The War on Terror ushered in a new weapon, drones. The military has been using them for years, but this is the first time they have armed these flying robots and used them to engage targets on a battlefield. This happened without anyone really noticing. It was just another technological advancement only military geeks would find exciting. Something happened that changed everything and made people wonder if they might one day find themselves the target of a drone strike.
Things that grab a person's attention and really get them to stop and take a look at what's going on around them can be odd. Sometimes they are pretty innocuous. Other times they are jarring events that shake a person to their core. It might also be something mundane- business as usual — that just happens in a different enough way to warrant a second look. The "War on Terror," is business as usual alright, but then something out of the ordinary happened; an American citizen died when a drone-fired missile blew up his car — on purpose.
That person was Anwar al-Awalki. An American-born radical Muslim cleric affiliated with al Qaeda and responsible for some vitriolic anti-American rhetoric on the internet. That was until President Obama ordered the CIA to kill him, and kill him the spooks did, with a Predator drone and couple of Hellfire missiles. That was in 2011. A year and a half later, Americans are starting to wonder how much longer until they might find themselves on the wrong end of one of those missile strikes.
Nebulous terms like "enemy combatants," and "imminent threats," currently qualify one for drone strikes, or assassinations, depending on how one looks at it. That's changing, though. Now that Iraq is all but done and Afghanistan is wrapping up, U.S. policy makers must find new ways to take the fight to an enemy that just ignores those problematic international borders. That's something of a misnomer, though, because the president already has a way to get them, he just needs to find a way to legally justify it.
Enter the drone courts. Everyone remembers the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, which essentially allowed the government to listen in on phone calls without telling anyone what was happening. The courts that the government used to authorize warrant-less wiretapping may very well become the template for the New York Times calls "drone courts." This means that the courts will be secret because they will deal with classified information and evidence. Only those with security clearances will be able to access that. Most people won't have any idea the courts are even in session or who is on the list. One need not be Joe McCarthy to think that's scary.
In short, no one really knows what a person has to do to find himself or herself on a drone kill list because those responsible for that list aren't telling. Anyone could end up there if they happen to run afoul of whatever campaign Washington happens to be running. That is truly frightening. How long before drones are used in the War on Drugs — oh, they already are. What about the War on Poverty? Why not use a Predator drone to track down a tax-evader? How about a tax protester? Where is that line and how does anyone figure out where it is when the people that drew won't show anyone? While the lines might not be very clear right now, they better become clearer in the future, or Hellfires might one day rain from the skies on our own backyards.