States.
The first requirement’s rather simple and straightforward. The other two, not so much. What makes for an “associated group” of al Qaeda? Who gets to make that distinction? Al Qaeda is about as closely-knit a group as Anonymous — almost anyone can be a member. Likewise, who gets to make the determination that the person is an imminent threat to the United States? How do they define “imminent threat?” If I say I’m thinking about blowing up some government building or place of interest, at which point during the planning stages do I become an imminent threat? Was Anwar al-Aulaqi an imminent threat? What about his 16-year-old son?
These are the questions the White House and the Department of Justice need to be answering.