The worst thing about those drone strikes is Obama’s moral preening and hypocrisy

There’s been a lot of upset in the conservative blogosphere about Obama’s drone strike policy.  The way the administration phrased it, as “legal,” “ethical,” and “wise,” got a lot of hackles up, especially when Michael Isikoff let slip how little oversight there is — including oversight over decisions to kill American citizens.

A lot of people are very worried about this, because they see a government that feels unfettered by the protections accorded citizens under the Bill of Rights.  The problem, as conservatives see it, isn’t so much what the administration does, but the attitude it has when it does it.  Thus, the administration manifestly refuses to acknowledge that the rights stated in the Bill of Rights are inherent in all citizens and that the government has the burden of proving good cause to implicate or limit those rights in any way.

Instead, in every instance, the Obama administration takes the position that government has the inherent power to impinge upon and limit citizen’s freedoms, or even take their lives, leaving citizens with the burden of proving that the government has overreached.  To the extent that the attitude inverts both the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, people who care about those documents and the unalienable rights they establish and protect are going to view anything the administration does with a jaundiced eye.

Rusty Shackleford, however, who knows as much about Al Qaeda and other Islamist extremists as anyone else on this earth, tells conservatives not to get too uptight about those American citizens that the Obama administration targets for drone killing.  These people aren’t just any old Americans.  Instead, they are citizens who have deliberately thrown their lot in with al Qaeda, thereby taking upon themselves enemy status:

If you think it’s unconstitutional or immoral to kill a member of a terrorist organization living abroad then you and I have very different readings of the Constitution and very different sets of moral standards.

Moreover, it’s just basic common sense that in warfare you don’t stop to ask the person you’re about to shoot for a copy of their passport. Who gives a rat’s ass if bin Laden was Saudi or if he was born in Colorado?

Please, go read the report. Nowhere in it is there even a smidgen of a hint that drones could be used against Americans … in America.

The memo in question sets up a three tiered test for when it’s okay to kill an American living — and this is a direct quote from the memo — “in a foreign country“.

1) He must be an immanent threat. By immanent, we don’t mean the threat is immediate. What we mean is that the person is involved in operations that will go forward unless he is killed. In other words, we don’t have to wait for a suicide bomber to get on the airplane before we kill him.

2) Capture is infeasible. This means that a terrorist living in France will be treated differently than a terrorist living in Mali. The major difference being that the French police are perfectly capable (assuming they have the backbone) of arresting a suspected terrorist. In the hinterlands of Mali, not so much.

Please read the rest of Rusty’s post here.  It will assuage some of your worries about the administration’s acts.

Having said all that, I still think Obama is a rotten stinker for what he’s doing.  I’m not saying that it’s bad to kill al Qaeda operatives wherever and whenever we find them in a foreign country, and regardless of whether they are American or non-American.  Rather, my view arises because Obama is a hypocrite who hasn’t had the decency to come before the American people and say that he was wrong to malign George Bush and our troops as rabid killers.

Nick Gillespie, who has the true libertarian’s disdain for these killings (and I don’t necessarily agree with him, but I do admire his consistency), perfectly sums up Obama’s disgusting double standards:

There is a darkly comic aspect to this, I suppose: Here’s a president who once taught classes in constitutional law and swore up and down that America doesn’t torture, that he was against “dumb wars” waged by his predecessors, that he was more transparent than a glass of triple-filtered water, and who won a goddamned Nobel Peace Prize! And he turns out to be not just a little iffy when it comes to being constrained in his willingness to break all sorts of rules but downright godawful.

And his main mouthpiece is a former MSM drone whose babyface is quickly turning into a map of wrinkles brought on by working for an administration which has manifestly failed to live up to even the mediocre standards of the previous occupant of the White House.

The same president who sounded all high and mighty about Gitmo and the fact that American troops are “air raiding villages and killing civilians” seems to have no problem with going into Pakistan, a country with which we’re not at war, and, once there, drone raiding villages and killing civilians.

Unlike Gillespie, I believe that the Bush people were doing the right thing in their battle against an amorphous enemy that transcends borders and draws fellow travelers from myriad nations.  In that regard, it’s telling that the Bush administration had so many good things going there that Obama, in one of the few wise acts of his presidency, built upon their original programs.

What’s sickening is that Obama has never retracted his attacks against those Americans who spent so much time during the Bush years defending us and, when he does the same thing (only more so), he has his flunkies announce that, because it’s The Won who’s killing and torturing, it’s suddenly legal, ethical, and wise.  Along these lines, don’t forget that Eric Holder spent almost four years wrecking havoc in the lives of CIA agents who used techniques less bad than those Obama now countenances, and only let them off the hook this past August.

Bottom line:  there are few things more loathsome than someone who yells at you and humiliates you for doing something, then does the same thing himself, and, if you call him upon it, says that the mere fact that it is he who’s doing it, not you, makes it all right.

