President Obama argued that he should be trusted with the (in the US at least) nearly unprecedented power to order anyone he wants killed -- military or civilian, American or foreign-born -- sending a drone after them. He claimed to have this really detailed and careful process -- heck, they even had a spreadsheet.
Most of us expressed skepticism, and several folks in the know have expressed fear that, as with most such powers, its use has been creeping from an extraordinary measure against uniquely qualified targets to an almost casual use against rank and file targets. Turns out this fear was justified:
The CIA did not always know who it was targeting and killing in drone strikes in Pakistan over a 14-month period, an NBC News review of classified intelligence reports shows.
About one of every four of those killed by drones in Pakistan between Sept. 3, 2010, and Oct. 30, 2011, were classified as "other militants,” the documents detail. The “other militants” label was used when the CIA could not determine the affiliation of those killed, prompting questions about how the agency could conclude they were a threat to U.S. national security.
The uncertainty appears to arise from the use of so-called “signature” strikes to eliminate suspected terrorists -- picking targets based in part on their behavior and associates. A former White House official said the U.S. sometimes executes people based on “circumstantial evidence.”
Not sure this even requires further comment.
For four years, Mr. Obama has benefited at least in part from the reluctance of Mr. Bush’s most virulent critics to criticize a Democratic president. Some liberals acknowledged in recent days that they were willing to accept policies they once would have deplored as long as they were in Mr. Obama’s hands, not Mr. Bush’s.
“We trust the president,” former Gov. Jennifer Granholm of Michigan said on Current TV. “And if this was Bush, I think that we would all be more up in arms because we wouldn’t trust that he would strike in a very targeted way and try to minimize damage rather than contain collateral damage.”
Dear Ms. Granholm, I have a clue for you: You have allowed the precedent to be set, which means everyone in the future who occupies the White House will claim this same power, whether you trust them or not. I personally think you are insane to have some special trust that Obama is minimizing collateral damage, particularly given his Orwellian refusal to acknowledge innocent deaths as innocent. What is he doing, steering the drones himself? But it is more insane to give the government power solely because the person who occupies the White House this micro-second is someone in whom you have particular faith. What happens in the next micro-second? Sorry, doesn't matter, it will be too late.
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.