Saturday, March 9, 2013

Ode to Roving Death-robots

The Obama administration’s enthusiastic love affair with the roving death-robots openly referred to as “predator” drones (a rare display of accurate nomenclature, as the military is more often than not inclined to christen their infernal devices with far more upbeat nomenclature, allowing one to imagine an alternate universe in which the nation’s papers are filled with articles decrying the domestic deployment of our new armada of remote-controlled “patriot” drones and “peacekeeping” drones) has recently inspired vitriol from all quarters, as evidenced by these two opinion pieces published only a few days apart from each other.

This first piece is a letter written by Bruce Fein, associate deputy attorney general under President Reagan, which was published in the 2-4-13 edition of the Financial Times.  The letter reads:  

The United States and Israel are now dancing on the rubble of international law shattered by their respective limitless conceptions of preemptive warfare. Last week, Israel conducted an unprovoked air strike on a convoy of trucks in Syria suspected of carrying SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles towards Lebanon without evoking a whisper of United States opposition. The United States claims authority to perpetrate predator drone killings in any country where international terrorists or their associates are suspected of dwelling [emphasis mine--RG], including Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Both nations preposterously maintain that national self-defense (uniquely to them) includes the right to exterminate any person suspected of a connection to any activity that might at some unknown future time support an enemy attack, e.g., an Iranian nuclear scientist. No imagination is needed to divine how the United States would respond to a Russian predator drone strike against a suspected Chechen terrorist inhabitant of New York City; or how Israel would respond to an Hamas killing of an Israeli scientist assisting its Iron Dome anti-missile program. After its apogee at Nuremberg, international law has plunged like Lucifer from heaven to a doctrine of might makes right indistinguishable from a Hobbesian state of nature. The United States and Israel have been major culprits.
Bruce Fein

The second piece to which I would like to draw your attention is an editorial entitled “Terrorism and the War at Home" published in yesterday’s edition of the Los Angeles Times.  Here are some choice excerpts:

This page has repeatedly expressed concern about the administration's open-ended approach to targeted assassinations around the world. This week's discussion shows again that the United States is sliding down a slippery slope, with the government gaining power to head off potential attacks at the expense of individual rights. And it's not at all clear where it will stop.

[Rand] Paul's protest on Wednesday was ostensibly aimed at President Obama's nominee for CIA director, John Brennan. As the president's top counter-terrorism advisor, Brennan has been an architect of the drone strikes that have killed hundreds of alleged enemy combatants and Al Qaeda operatives overseas, including a handful of American citizens […].

As this page has warned repeatedly, these presidents [i.e., Obama and George W. Bush] have claimed far-reaching authority to summarily execute people they deem a threat to homeland security, with little or no oversight over whom they target or where they carry out the killings. Paul took the White House's position to an absurd extreme in arguing that vocal government critics could be targeted for drone strikes in this country. [In actuality, the possibility of a drone strike on U.S. soil is far from “absurd.” In fact, it’s more than possible that such occurrences are already several years behind us.—RG] But the fact remains that the administration has steadily increased the use of drones, widened the definition of an "imminent" threat and expanded the boundaries of the "battlefield" where they can be used.

Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. tried to dispel concerns in letters to Paul on Monday and on Thursday, when he flatly declared that the president does not have the authority to use a drone to kill a citizen "not engaged in combat" here in the United States. But just as the Obama administration has stretched the meaning of "imminent" to cover situations in which there's no evidence of a looming attack, so could future attorneys general interpret "combat" as something other than actively trying to kill Americans [emphasis mine--RG].

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, declared that Paul's nightmare scenario of a citizen being assassinated in a cafe "will never happen in the United States of America." That's because, in Feinstein's mind, there's a clear distinction between enemy combatants overseas who easily elude capture and plotters in the United States who can be tracked and arrested. But the last two administrations have blurred the line separating crimes from acts of war [emphasis mine--RG]. And even if you trust Obama's judgment, do you want to grant the same discretion to his successors, whoever they might be?

The unexpurgated L.A. Times editorial can be seen HERE.

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