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  • Earl

    I’ve been conflicted about the attacks, too…and for many of the reasons you elucidate.
    I’m all in favor of killing those who are planning the destruction of our citizens and ultimately our nation – regardless of their citizenship.  I DO think, however, that it’s unseemly, and perhaps sets a dangerous precedent, for the President to avoid involving anyone other than the executive branch in the decision to rain death on an American citizen overseas.  How hard would it be to check with the relevant committee chairs in the House, say……?

  • sgmstv

    Seriously? “A rotten little stinker?”
    I would be interested to hear your views on the Patriot Act and GW Bush. I suspect that you felt he was a little more than a “little stinker.”
    The problem with the left is that you guys over-committed to Bush Hatred. Now that your lord and savior, Barack Obama, has proven to be worse in terms of individual freedoms, has increased the government’s power under the Patriot Act, has been less transparent than Bush, is using extra-judicial drone strikes more than BUsh did, is still operating black sites….
    Everything you proclaimed hatred for Bush over, you must now try to rationalize under Obama. “its ok, with this policy he can only kill Americans when they are overseas…no prob. But, the little sitnker is kinda a hypocrite!”
    No, you are the hypocrit. Did I think there was a need for the Patriot Act after 9-11? Sure did, but they should’ve let it expire as planned. Do I think black sites, rough interrogation, and Gitmo are necessary? Yup, still do. In fact, I prefer those over drone strikes and always have. We get no actionable intelligence from dead people and I think if you look how the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated under Obama’s “more rubble, less trouble” policies, you have to think maybe Gitmo isn’t such a bad strategy, no?
    So, my position hasn’t changed since Obama took office. Why has yours?

  • Jose

    I’ve wondered why these US citizens couldn’t be tried in absentia (is there such a thing?) for treason. A conviction could carry the death penalty and a drone dispatched forthwith.

    Any legal minds here care to comment?

  • Danny Lemieux

    Jose, those were my thoughts exactly. There has to be a judicial process.
    sgmstv…I confess to being thoroughly confused with regard to who the “you” is to whom you keep referring.

  • sgmstv

    The “you” is anyone who minimizes this as conduct of “a little stinker.”
    I see you have crossed the rubicon from liberal to conservative. Maybe the accusation is unwarranted…but, I spent 8 years, 2 of them as boots on the ground, defending Bush policies that were mild were compared to Obama’s. I have been called every bad name in the book by both friends and family as a result.
    Now to hear it called being a little stinker is too much. It wass a blatant lie and merely a manipulation of simple minded liberals. If anything, liberals should be offended that not only were they confused and tricked so easily but that Barack Obama knew they would fall for it so easily.
    Liberals are like farts, as soon as you trust them, they crap on you.

  • Danny Lemieux

    For the record, sgmstv, I crossed “The Rubicon” during the Age of Reagan. Book crossed the Rubicon after 9/11.
    I don’t think that you will find many commentators on this blog that disagree with you, disparage Bush and the Republicans, or minimize the conduct of the Obama administration. Several of us (me included) represent military families. 

  • Ymarsakar

    Who here bought into the Leftist cant that they opposed the US wars under Bush because of humanitarian concerns, civilian deaths, and US casualties?
    I feel sorry for you. Just a little bit.
    For the LEft has never cared about human rights, only using it as a gateway to conquering a nation.

  • Ymarsakar

    “Any legal minds here care to comment?”
    Since most of the LEft is guilty of the same thing, they would be advised not to trump up charges that could in the future be used against them, drones or no drones.

  • Wolf Howling

    A couple of thoughts.
    1.  I have no problem with Obama’s drone strikes to kill Americans who are active combatants against the U.S.  I don’t think that doing so requires any sort of special consideration beyond the rules of war.  In that, I am in complete agreement with the Jawa post you cite.  Moreover, let’s be clear about this, Americans have been killing Americans on the opposing side in wartime since 1776.  If we had to get a court order before charging a hill, than its no longer warfare, its lawfare – a 21st century construct of the left that I think will ultimately be suicidal.
    2.  Why should this be a judicial process when we are talking about wartime decisions?  I would rather trust the man ultimately charged with protecting our nation to make that decision.  He is not above the rules of warfare or other laws, so if he makes an abusive decision, such as to deliberately target a non-combatant, he is theoretically responsible at law for his decisions.   
    3.  In all fairness to Obama, the two Americans targeted for drone strikes by the Obama administration to date were both legitimate military targets.  Much more problematic was the drone strike that killed al-Alwaki’s 16 years old son, purported by the administration to be collateral damage.  If he was the target, than that might very well violate the rules of war.  I am far more concerned about the specifics of that attack than about Obama’s seemingly well grounded policy on targeting Americans who are fighting against our nation.     
    4.  Far and away my biggest concern of all is not the drone policy itself, but that drones are now a substitute for gathering human intelligence.  We are killing because Obama has stripped us of our ability to gather intelligence from these source, and he made it such a centerpiece of his campaign that he cannot back track upon it.  I would much rather have Osama bin Laden in custody at a black site getting water boarded for every bit of intel we could gather than have him feeding the fishes.
    5.  That we have been relatively safe since the end of the Bush administration is not something for which I give much credit to Obama.  The lack of intel from high level sources places the U.S. in a far more precarious position in the long term.

