“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” — Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVS), also known as drones, are aircraft either controlled by ‘pilots’ from the ground or increasingly, autonomously following a pre-programmed mission. (While there are dozens of different types of drones, they basically fall into two categories: those that are used for reconnaissance and surveillance purposes and those that are armed with missiles and bombs.
The use of drones has grown quickly in recent years because unlike manned aircraft they can stay aloft for many hours (Zephyr a British drone under development has just broken the world record by flying for over 82 hours nonstop); they are much cheaper than military aircraft (about $4 million a copy) and they are flown remotely so there is no danger to the flight crew.
While the British and US Reaper and Predator drones are physically in Afghanistan and Iraq, control is via satellite from Nellis and Creech USAF base outside Las Vegas, Nevada. Ground crews launch drones from the conflict zone, then operation is handed over to controllers at video screens in specially designed trailers in the Nevada desert. One person ‘flies’ the drone, another operates and monitors the cameras and sensors, while a third person is in contact with the “customers”, ground troops and commanders in the war zone. While armed drones were first used in the Balkans war, their use has dramatically escalated in Afghanistan, Iraq and in the CIA’s undeclared war in Pakistan.
The US has two separate ‘squadron’ of armed drones – one run by the US Air Force and one run by the CIA. Using drones, the USAF Air Force has increased the number of combat air patrols it can fly by 600 percent over the past six years; indeed at any time there are at least 36 American armed UAVS over Afghanistan and Iraq. It plans to increase this number to 50 by 2011. Former CIA Director Leon Panetta has recently said that drones are “the only game in town.” The CIA have been using drones in Pakistan and other countries to assassinate “terrorist leaders.” While this program was initiated by the Bush Administration, it has increased under Obama and there have been 41 known drone strikes in Pakistan since Obama became President. Analysis by The Brookings Institution on drone attacks in Pakistan has shown that for every militant leader killed, 10 civilians also have died.
The UN’s Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston, has said that the use of drones is not combat as much as ‘targeted killing’. He has repeatedly tried to get the US to explain how they justify the use of drones to target and kill individuals under international law. The US has so far refused to do so. In a report to the UN he has said the US government (and by implication the UK government) “should specify the bases for decisions to kill rather than capture particular individuals and should make public the number of civilians killed as a result of drone attacks, and the measures in place to prevent such casualties”.
A further question is the extent to which operators become trigger happy with remote controlled armaments, situated as they are in complete safety, distant from the conflict zone. Keith Shurtleff, an army chaplain and ethics instructor at Fort Jackson, South Carolina worries “that as war becomes safer and easier, as soldiers are removed from the horrors of war and see the enemy not as humans but as blips on a screen, there is very real danger of losing the deterrent that such horrors provide.” This is becoming a real life computer war game where its not simulation, but actually remote assassination.
The most publicly known instance of assassination was on September 30, 2011, in northern Yemen's al-Jawf province, when two Predator drones, based out of a secret CIA Base in Saudi Arabia, fired Hellfire missiles at a vehicle containing Anwar al-Aulaqi and three other suspected al-Qaeda members. A witness said the group had stopped to eat breakfast while traveling to Ma'rib Governorate. A Predator drone was spotted by the group, which then tried to flee in the vehicle. According to U.S. sources, the strike was carried out by Joint Special Operations Command, under the direction of the CIA. U.S. President Barack Obama said:
“The death of Awlaki is a major blow to Al-Qaeda's most active operational affiliate. He took the lead in planning and directing efforts to murder innocent Americans and he repeatedly called on individuals in the United States and around the globe to kill innocent men, women and children to advance a murderous agenda. [The strike] is further proof that Al-Qaeda and its affiliates will find no safe haven anywhere in the world.”
What makes this strike different than other strikes against known or suspected terrorist is that Anwar al-Aulaqi was an American citizen. Al-Aulaqi was born in 1971 in New Mexico in the United States, where his father was doing graduate studies. In 1978, when he was seven years old, he returned with his family to Yemen. He lived in Yemen for 11 years, where he studied at Azal Modern School.
