Americans can now be targeted by drone strikes

Is this a matter of national security infringing on civil liberties and constitutional rights? Or is it simply a sign of the times? Photo: Associated Press

FLORIDA, February 7, 2013 — Earlier this week, a declassified Justice Department memo confirmed that drone strikes are being used to execute United States citizens. This is supposedly necessary to enhance our national security.

Individuals targeted for assassination by drones need not be on the verge of carrying out a terroristic attack. They only have to take part in planning against this country in order to find themselves eligible for a death sentence without trial, but only by the determination of a government official.

This has caused many across the political spectrum to become quite alarmed. Libertarians, civil-libertarians, progressives, and left-wing “peaceniks” alike seem to want answers about such an aggressive drone policy.

According to the memo, “(t)he threat posed by al-Qaida and its associated forces demands a broader concept of imminence in judging when a person continually planning terror attacks presents an imminent threat.”

This seems reasonable enough. Most Americans probably want to see more proactive policies for fighting terrorism.

The memo also notes that “(a) decision maker determining whether an al-Qaida operational leader presents an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States must take into account that certain members of Al-Qaida … are continually plotting attacks against the United States.” In a textbook-moment of stating the obvious, the memo adds that “al-Qaida would engage in such attacks regularly to the extent it were able to do so.”

What sort of precedent does using drones to kill Americans without trial create? How far can the government go to ensure our safety before it begins to undermine our civil liberties and constitutional rights?

The Justice Department has a point when it says, “the U.S. government may not be aware of all al-Qaida plots as they are developing and thus cannot be confident that none is about to occur; and that … the nation may have a limited window of opportunity within which to strike in a manner that both has a high likelihood of success and reduces the probability of American casualties.”

Does this make drone strikes necessary, especially on such a wide scale? What kind of judicial oversight is being supplied? What if the court system has questions to present?

The memo holds that “(u)nder the circumstances described in this paper, there exists no appropriate judicial forum to evaluate these constitutional considerations. It is well established that ‘matters intimately related to foreign policy, and national security are rarely proper subjects for judicial intervention,’” which sums up the government position in a succinct fashion.

There can be little doubt that the drone program is dangerous. After all, when a man’s death warrant can be signed by anonymous government officials without charges of a capital crime even being brought to court, there is cause for concern.

We live in extraordinarily challenging times. The world is changing at the speed of light and thought. If drone strikes, even of this magnitude, are required to stop unimaginable horror from taking place, then perhaps we can understand, but understanding, should we condone?

As Eric Holder noted last year, the Constitution provides for due process under the law, but nothing is mentioned about due process under the courts. As chilling as that is, it is a clear position supported by clear logic. But is it right?

The idea of striking citizens with drones demands a hearing in court. If the program has not resulted in any substantial progress over the next year, it should be ended, but even if it has produced results, we should at the very least subject it to judicial examination in our courts of law.

That sounds like a path that Americas left, right and center can agree on.  

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Joseph Cotto

Joseph F. Cotto is a social journalist by trade and student of history by lifestyle choice. He hails from central Florida, writing about political, economic, and social issues of the day. In the past, he was a contributor to Blogcritics Magazine, among other publications. He is currently at work on a book about American society.

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