And why we should all be wary of U.S. drone policy
By Jason Cox
Imagine for a moment that you are sitting in a café in some exotic locale; London, Paris, maybe Rome. You’re sipping your cappuccino, taking in your surroundings, and in the blink of an eye, it all ends in a fiery explosion. As the event is reported in the media, it turns out the U.S. government has singled out you, an American citizen, for assassination under suspicion of terrorism. You’ve been given no trial, and no fair hearing. A judge, in complete secrecy, under the whim of the President, has given approval for your death. To top it off, say your friends have joined you on this fatal trip and were caught in the blast. If they were adult males, that same media report will list them as terrorists, and credible targets for their association with you.
While this scenario may seem to be the element of fiction, according to rules set up by the secret FISA court, and the Justice Department, it is current U.S. policy in regards to assassination by drone. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) recently rose to speak against the nomination of David Barron to the First Circuit Court of Appeals, the author of the secret memo authorizing such assassinations. Speaking for half an hour, echoing his nearly 13-hour filibuster of John Brennan’s nomination to be CIA Director, Sen. Paul decried the current system as an affront to the Constitutional protections of due process. Noting several important aspects of what the Constitution is meant to protect, the Senator is correct in identifying the potential for abuse, and the danger this can pose to every single American citizen.
As he states, the Constitution’s protections of free speech, due process, and general privacy are not meant to protect those that have popular opinions. Just the opposite, these are for those that hold unpopular political beliefs, are part of unpopular religious minorities, and yes, even people that vocally support terrorism. People that society already accepts do not need these protections, but those that are subject to the excesses of mob mentality definitely do. The application of this policy is that so long as the secret FISA court and some legal minds approve the killing, it is somehow classified as due process.
This affects every single American citizen. If you decide to take a trip overseas, and you hold opinions counter to those of the administration in power, they can decide with next to no accountability that you are a threat, and you can be dispatched with no warning. Even if we are almost certain that someone is guilty, they must still be afforded their right as an American citizen to a trial, be it in person, or in absentia.
The primary real life example of this is the case of Anwar al-Awlaki, an Islamic cleric, and American citizen, who was assassinated in a drone strike in Yemen on September 30th, 2011. Anwar al-Awlaki is believed to have inspired a number of terror attacks, including the shooting at Fort Hood, the underwear bombing, the Times Square bombing, and had connections with the 9/11 hijackers. It can probably be assumed that he was indeed responsible for much of what he was charged with, but at the time of his death, there was no evidence he was actively engaged in attacking Americans, and as a result efforts should have been made to either capture him, or try him in absentia.
The most troubling aspect of this story was not Anwar al-Awlaki’s own assassination, but that of his 16 year old son two weeks later. Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was killed by a CIA drone strike while sitting at a café in Yemen. His son, also an American citizen, was not engaged in terrorism, and underage, but was still targeted for assassination. When the media asked Robert Gibbs, then the Press Secretary for the Obama administration about his killing, he shockingly responded that he should have had a more responsible father. If we do not provide the worst among us the protections we afford to the citizens we like, then we are truly not living up to our principles.
David Barron’s nomination was approved almost completely along party lines. As Senator Paul noted in his speech on the Senate floor, many of those Senators that approved the nomination fought tirelessly against the Bush administration over the treatment of American citizens at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. The fact that they no longer stand up to the Executive when it is their own party in power, particularly as the issue has moved from unlawful detention and torture of American citizens, to arbitrary assassination, is a sad testament to the state of partisan politics.
The Constitution is not simply a set of guidelines. The rights included within serve to protect us from the excesses of the masses and our own government, and cannot just be picked and tossed aside at a whim. Every American, no matter how despicable or just they might be, must be afforded the same rights and protections of their fellows, as engrained in the Bill of Rights. The judiciary is meant to defend the public against the actions of the executive and legislature. If our leaders are not held accountable for appointing justices that will not protect us, then any citizen could be the next slated for a fiery end during their morning coffee.