Should the American government be allowed to sanction a drone strike against one of its own citizens? It is a serious and potentially hazardous debate that could change the way we think about delivering justice in this country. The inception of the unmanned military drone, an apparatus with enough firepower to level a house and any of the occupants inside, has led to a whole new era of executions from the sky, a notion previously confined to the science fiction genre.
But now it is a reality, as well as a public debate, a debate that President Obama reluctantly embraced when he imposed new restrictions on drone operations last May, citing public concern over the program. The moral hazard of extra-judicial executions of foreign-born terrorists has now culminated in this–the possibility of legalizing the authorization of a U.S. drone strike against one of its own citizens.
While the legal boundaries for such a strike are unclear, the Obama administration seemed to toe that line back in September 2011 by carrying out a strike against an American citizen overseas. The CIA-piloted drone that killed Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen was a targeted attack on the American-born citizen turned jihadist. While all of this was going on, officials were less than transparent about their operation.
This time around, however, a public conversation is being held. This time, it is practically sponsored by the government, discussing whether the United States should carry out another strike against one of its own citizens.
The CIA, which, up until now, has handled most of the drone program, has carried out multiple assassinations over its tenure as one of America’s largest spy agencies. From General Ahmed Dlimi of Morocco in 1983, to Patrice Lumumba of the Congo in 1960, assassinations have been a less than favorable solution for the agency when matters get out of hand and threaten American interests. This is why this drone debate is so important.
Should we, as American citizens, allow our government to not only assassinate “enemies” of the state abroad, but publicly debate it and sanction such actions against American-born enemies of the state?
Proponents of extra-judicial drone strikes say that such measures have allowed American officials to keep soldiers out of harm’s way, while arguing at the same time that drone strikes have ended the reign of many leaders of terrorist organizations who are simply too dangerous or elusive to catch.
Republican Mike Rogers of Michigan says that drone strikes are the one thing that ensures America’s enemies are dealt with, going as far as lauding President Obama for his drone restrictions last May: “Individuals who would have been previously removed from the battlefield by U.S. counterterrorism operations for attacking or plotting to attack U.S. interests remain free because of self-imposed red tape.”
Opponents of the drone program say the extra-judicial killing of foreign-born terrorists is bad enough, and violates basic human rights. Opponents now say that America’s sanctioning of drone strikes against American-born citizens throws out the concept of human rights entirely, and could lead to an era where extra-judicial killings by drone strikes could be used at home as a precautionary measure against individuals deemed “too dangerous to catch.”
In regard to the public debate raging over the drone strike against Anwar al-Awlaki , details are still murky, which officials say is deliberate in order to protect the operation. Officials have said, however, that the target poses a direct threat to Americans, and must be dealt with promptly.
The debate continues on whether the American government should drone strike one of its own citizens to “deal” with pending threats.
The other side of this debate is, are we Americans so desensitized to the execution by drone strike method that we are now publicly toying with the idea of attacking our own citizens? You decide.
Commentary by John Amaruso