Drone Wars: War on Terror Fatigue and a New Hope

Posted by on Mar 8, 2013 in Americas, Counterterrorism, Terrorism | No Comments

By Jacob Shiflett
Human Rights Generation

United States Senator Rand Paul took a stand against the imperial presidency earlier this week by demanding US Attorney General Eric Holder clarify the Obama administration’s position on the use of drones for the targeted killings of United States citizens on United States soil. After a lengthy thirteen-hour filibuster stalling the confirmation of Director of the Central Intelligence Agency John Brennan, Senator Paul yielded his time on the US Senate floor. The next day Attorney General Holder presented a letter to Senator Paul affirming that the United States President cannot “use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil.” It appears the US government seeks to appease the anti-war and anti-police state dissidents with this declaration—ah, but the devil is in the details.

In the now infamous Department of Justice White Paper, the Obama administration argues it has the authority to target individuals who pose a threat to national security, regardless of nationality, on foreign soil with drones so long as three criteria are met. First, the memo decrees “an informed, high-level official in the US government” must identify the individual as posing an imminent threat to national security. Second, the memo states a drone can only be used for a targeted killing when “capture is infeasible.” Lastly, the memo posits the targeted killing operation must be conducted in compliance with the laws of warfare. So, basically, anyone in the US intelligence community, serving in a supervisory role, can label an individual as an enemy combatant and target them with lethal force by using a drone strike. No warrant is needed. No charges need to be filed. The executive acts as judge, jury, and executioner behind closed doors.

Attorney General Holder’s response to Senator Paul should calm our nerves right? Negative. The key is the caveat concerning what the US government considers an individual “engaged” in hostilities. The Authorization for the Use of Military Force, regarding the War on Terror, grants the executive branch the ability to use lethal force on individuals whom plan, authorize, commit, or aid in acts of terrorism. They need not be charged with a crime. Guilt by association is evidence enough to have a name placed on the kill list.

But what about geographic scope? Surely the Authorization for the Use of Military Force is limited to operations conducted outside United States borders. This is yet another common misconception. The Authorization for the Use of Military Force gives the executive branch the power to utilize whatever measures it deems necessary and appropriate to prevent acts of terrorism from taking place. Moreover, if the Authorization for the Use of Military Force ever expires then the executive branch can still rely upon its Title 18 “public authority” exception to use law enforcement as a means to terminate threats to public safety without respecting the individual right to due process.

The public must not read too deep into the lip service and platitudes coming out of Washington in relation to the preservation of civil liberties. Action speaks louder than words. Congress must act swiftly to deny the executive branch the authority to kill unilaterally, without mercy. The first step will be rescinding the Authorization for the Use of Military Force in the War on Terror. Then the legislature must focus on amending Title 18 of the public authority exception to ensure it will not be abused by the national security complex of the United States. That is, of course, unless we want to hand over this immense power to the thousands of public and private intelligence organizations to do with it whatever they please. Senator Paul initiated the conversation and got the ball rolling. Now it is up to the United States public to roll the conversation over the national security establishment.

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