Shortly after 9/11, my best friend told me that he thought we should kill Osama bin Laden without a trial. I silently objected, thinking that this would be un-American and run contrary to our values. When SEAL Team 6 killed bin Laden, I blindly approved of President Obama’s decision to assassinate him, despite my strong, vocal disapproval of other cornerstones of the Bush-Obama foreign policy, such as the civilian-massacring drone program. It appears that while I’ve become more informed on U.S. foreign policy since I was 12, I’ve also intellectually regressed, just as our country also has in the past 12 years.
In the most recent news pertaining to the war on terror, NBC has obtained a leaked memo from the Department of Justice, which details the policies the Obama administration uses to determine who they assassinate via drone strikes. This is presumably the memo that federal district court Judge Colleen McMahon denied the New York Times and ACLU after a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on the grounds that she was caught in a “catch-22.” The contents of this white paper should not come as a surprise, as they merely confirm what we already know about the Obama administration’s harrowing, yet largely ignored, drone program.
In response to the leaked memo, the The New York Times noted the existence of a secret military base in Saudi Arabia that the U.S. used to launch drones into Yemen. This report violated an informal arrangement wherein mainstream media outlets did not report on the base at the request of the Obama administration over national security concerns. In other words, the corporate-controlled media knew about a base where the U.S. conducted possibly illegal military operations, but failed to report on it for approximately two and a half years.
Essentially, the white paper unconstitutionally determines that that the president, military, and CIA have the right to extrajudicially kill American citizens, such as Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan. Regardless of citizenship, the paper also gives the government the right to assassinate senior level Al-Qaeda operatives or “associated forces,” even if they’re not actively planning an attack on the U.S.
Since killing someone who is attacking you is not a crime, but rather self-defense, an attack on “terrorists” is an act of self-defense. Yet this logic is internally inconsistent because the white paper authorizes the assassinations of those not planning attacks. It uses the broad, abstract concepts of global self-defense to refute the criticism that targeted drone strikes are illegal assassinations. The document conveniently ignores the Bill of Rights and its application to individual liberties that the government cannot infringe on.
The grand irony of all this is that the Obama administration’s use of drones violates the low standards that it sets for itself in the white paper. The memo specifies that it may only target senior operatives, but the drone program consistently targets a greater amount of low level militants.
Furthermore, the administration casually writes off innocent casualties as collateral damage, despite the fact that hundreds of innocent civilians, including many children, have been killed, including another American citizen, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, the 16 year-old son of Anwar al-Awlaki. In order to make the number of civilian deaths look less significant, the administration, classifies all adult males as “militants,” regardless of guilt or innocence. Meanwhile, the U.S. media unquestioningly trumpets these misleading reports by quoting unnamed administration officials.
If these sorts of absurd legal and linguistic gymnastics sound familiar, it’s because they are the same tactics the Bush administration used to justify the USA PATRIOT Act, extraordinary renditions, and torture. It is the ugly logic of the war on terror. If the U.S. is perpetually at war, then the government is allowed to do anything in the name of “national security,” regardless of its constitutionality or legality. Make no mistake; Obama is as much a proponent of civil rights violations and illegal international operations as George W. Bush was. In the Bush years, Democrats tried to use the FOIA to reveal similar documents justifying the use of torture, which also contained legally questionable, sketchy logic. Yet Democrats and self-proclaimed “liberals” conveniently ignore, and at times openly embrace, Obama’s drone abuses.
This is not to say the assassination of non-citizens is legitimate either. The U.S. government certainly has an obligation to defend itself and its citizens, but in order to live congruently with our ideals, we must extend these same rights to others and reject the notion that we are perpetually at war. We must stop killing innocents, thereby radicalizing their friends and family, and creating anti-U.S. sentiment. We cannot be a nation of vigilantes callous to the human cost of our policies, and the self-fulfilling prophecies they create.