Drone Strikes in America

Drone Strikes in America

President Obama hosted a Google Hangout recently, and was asked again about the Administration's position on using Predator drones to attack US Citizens, specifically whether he believed he had the authority to do so. His response was enlightening:

LEE DOREN, QUESTION: A lot of people are very concerned that your administration now believes it’s legal to have drone strikes on American citizens, and whether or not that’s specifically allowed with citizens within the United States. And if that’s not true, what will you do to create a legal framework to make American citizens within the United States know that drone strikes cannot be used against American citizens?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well first of all — I think, there has never been a drone used on an American citizen on American soil. And, you know, we respect and have a whole bunch of safeguards in terms of how we conduct counterterrorism operations outside of the United States.
The rules outside of the United States are going to be different than the rules inside the United States, in part because our capacity, for example, to capture a terrorist in the United States are very different than in the foothills or mountains of Afghanistan or Pakistan.
But, what I think is absolutely true is that it is not sufficient for citizens to just take my word for it that we’re doing the right thing. I am the head of the executive branch. And what we’ve done so far is to try to work with Congress on oversight issues. But part of what I’m going to have to work with Congress on is to make sure that whatever it is that we’re providing Congress, that we have mechanisms to also make sure that the public understands what’s going on, what the constraints are, what the legal parameters are, and that’s something that I take very seriously.
I am not somebody who believes that the President has the authority to do whatever he wants, or whatever she wants, whenever they want just under the guise of counterterrorism. There have to be legal checks and balances on it.

Let's break down the President's response, shall we?

  1. The President begins with a classic evasion technique -- turning a question about whether a drone strike can be called on US soil into whether a drone strike has been called.
  2. He states that the rules of how we deal with terrorists outside the US are different than inside the US and that it's easier to capture a terrorist in the US than outside it. What that really means is that it's only because of practical reasons he hasn't used drones in America, not because of any apparent legal or moral barricades.
  3. He says he's working with Congress to make sure the public can understand the legal framework behind these actions. Unfortunately his actions are in direct opposition to his words. A FOIA lawsuit was launched to try to find out what legal rationale exists, if any, for the strikes. Unfortunately the judge sided with the government in the lawsuit, keeping the rationale from seeing the light of day:
    "I can find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the Executive Branch of our Government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws, while keeping their reasons for their conclusion a secret."

    That's really, really bad for us. The government can do anything it likes for any reason it likes, including things which are in direct violation of the Constitution, and all an administration has to say to avoid legal scrutiny of its actions is "because we said so". Do you hear that noise? It's the sound of the US Constitution being shredded and the chains it placed on the Federal government being broken. We are officially living in a totalitarian State.
  4. The President concludes his response with the admission that he believes there should be limitations on his power, it's just that he just doesn't have to tell you what those limitations are. Comforting, isn't it?

Lest we think his statement is an isolated position, or somehow taken out of context, we saw the exact same line of reasoning given by Obama's choice for CIA Director, John Brennan. And there can only one reason why an Administration would keep giving the same evasive answer to the same question.