You've Come A Long Way Baby (Drone Strike Edition)

Obama Secretary of State John Kerry, in his famous Winter Solider remarks to Congress about the Vietnam War:

... it seems the Government of this country is more concerned with the legality of where men sleep than it is with the legality of where they drop bombs.

Obama Spokeman Jay Carney, today:

these [drone] strikes are legal, they are ethical, and they are wise

Remember, Jay Carney is talking about the President's claimed right to bomb US citizens, as well as anyone else he thinks (but can't necessarily prove in a court) might kind of sort of have something to do with a terrorist group.  And civilian casualties, so much a part of Kerry's concerns back in the 1970's?  They are just asking for it.

Anyway, I have not had a chance to digest the Administration's white paper on targeted killing (I can't even believe I am writing that phrase -- our Constitution specifically banned bills of attainder but now the executive claims the ability to kill at whim).  Jacob Sullum has some thoughts at the link.  I will write more if and when I have a chance to read it, but I am sure I will find it horrifying.



  1. mole1:

    "our Constitution specifically banned bills of attainder but now the executive claims the ability to kill at whim"

    This is true, but there is a continuum between war and peace. For example, if during WWII a US citizen were observed multiple times in a Nazi military uniform being awarded medals for bravery by Hitler himself, and was also observed on other occasions on the battlefield fighting against allied troops, I think even you would concede that he is a member of the enemy's military and could be shot on sight on the orders of the president. Members of non-state, but organized, armed forces have a status that is much more difficult to state plainly, but it isn't obvious that ordering them shot is a bill of attainder. This is a hard problem.

  2. HenryBowman419:

    @mole1: I disagree that it's a hard problem. Drones are used to kill someone without their being given an opportunity to surrender. The drone strikes are overkill in the sense that typically many others (some presumed guilty, some simply innocent) are killed, as well. It's similar to using 105mm artillery to bombard houses that can't shoot back.

    What is almost inevitable is that such drone strikes, currently used overseas, will migrate to the U.S., where the military and the cops will use them to kill Americans that they simply don't like.

  3. john mcginnis:

    The presumption of guilt and execution in your scenario is that of a spy. Such provisions are not covered in the Geneva accords. Application of bill of attainder would not be applied.

  4. john mcginnis:

    The real danger of the drone strikes, even the policy established by Bush on striking in foreign lands against terror has a death sentence at the end of it. It seems all well and good when you're the nation on top and doing the droning. But nations, like people, never stay on top forever. It would not be inconceivable that at some future time Red China would be launching drone strikes on US territory. The old adage `What goes around, comes around` has real world application.

  5. randian:

    What's different in this case is that the President is talking about drone strikes on US soil, against civilians.

  6. bigmaq1980:

    Where's the MSM and Democrats outrage over this? ....(crickets)...

    Had this been Bush, coverage would be 24/7!

    This is a venture into some serious Constitutional is far from "black and white". I'm no Constitutional expert, but there does seem to be something missing.

    What are the limiting principles? Who gets to decide and what is the standard of proof? At what point does this policy go too far, when it gets used on American soil?

    These and other "hard questions" need to be asked and answered, but the very people/organizations who should be challenging the government seem to overwhelmingly be playing favorites - a real tragedy for our society!

    This "silence" for "favorites" will have far wider damage before domestic drone raids occur, I'm afraid.

  7. bigmaq1980:

    FYI...Purpose for the U.S. Bill of Attainder law... in Wiki:

    "Within the U.S. Constitution, the clauses forbidding attainder laws serve two purposes.

    First, they reinforced the separation of powers, by forbidding the legislature to perform judicial or executive functions—since the outcome of any such acts of legislature would of necessity take the form of a bill of attainder.

    Second, they embody the concept of due process, which was partially reinforced by the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution."

    Also note that:

    "The constitution of every State also expressly forbids bills of attainder."

  8. norse:

    In times of war, all is fair. The real problem is that we insist that we're in a "war" on terror. Terror is invading us, an every day, thousands of citizens in our border fall to it. Uhm...

  9. LarryGross:

    Did Bush use Drones? I know he did tell SCOTUS they had no jurisdiction over holding people incognito without charges.. after being kidnapped and tortured in other countries.

    but the bigger question might be this. In a conventional war - it is "ok" to kill an enemy combatant but "where"?

    if it is on the "field of battle" what is that definition especially in an asymmetrical global war?

    If the CIA had a sniper take out a top terror suspect - would that be any different than sending a drone?

  10. LarryGross:

    hmmm.. what gives law enforcement the right to use "deadly force", to kill someone without charges or a trial?

  11. Craig L:

    On the subject of Kerry, someone should ask him if it would have been OK for LBJ to send drones, instead of Kerry himself (supposedly), into Cambodia in 1968.