Something is rotten in President Barack Obama’s classified, programmatic use of predator drones to target suspected international terrorists for death anywhere on the planet.
The targeting intelligence is suspect.
The program is secret, lawless, and unaccountable to Congress, the Supreme Court, and the American people.
The killings pivot on a principle that will haunt the United States in the future as predator drone capability spreads to China, Russia or otherwise.
And the program is compounding rather than diminishing the international terrorist threat against the United States by creating more revenge-motivated terrorists than are being killing; and, by serving as a calling card for international terrorist recruitment. That explains why high level military and intelligence officials in the Obama administration concede that 14 years after 9/11 the United States is more imperiled by international terrorism than ever before.
Depend upon it. If the predator drone program were suspended for six months on a trial basis, international terrorism in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia aimed at the United States would contract. The foundation would be laid for terminating the entire program and making the United States safer.
President Obama volunteered last Thursday that the United States had unintentionally killed a United States hostage in Pakistan, Warren Weinstein, along with Italian hostage, Giovani Lo Porto, because of faulty intelligence.
That error is assuredly but the tip of the iceberg. Private organizations estimate the number of innocent civilians killed by the predator drone program in the hundreds or thousands. President Obama refuses to provide an accounting, but incredibly maintains that only a handful of civilians have died.
As a hammer perceives everything as a nail, counter-terrorism analysts are inclined to view every bearded Muslim in the Middle East within a mile of an Al Qaeda suspect as an international terrorist. Moreover, their career incentives are to kill too many rather than too few. None has ever been disciplined for complicity in predator drone killings of innocent civilians in pursuit of suspected international terrorists.
Americans and their government have come to fear all Muslims after 9/11 much as they feared Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor. Fear gives birth to extreme measures heedless of due process. On the heels of Pearl Harbor, Theodore Seuss Geisel, later known as “Dr. Seuss,” drew a cartoon for a liberal New York City newspaper featuring bucktoothed, squinty-eyed Japanese along the West Coast poised to receive dynamite packs at a stand labeled “Honorable Fifth Column.” The caption read, “Waiting for the signal from home.” Concentration camps for 120,000 Japanese American citizens or permanent residents followed.
Congressional oversight of the predator drone program is comical. Members are dependent on the honesty of the intelligence community to reveal civilian deaths despite its well earned reputation for mendacity. Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, lied to the Senate Intelligence Committee in denying the NSA was collecting data on millions of Americans. The Committee concluded that the CIA lied about the use and effectiveness of torture in the interrogation of Al Qaeda suspects. Accordingly, former Committee Chairperson Sen. Dianne Feinstein was asked in a meeting with reporters in 2013 why she was willing to trust the CIA over the drone program when she had accused it of lying to her over torture. Ms. Feinstein retorted: “That’s a good question, actually.” Was she born yesterday?
President Obama’s invocation of the state secrets doctrine has foreclosed any judicial examination of predator drone killings to fill the gap left by congressional non-feasance.
The secrecy that shields the program from outside vetting guarantees abuses or chronic mistakes. That is the lesson of Church Committee hearings “To Study Government Operations With Respect to Intelligence Activities.” Among other things, they disclosed CIA assassination attempts and massive illegal spying by the intelligence community.
The predator drone program mocks constitutional due process. It empowers the President to play prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner to kill any American citizen he decrees based on secret evidence is an imminent danger to the national security. The Constitution’s architects assailed such a combination of powers as the very definition of tyranny.
President Obama claims authority to transgress the sovereignty of all other nations through the use of predator drones to kill any person within their boundaries he decrees is an international terrorist threat. Under international law principles established by the post-World War II Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals, however, repeated bombings or predator drone killings within the territory of a foreign country not in response to an actual or imminent attack constitutes the crime of aggression. And what will happen when Russia or China acquire predator drone capabilities? Following the United States precedent, they will be authorized to employ predator drones to kill persons in the United States whom they declare are terrorists for supporting Chechen or Tibetan independence, respectively.
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, President Obama has killed more than 2,400 suspected international terrorists. But the result has not diminished international terrorism any more than did the killing of Osama bin Laden. Indeed, the initial terrorism menace featuring Al Qaeda has grown more acute with the predator drone program. Witness the proliferation of new or rejuvenated terrorist organizations, including ISIS, Boko Haram, Taliban, the Al-Nusra Front, Al-Shabab, Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula, and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Somalia are more convulsed than ever with no end in sight.
In sum, the predator drone program is a cure worse than the disease. When United States District Judge Miriam Cedarbaum asked convicted Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad why he would risk killing innocent children, he responded: “Well, the drone hits in Afghanistan and Iraq, they don’t see children, they don’t see anybody. They kill women, children, they kill everybody. It’s a war, and in war, they kill people. They’re killing all Muslims.”
For more information on Bruce Fein, visit, BruceFeinlaw.