Archive for Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Opinion: Drone policy must be debated

March 13, 2013


The killing by drones in Yemen of American citizens Anwar al-Awlaki, in September 2011, and his son, Abdulrahman, a few weeks later has continued to be a major issue among lawyers and constitutional scholars, and a subject of discussion and debate since the deaths were announced. The legality of the killings became national news recently when Sen. Rand Paul mounted a 13-hour filibuster to delay the confirmation of John Brennan, President Obama’s former national security adviser, as the new director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Fuel was also added to this legal fire by the leak of a “summary white paper” of the legal opinion that justified the use of drones to kill American citizens who had not been tried or convicted of any crimes by an American court.

Let me be clear, from all of the information available, al-Awlaki was a high level member of  al-Qaida in Yemen although his son’s killing was apparently a terrible mistake and no public information connects Abdulrahman to al-Qaida or any terrorist organization. Sen. Paul asked Attorney General Eric Holder whether the administration intended to use drones to kill Americans on U.S. soil. After some delay, the attorney general answered that there was no such intent, but whether the administration believes that it has the legal right to do so remains up in the air. It also seems fairly clear that the administration does believe that it has the right to use drones to attack and kill Americans, under certain circumstances abroad, as it did in the case of Anwar al-Awlaki.

Many lawyers — and I’m among them — find the administration’s position on the use of drones to kill American citizens without affording them any due process of law quite troubling because it would appear to set a very dangerous precedent never before even considered to be acceptable by the federal government. What is even more troubling is that the administration has steadfastly refused to make public all of the documents and reasoning it used to determine that these drone attacks against American citizens without any trial or conviction. Thus, it is impossible for anyone outside the current administration either to determine the precise extent of the powers that President Obama is now claiming or to make reasoned criticisms of these powers and their legal justification.

This lack of transparency and the existence of secret memoranda and opinions is troubling in itself and also because, when President Obama ran for his first term, he and his supporters were highly critical of President Bush’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” — what many have called torture — and the memoranda prepared by administration lawyers to provide legal justifications for these techniques.

There seems to be a bit of hypocrisy at play here. For my own part, it seems to me that the killing of American citizens without trial is no less troubling than the use of enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding against terrorists. At least the terrorists survived to challenge what had been done to them.

I remember an experience I had several years after the Oklahoma City bombing. Then-Gov. Bill Graves asked me to go to western Kansas and meet with some militia members to try to understand their grievances. So I drove out and met with several militia members in an old courthouse.

One of the first things they told me was that they feared that the day would come when black armored helicopters would fill the skies over their farms and murder them and their families. I immediately told them that was crazy, that no American government would ever kill its citizens without due process of law.

Now, I’m beginning to wonder. Except if it happens, whoever is the target won’t even have the warning of hearing a helicopter’s rotors. Instead there will just be silence, ruptured by the explosion of a Hellfire missile. I hope this never happens. But I think it is time for the Obama administration to release all of the relevant materials they used to justify the legality of drone strikes against American citizens and permit this policy to be debated openly by Congress and the American people.

— Mike Hoeflich, a distinguished professor in the Kansas University School of Law, writes a regular column for the Journal-World.


Richard Heckler 5 years, 3 months ago

The indiscriminate and insensitive killing policy of the USA government must go.

As predicted the war has served primarily the interests of Iran and al-Qaeda, not American interests...

Dan Blomgren 5 years, 3 months ago

President Obama has overstepped his powers beyond words. He, of all people, should promote and protect the rights of Americans. Does he not love and did he not swear to protect American's rights? The fact that the leader of our country could even consider such an act is unfathomable.
I have never found myself so disrespectful of an American President as I have of Obama!

Liberty275 5 years, 3 months ago

Which Americans did he have assassinated?

SnakeFist 5 years, 3 months ago

So only American lives matter - assassinate anyone you like as long as its not an American? Due process is supposed to be a fundamental right of all persons.

Dan Blomgren 5 years, 3 months ago

When I read this article I could not help but be reminded of this video.

somebodynew 5 years, 3 months ago

I am not opposed to a debate about this at the Federal Level (NOT in our State Legsislature), but the other side of this: Who is going to volunteer to go capture these people to bring them to USA to face charges ???