In 1991 Al-Aulaqi returned to the U.S state of Colorado to attend college. He earned a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Colorado State University (1994), where he was president of the Muslim Student Association. He attended the university on a foreign student visa and a government scholarship from Yemen, apparently by claiming to be born in that country, according to a former U.S. security agent. He spent a summer of his college years training with the Afghan Mujahideen.
Al-Aulaqi also studied Education Leadership at San Diego State University, though he never completed his degree there. He worked on a Doctorate degree in Human Resource Development at George Washington University Graduate School of Education & Human Development from January to December 2001.
Fort Hood shootings suspect Nidal Malik Hasan was investigated by the FBI after intelligence agencies intercepted at least 18 e-mails between him and al-Aulaqi between December 2008 and June 2009. Even before the contents of the e-mails were revealed, terrorism expert Jarret Brachman said that Hasan's contacts with al-Aulaqi should have raised "huge red flags". According to Brachman, al-Aulaqi is a major influence on radical English-speaking Jihadis internationally. The Wall Street Journal reported that "There is no indication Mr. Awlaki played a direct role in any of the attacks, and he has never been indicted in the U.S."
The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states:
“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.”
Obviously Al-Aulaqi was denied both his Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights when that Hellfire missile blew him and Samir Khan, an American born in Saudi Arabia, who was editor of al-Qaeda's English-language web magazine Inspire, to smithereens
Blogger and current columnist for The Guardian, Glenn Greenwald, argued that killing Aulaqi violated his First Amendment right of free speech and doing so outside of a criminal proceeding violated the Constitution's due process clause. He mentioned doubt among Yemenese experts about Aulaqi's role in Al Qaida, and called United States government accusations against him unverified and lacking in evidence.
Another American critic of the War on Terror Paul Craig Roberts wrote Aulaqi gave "sermons critical of Washington’s indiscriminate assaults on Muslim peoples" who "told Muslims that they did not have to passively accept American aggression." He called the operation "The Day America Died" as the U.S. lacked evidence either Aulaqi or Khan were real threats or Al Qaeda operatives.
One might make a case using the line in the Fifth Amendment that states:
“..except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger”
This, however, might be a stretch as we have not declared war on anyone. During WWII there were German-Americans who were born in the United States of German parents and returned to Germany to fight with the German forces. Our soldiers did not ask the citizenship of enemy soldiers when they encountered them on the battlefield — they simply killed them. But, this was 1940 and we had a congressionally declared war at the time. This is 2013 and no war to my knowledge. Who would we declare war on? Would it be Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, or Afghanistan?
Where is the outrage? For all the anger over the Bush-era enhanced interrogation policies, where is the commensurate condemnation over President Obama’s justification for killing American citizens with no due process, no transparency, and no accountability?
An administration memo uncovered by NBC reporter Michael Isikoff strips the veil from Obama’s oft-Orwellian justification for assassinating American citizens believed to be “senior operational leaders” of al-Qaida or an associated force--even if there is no evidence of an imminent attack against the U.S.
“The condition that an operational leader present an ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future,” the memo states.
Instead, it says, an “informed, high-level” official of the U.S. government may determine that the targeted American has been “recently” involved in “activities” posing a threat of a violent attack and “there is no evidence suggesting that he has renounced or abandoned such activities.” The memo does not define “recently” or “activities.”
Killing suspected terrorists who happen to be American “is not an assassination,” according to the president’s Justice Department. “In the Department’s view, a lethal operation conducted against a U.S. citizen whose conduct poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States would be a legitimate act of national self-defense that would not violate the assassination ban.”
Oh, and disregard that part about imminent threat: Although Attorney General Eric Holder told the public in March that killing Americans could be justified if government officials determine the target poses “an imminent threat of violent attack,” his memo creates a massive loophole. It coins a chilling little phrase--“broader concept of imminence”--to absolve the government of the responsibility to find a clear and present danger.
According to a Reuters report Eric Holder stated:
"We'll have to look at this and see how, what it is we want to do with these memos. But you have to understand that we are talking about things that are, that go into really kind of how we conduct our offensive operations against a clear and present danger to this nation."
