Thomas O. Meehan
Drones are in the air; the airwaves that is. Spurred on by the Brennan/CIA confirmation hearings, the President’s expanded use of drones to kill AlQueda operatives is under critique. This criticism comes from several directions on the political spectrum.
Libertarians and actual conservatives take issue with the extrajudicial nature of killing Americans without trial. Left-liberals are disappointed in their progressive president’s resort to Bush technology in prosecuting a war on terror they don’t really believe in. Neoconservatives love the idea of killing Muslims, especially at a distance, but can’t help noting that the president is aping Bush’s methods. Foreign policy realists note with alarm that striking one’s enemies dead in the manner previously restricted to the god Apollo is both unprecedented and likely to raise sobering questions for international relations and the law of war. Sooner or later this technology will be open to others, what then?
The President has some defenders. Eleanor Clift, who excoriated Bush for drone killings now defends the President as doing the tough but right thing under the circumstances. The President’s fan club at MSNBC don’t like the exercise of American force anywhere, but they still smile as they portray Obama as the man who got Bin Ladin. Congressional Democrats likewise find the use of drones just fine as long as Obama and not Bush is the triggerman.
My own concern is this. However understandable, killing people who bear US citizenship while not actually levying war on us is simply not constitutional. That is, it’s a crime. It’s not a crime of malice perhaps, but it is a crime never the less. If we are to do this, we must find a way to do it within our law. The President maintains that this can be done via a procedure within the executive branch. This falls into the category of things one might get away with over those things you shouldn’t actually do. Do we really want to kill citizens abroad via some an in-house, cobbled together procedure? The aforementioned left harpy, Eleanor Clift thinks so. When asked on the McLaughlin Group, she actually claimed that the President’s hand would always be stayed by his own military and policy subordinates! Yes Eleanor, just like Sejanus did at restraining the Emperor Tiberius.
We need an actual judicial process to pass on the status of overseas Americans who seem to be levying war on us, or who seem to have transferred their loyalty to another state or organization. My commonsensical suggestion is to employ actual judges in this ahem, judicial process. To me, that is due process.
We have killed exactly three Americans overseas. At least two seemed to have renounced their citizenship. Did we ever attempt to formalize their renunciations? Is there no procedure to legalize the obvious? Did an embassy official in Yemen ever ask the late Mr. al Awlaki to stop over for a cup of tea and a chat as to his citizenship? To perhaps sign a paper? If not, why not?
By the way, readers will be shocked to find that it is practically impossible to revoke the citizenship of a naturalized citizen. Why is this? We are constantly bombarded with the assertion that we are not a people, but a country of ideas. The President says that we are a nation of shared ideals and values. Very well, what is supposed to happen when a citizen who is a citizen solely due to being born here says the President’s ideals and values are spinach and hell with them? And he goes on to say, I’m a member of an organization dedicated to killing you and overthrowing you and your whole way of life. Multiculturalism gets very tricky at this point. Do we really want to deal with such a person under rules moderated by the ACLU? Why can’t we take that person at their word and by their actions? Because we have failed to set up a mechanism to do so.
But to get back to drone strikes and apostate Americans, we need both a genuine court to adjudicate when a person can be stripped of his citizenship and new laws to better define citizenship. Birthright citizenship as it now stands is not only an ahistorical doctrine but a danger to us all. Just being born in the US doesn’t make you one of us as I’m sure the late Mr. al Awlaki would agree. Furthermore, naturalized citizens should be here on sufferance. Criminal convictions should lead to revocation of citizenship and deportation.
As to drone strikes, I think this will be a somewhat self limiting phenomenon. We use drones in airspace that is for all intents and purposes “Injun” country, that is, usually with the tacit cooperation or at least acceptance of the failed state over which we fly. There are only so many such places in the world. There would be fewer but for the decolonization of the 20th century. Pakistan is the world’s second most dangerous failed state and like North Korea it has nuclear weapons. But it is a place of disorder and not in full control of It's own territory. Whether we resort to commandos, drones or intercession through prayer, it will remain a dangerous joke among the nations. We cannot change that.
I see no impulse on our part to use drones on the outskirts of Paris or Buenos Aries. Drone technology will beget counter drone technology among sophisticated nations. So it will always be the wild pest-holes of the world over which they will be used.