The people who have been targeted by the drones are people (I don't call them 'citizens') who have either renouced this country or are actively against it, and have taken up "residency" among terrorists who have vowed to kill as many of us as possible. I know I would not want to be responsible for sending American troops in to try to capture them and maybe lose a lot of good soldiers.

And I firmly believe the Government has enough resources here in our own country that they do not have to resort to drones to capture someone. The question posed was meant just to stir up controversy, and it apparently worked.

Clark Coan 5 years, 3 months ago

Every Tuesday morning Obama personally decides which terrorist suspect will be "droned". So ar 200 children have been killed by US drones but are considered "collateral damage". Others would call it a crime against humanity. Obama is personally responsible for the deaths of some of these children.

Liberty275 5 years, 3 months ago

Sort of like ol grandaddy in his B29 firebombing civilian cities.

I think America is learning how to really fight wars and kill as few people as possible. We are getting pretty good at cutting the head off the snake.

I think the Bushes and Obama were effective. Bush 2 was sort of clumsy, but he was taking a country into war that hasn't fought a similar war since Vietnam. The whole war apparatus was clumsy. It got better and now Obama is just picking them off one by one.

I only have a problem with killing American citizens. Every accused citizen should stand trial under the US court system or if they are in a uniformed military, given a trial under the UCMJ.

You need to get over the bush derangement syndrome.

Curveball 5 years, 3 months ago

I disagree with almost everything Obama does except the drone issue. The more Al-Qaeda terrorists we can take out the better. These are the guys who set a girls school on fire and shot them as they tried to escape. And there are so many other examples. Why should we spend huge amounts of money and troops lives to go out and capture them and bring them to trial? If these guys are legal American citizens, they have given up their citizenship when they went over to the other side. BTW, if the target consists of say, 3 top level Al-Qaeda terrorists, one of whom is a legal American citizen, why does he deserve a trial and the other two do not? In a war you simply can't bring every combatant to trial. Although very rare, there have been cases during past wars (Viet Nam,Korea,WW2)where Americans went over to the other side. When they were seen on the battlefield they were shot just like any other enemy soldier.

SnakeFist 5 years, 3 months ago

First, I don't see a difference between a police sniper and a military drone, and no one is arguing that the sniper is violating the criminal's due process rights.

Second, due process is a fundamental right of all persons, not just Americans. So if you don't care when an Iraqi terrorist is assassinated in some Middle Eastern country, then its inconsistent (and, frankly, racist) to care that an American terrorist is assassinated there.

The regressives didn't care when schools and neighborhoods were bombed and suspected terrorists were tortured and assassinated under Bush. They're only complaining now because they dislike anything and everything Obama does.

riverdrifter 5 years, 3 months ago

Absolutely agree. If we had had a President Romney I bet the drones would've become increasingly busy as the months went by.

rtwngr 5 years, 3 months ago

So you speculate that Romney would have made more drone strikes and this justifies President Obama's drone strikes anywhere, anytime, against anyone that he deems to be a enemy combatant? Whether it is on U.S. soil or not?

In that case, why do we bother with extradition of a criminal from another country with whom we have an extradition treaty. Why don't we just tell them to let the person loose and we'll torch them with a missile?

riverdrifter 5 years, 3 months ago

When there's a drone strike on US citizens on US soil, I'll address your concerns. Would you care to wager a little money on that actually happening in the next 4 years? I like a sure thing.

uncleandyt 5 years, 3 months ago

Read the comments above to see that too many of us don't seem to understand that the US is the aggressor in The War on Terror. Our bombs kill innocent strangers. Our media has some of us believing that we are really good at cutting off the heads of the snakes. "We got the #2 !, We got the #3!, We got the #2!." Have we gotten the #1,000,000,000 yet ? Is it a secret? How many bombs did we drop today?, yesterday?, the day before that?, last week ?, last month?, last year?, decade?, century? Those stats don't make the news. How many bombs did we buy last month? How many bombs did we sell? and Who did we sell them to? Pretend that there is a debate happening. Have a nice day.

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