  • Jose

    Wolf H,
    You refer to the rules of war, but they don’t apply to terrorists. The “Laws of War”, as I was taught during active service, require that combatants wear uniforms, and do not attack non-combatants or non-military targets.

    Conversely, lawful combatants who are captured are entitled to treatment defined by the Geneva Convention.

    Terrorists don’t meet these standards, so can’t be compared to Confederate soldiers.

    IF they are US citizens they should be entitled to, or subject to, the judicial process, although I acknowledge it might be impractical. If it is applicable to the Tucson or Aurora shooters, it applies to Anwar Awlaki. I didn’t shed any tears over him, but I don’t like the executive branch making the decision.

    As for non-US citizens, it is open season, as far as I am concerned. They can rely on their home nation for protection.

    And I’m with you on the intelligence value of captives. But again, is the executive branch basing it’s kill orders on the inconvenience of dealing with prisoners?

  • Les

    In principle I agree with there not being a need for a judicial process if a U.S. citizen takes up arms against the country.  However, the implementation is tremendously flawed.  In the justification for the drone strikes “imminent” doesn’t mean precisely (as stated in JAWA):
    1) He must be an immanent (sic) threat. By immanent (sic), we don’t mean the threat is immediate. What we mean is that the person is involved in operations that will go forward unless he is killed. In other words, we don’t have to wait for a suicide bomber to get on the airplane before we kill him.
    How it’s defined in the justification is that there is no need for clear evidence that an attack on U.S. persons or interests will take place in the near future. So what evidence is needed? What’s the time frame? What’s to prevent overreaching so that the killing is almost arbitrary?
    Also, only one informed high level official is needed to make the assessment the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of a violent attack on the U.S. with imminent being defined as above. I’m not sure why anyone would think this high level official would be more competent than those who were responsible for our consulate in Benghazi.
    I’m also concerned that it applies to U.S. citizens on foreign soil at this moment, but can a clever DOJ lawyer then use this as a basis to make the case for killing an alleged terrorist who’s a U.S. citizen while he’s in the U.S.? Can someone claim due process can be suspended because the threat was imminent, and (for some reason) capture was not feasible? There’s be an outcry some would say, but I don’t see this if the MSM is in love with the President as ours is with Obama.
    I was concerned when the Patriot Act was passed that it would be used to consolidate and expand the power of the government.  That may be fine when the President had some moral character (as I believe Bush had), but what if he had little (as I believe Obama does). The strategy and tactics for winning this war has to be thought through thoroughly with the important goal of not reducing our civil liberties, to keep us a nation of laws and not of men.

  • Mike Devx

    My take on this…
    First, let’s take care of the issue of enemy combatants:  They can always be killed, in just about any way possible.  Period.  Doesn’t matter if they’re state actors (military in uniform) or not (spies or terrorists).
    There are rules governing the treatment of captured soldiers – military in uniform.  If you’ve signed onto those rules, you’re supposed to honor them.  There are no such rules governing non-state actors (terrorists).  This means they are less protected, not more protected.
    So finally we come to targeted assassination via drones, especially for terrorists.  Current thought is that they are a legitimate target if they are an “immanent threat”.  Note that “immanent” is not a misspelling of “imminent”.  Immanent apparently means (in a militarily legal sense) that they are an active part of carrying out a current terrorist action and killing them would disrupt the action.
    Seems to me that the military command structure should get to make this call on “immanent threat”, subject to all the usual military rules for getting it right.  The military command structure includes the President.  In my opinion, even if someone is part of the planning cycle in a terrorist plot, it is acceptable to assassinate them by drone.  Even if they’re just in the discussion stage of how to logistically carry the action out.
    I think we’re on shaky ground targeting family members of terrorists, including this sixteen year old American (the son of a terrorist) that was apparently targeted and killed by drone.  I have no further information indicating the young man was a part of any terrorist action; if he was, I’d have no objection.
    I have to admit I haven’t thought a *great* deal about the entire issue, though.  Perhaps arguments exist that could move me off of these positions.

  • Mike Devx

    I also have to admit I haven’t considered at all the issue of a drone assassination on US soil.  I’m quite ignorant on any complexities here.
    Suppose we could have targeted the 9-11 hijackers via drone before the attack, say if the four of them were in a Florida cabin together.  Bomb the cabin?  What’s the answer?  Does the answer change if one of these 9-11 hijackers within the cabin had been a US citizen instead of being all foreigners?
    Do the same rules apply for authorizing a sniper team that would apply to firing a drone bomb?

  • Mike Devx

    Well, it looks like I found bad info.  Or am I not the only one confused?  I believe I’ve finally found the source white paper that generated all the discussion on targeted assassination by drones.  The paper uses “imminent threat” throughout, and never “immanent threat”, so I’d found bad info.  It also extensively discusses a Supreme Court case (Mathews vs Eldridge) in which the balancing concerns of Due Process and national security threat are to be used to determine the validity of killing an American on foreign soil.
    Much more in that pdf file.  Apologies for my bad info; I thought I’d done enough digging.
    Here’s the link to the white paper that seems to have started most of the controversy: