As you know, my husband used to blog for Free Air and Water with his friend Jon–they really need to bring that back. Let’s start a petition! Jon is a favorite of mine to read when it comes to–well, anything he writes about. So, I thought I would do us all a favor and ask him to write a guest article for The Outside Lane. I asked Jon to write about the Obama Administration’s war policy, drone strikes in particular. I am distressed by the casual dismissal of civilian life as acceptable collateral damage, and truly concerned with indefinite detention of citizens.
This isn’t your usual Lip Gloss blog from me, but it is extremely important information. Neither Jon, nor I will tell you how to vote, how we think you should vote, and I won’t tell you how I am voting (other than to say, “Ugh! Is this all I have to choose from?!”), but as Jon said, no matter which party or platform you support: “The power you trust ‘your guy’ with will be exercised by the other guy.” Be informed about how we are treating innocents during wartime, and how we are gearing up to treat our own citizens.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Jon:
Since September 11th, 2001, the United States government has launched at least 330 drone strikes on Pakistan and at least 28 in Yemen. The uncertainty exists because this program, despite being commonly known, remains officially secret. These drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), are relatively new and raise a number of troubling questions. The manner in which they are employed raises many more.
Before I begin, let me say that I am deliberately starting with the basics and am not trying to condescend to anyone. Lane has been kind enough to offer me her audience and I do not mean to talk down to you, however, this issue is so important that I want to be certain I am as clear as I can be and that everyone, whatever their previous level of engagement with this issue, is able to understand the issue and the arguments I am making.
Much has been said about drones and their capacity for “remote controlled death.” In itself this is hardly new; artillery crews have been bringing death from afar for centuries. However, these aircraft are able to remain airborne for long periods, are relatively unobtrusive, are inexpensive compared to conventional aircraft, and most importantly do not put American pilots at risk. They are not, in Yemen and Pakistan, being employed in lieu of artillery or conventional aircraft. Their greater precision relative to artillery and conventional airstrikes makes them more tolerable for the Yemeni and Pakistani governments, which see the targets of these strikes as a common enemy. If drones did not exist or were not employed, we would not be shelling or bombing Pakistan and Yemen; we simply would not be engaged in these countries. Therefore, the common argument that these strikes are “better” because they “spare” civilians is fallacious.
Further, how many civilians have been killed? Despite claims of certainty, we simply do not know. Whenever you hear administration officials or media personalities claiming that these strikes have killed some vanishingly small number of civilians, remember that the administration officially classifies all dead males as militants unless proven otherwise. That is to say, if a drone strike kills fifteen men, all fifteen are classed militants unless they are conclusively proven not to be. They are guilty until proven innocent, and no effort is made to prove them innocent. Considering that these societies often strictly segregate men and women, they feature few mixed gatherings, and thus these strikes- usually targeted on a man- will generate large numbers of male casualties, casualties that are all described, by the administration and by the compliant media, as “militants.” The unfortunate truth is that we simply have no idea how many innocents have been killed in these attacks.
The use of drones to expand the battlefield and the near-certainty that they are killing more innocents than we are told are in themselves troubling enough. However, the Obama administration has expanded their use in another, extremely troubling way- these drones have been used to carry out the extrajudicial killing of American citizens.
Here I want to digress into history. The idea that a government cannot put citizens to death without trial is an extremely old one. It is not a modern notion. It is not a right created by the ACLU in litigation before the Supreme Court. It was not dreamed up by hippies, left-wingers, or bleeding hearts. It dates back, in the West, to those sternest of stern, hard men, the Romans, who exiled Cicero for executing rebels without trial upon the advice of the Senate. It was first claimed in the Anglo-Saxon world not by starry-eyed dreamers but by the English barons at Runnymede in 1215, who in the Magna Carta asserted that “no free man shall be taken, imprisoned, or in any other way destroyed except by the lawful judgment of his peers.” In its modern form, as the writ of habeas corpus (Latin for “you shall present the body”), it dates to 1640, when the English Parliament, outraged by King Charles I ordering the imprisonment and execution of Englishmen from his secret Star Chamber, passed the Habeas Corpus Act.
The right to free from imprisonment and execution without trial is a right older and more fundamental than freedom of speech, freedom of religion, or freedom from slavery. It antedates by centuries such basic notions as women’s suffrage and the abolition of serfdom. And it is under attack.
The Obama administration has established a new Star Chamber and called it due process. Targets for drone strikes are chosen in secret meetings of administration officials, with the final decision resting with the President himself. So far, this Star Chamber has ordered the execution of Anwar al-Awlaki and, in a separate attack, his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki. This man and his son were both American citizens, and they were both executed by the American government without trial and without even the opportunity for trial. Neither was ever indicted. The elder al-Awlaki created a number of videos for YouTube and authored a number of articles calling for jihad against the United States government. The younger was nothing but his father’s son. However, what is important to keep in mind is that our government is not supposed to be permitted to kill citizens without trial, whatever henious crimes they are accused of. We try unrepentant child molesters, confessed serial killers, armed robbers caught on camera.
Perhaps the objection will be made that these citizens were beyond the reach of the American government. First, this claim is demonstrably false by the fact of their execution. Second, other criminals beyond the reach of our government are not summarily executed. Roman Polanski, accused of the oral, anal and vaginal rape of a young girl, has not been executed by drone. Instead the legal forms are observed, his extradition requested, and when denied, statements are issued. Perhaps attempting the capture of the al-Awlakis would have risked the lives of American soldiers. We routinely risk the lives of American policemen who attempt to apprehend armed and dangerous suspects; we do not simply rocket the house we believe the suspects to be in. We do this because these legal forms are not mere formalities; they are the very foundation of liberty, of what it means to be free men and women. If our government can execute at will, we have lost our freedom and exist only on the sufferance of whoever the President happens to be.
Perhaps you are saying, “So what? I’m not a terrorist nor do I associate with terrorists, and besides, it was only two people.” It is important to remember the tremendous significance of precedents in our system. These executions, if allowed to go unchallenged and unpunished, will establish ordering the deaths of citizens as one of the powers of the President provided he thinks very hard about it and talks to a number of his appointed lackeys about it first.
Perhaps you trust President Obama with this power. That has been the response of certain administration lickspittles to concerns about extraconstitutional activities by the President. However, even if you have absolute faith in Obama and the Democratic Party, remember that just eight short years ago this country re-elected George W. Bush and will no doubt elect another Republican president before the decade is out. The power you trust “your guy” with will be exercised by the other guy, and having defended their existence now, you will not have much ground to stand on then.
So what can you do now? At this point, the most important thing is spreading awareness. I would like to thank Lane for giving me this forum and if you, having read this essay of mine share my concern for the ancient right of free men and women to be free from the threat of execution without trial, feel free to share it further or to write your own. Discuss these attacks with your friends and family and consider them before you cast your vote or advocate for a particular candidate in November. I will refrain from advising you how to vote, but you should be aware that both major party candidates support these drone strikes as well as the extrajudicial killing of American citizens. Once the right to a trial is lost, it will be very difficult to win back, and we are at the point of losing it if we do not stand up and defend it.