by Clarence Page
If you really want Washington's chattering classes to pay attention to something, an old saying goes, leak it to the media.
Whoever leaked the
Drones aren't the problem. As tools of war they're a lot less likely than traditional bombing to kill innocent civilians. They avoid the hazards of putting American boots on the ground. As retired Marine Gen. Stephen A. Cheney, who heads a defense-oriented think tank, put it, "Any time you can use a drone instead of using a Marine, I think it's a good thing."
Most other Americans love drones, too, judging by the polls. An overwhelming 83 percent in a Feb. 8
Targeting our fellow Americans has been a very real issue since September 2011, when a drone strike in Yemen killed Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, two al-Qaida operatives and U.S. citizens. Another strike two weeks later killed six others, including Awlaki's 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, another American.
Although none had been formally charged with any crimes by the U.S. government, it's pretty clear that Awlaki had it coming. The American-born cleric was believed to be directly involved in the infamous "underwear bomber" plot, among others. With their English skills, intelligence experts say, he and Khan, an Internet publisher and propagandist, provided important inspirational voices to potential recruits in the West.
There probably would be fewer questions about their rights to due process if we were in a conventional declared war. But the post-Sept. 11 counterterror war often has found itself on shaky legal ground.
I objected when the Bush administration appeared to stretch reasonable legal and moral limits on torture, detentions, renditions and targeted killings -- and I object just as strenuously to President Barack Obama administration dancing around the seriousness of this issue. He's a former constitutional law teacher. He should know better.
That debate has stirred up with a new fury after
We sort of knew that already. Atty. Gen. Eric Holder endorsed the constitutionality of targeted killings of Americans in a speech at
Neither does the memo disclosed by
And last May,
But the confidential white paper goes farther than Holder's and Brennan's statements. For example, it "does not require ... clear evidence that a specific attack ... will take place in the immediate future."
Instead, it says, an "informed, high-level" official of our government may determine that the targeted American has been "recently" involved in "activities" that pose a threat, and capture is "infeasible" -- although the memo does not define "recently" or "activities."
The white paper, in short, invites more questions than it answers.
If so, the authority should be granted broadly enough to respond to strike requests without waiting for court approval, yet narrowly enough to avoid taking out the Bill of Rights as collateral damage.
Obama's License to Kill by Drone | Politics