The condition that an operational leader present an ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.
This is not an abstract theory. We’re already killing our own in the name of war. Under Obama, the antiwar candidate who campaigned against Bush’s trimming of U.S. civil liberties, the United States has escalated the number of drone strikes against Qaida suspects, including deadly attacks on American citizens, such as the 2011 strike in Yemen that killed alleged Qaida operatives Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan. They were U.S. citizens who had not been indicted or charged with a crime.
You might wonder whether Democrats who accused Bush of attacking the Constitution will hold Obama to a similar standard. It will also be interest to watch hawkish Republicans who oppose virtually every Obama policy: Will they fight this one? It is one thing to send a covert team into capture a suspected terrorist leader. It’s quite another to drop a bomb on his head from 10,000 feet killing him and anyone standing close by.
At the very least, Congress, the media and public should be pressing for answers to some basic questions including:
1. Where does this slippery slope end? If killing Americans with no due process is OK when their alleged crime is consorting with al-Qaida, it’s not a huge intellectual leap to give government officials the same judge-and-jury authority over other heinous acts. If the targeted group today is al-Qaida, why couldn't a president two decades from now have the authority to kill, say, Marxists?
2. Shouldn't there be a higher standard? In the enhanced interrogation debate, many Americans seemed to buy the concept that extreme measures might be necessary to prevent an imminent attack against the U.S. Should the standard be higher for torture than murder?
3. Why the doublespeak? Holder told the public months ago that killing Americans can be justified if “capture is not feasible.” But the memo gives more leeway to government officials, condoning the killing of an American if U.S. troops would be put at risk in an attempted capture, for example.
4. Why the secrecy? Obama promised to run the most transparent administration of modern times, and in many ways he’s kept the pledge, but not on this life-and-death issue. A group of 11 senators, led by Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon, has urged Obama to release all Justice Department memos on targeting killings. There are many more, and more important, documents than the Isikoff memo that need exposure. The public deserves to know why its president, without due process or visibility, is issuing death sentences to alleged terrorists, some of them Americans. They learned today that the public statements of administration officials on this matter can't be trusted.
5. Where are the checks and balances? This core principle of American democracy is absent from the Obama memo, which insists that courts have no role in the decision to kill a U.S. citizen. Congress, it seems, lost its voice in the matter when post-9/11 lawmakers authorized the president to "use all necessary and appropriate force" against al-Qaida. "Judicial enforcement of such orders would require the court to supervise inherently predictive judgments by the president and his national security advisers as to when and how to use force against a member of an enemy force against which Congress has authorize the use of force," the memo reads.
“This is a chilling document,” said Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the ACLU, which is suing to obtain administration memos about the targeted killing of Americans. “Basically, it argues that the government has the right to carry out the extrajudicial killing of an American citizen. it recognizes some limits on the authority it sets out, but the limits are elastic and vaguely defined, and it’s easy to see how they could be manipulated.” In particular, Jaffer said, the memo “redefines the word imminence in a way that deprives the word of its ordinary meaning.”
“A lawful killing in self-defense is not an assassination,” the white paper reads. “In the Justice Department’s view, a lethal operation conducted against a U.S. citizen whose conduct poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States would be a legitimate act of national self-defense that would not violate the assassination ban. Similarly, the use of lethal force, consistent with the laws of war, against an individual who is a legitimate military target would be lawful and would not violate the assassination ban.” But, again I ask who are we at war with? Is it individuals, organizations, or nations? Who decides these matters? Is it congress or the Executive Branch?
We are slowly losing constitutional rights to the progressive statist and masterminds of the administrative state through executive orders, regulations and court decisions. The Ninth and Tenth Amendments are in shambles. There is a vicious attack on the Second Amendment and every attempt has been made to remove the right to practice religion in the public square from the First Amendment. Now the Executive branch is attacking the precepts of the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments. Soon the Bill of Rights will be a mere parchment to view in the National Archives. As Benjamin Franklin stated: “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
This blog has been updated with a video showing the latest advancements in the Micro Aerial Vehicles.