Drones in the morning, drones in the night … I'm trying to find a pretty drone to take home tonight …
I have not been able to separate any talk of drones from Heems' "Soup Boys" since I first heard it, and as such, those opening guitar strums, warm and coppery like blood, were on my mind more than I would care to admit when I read The Atlantic Wire's synopsis of the previous evening's NBC ladled scoop, wherein Michael Isikoff and company made public a Justice Department memo (a "white paper") that laid out the alarmingly skimpy prerequisites one must meet to find one's self qualified for death from above. We finally learned some of the parameters that are asked for in the beginning of the "Soup Boys" video, and they were perhaps more disconcerting than we anticipated.
According to the memo, the Supreme Court has already found the use of military action against American citizens considered to be part of enemy forces to be constitutional. "Accordingly, the Department does not believe that U.S. citizenship would immunize a senior operational leader of al-Qa'ida or its associated forces from a use of force abroad authorized by the AUMF or in national self defense," the 16 page paper states. This also means that the Fourth Amendment and the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause amount to [expletive deleted] all if the overseas citizen in question is a "senior operational leader" or a part of "associated forces."
Obviously a "senior operational leader," American citizen or not, could reasonably expect to be a drone target, and after all, if these people wish to associate so much with terrorists, they can expect to die like them as well, correct? Further hemming in potential targets is that they must meet three criteria: They must be determined, by an "informed, high-level official of the U.S. Government" to be an "imminent threat of a violent attack against the Untied States"; their capture is not a feasible option; and that the attack can be conducted under the "applicable law of war principles."
So what is so unnerving about the memo? Part of it is that the "associated forces" tag is vague. Indeed, the entire thing reads elusively, with many criteria but few specifics. Considering that the military includes all military aged males to be potential insurgents, any American citizen even remotely close to al-Qa'ida in the kind of demographic advertisers and network heads crave could not be faulted for looking upwards.
Even more frightening is that, of those three guidelines mentioned above, the one which seems most cogent, the determination of imminent threat being necessary for fatal action, is hedged considerably when one considers that such a determination does not require, by the DOJ's standards, "clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future." The thinking is that, in the wake of 9/11, waiting until indisputable proof of a forthcoming attack presents itself would not allow enough time to prepare an adequate defense; the reality is that this leaves the door wide open for mistakes to be made. The questions is, is it worth it?
That drone modest, but that drone flaunt, all of them drones do what them drones want ...
The memo lends some credence to what groups like the American Civil Liberties Union have feared, namely that the government has a practical carte blanche written into the letter of the law that allows the drone program to act with the autonomy it does.
Here, we run into something of a problem that strikes at the very heart of what has been an admittedly effective weapon (it would not be so scary to us if it was not); being second in command of al-Qa'ida now has the turnover rate of an entry level position in a fast food restaurant, and my conscious is clear about the elimination of Anwar al-Awlaki. But the death of his 16 year old son is more difficult to stomach and comprehend. I am a believer in the blue jay approach, wherein liberals take to the war effort not with the sweeping gestures and classic military overtures of the hawk, but with the precision and suddenness, of, well, a drone. And the things that make the drone program great--its speed, its safety (relatively speaking, and predominantly for American soldiers), its psychological overtures--are optimized due to the lack of hard parameters and the discretion those calling the shots are afforded when selecting targets. Is the cold, reptilian efficiency of Obama's drone campaigns worth the elasticity and shadows the campaigns operate in?
The drone program is like a magical eraser; find someone we do not like, send the machine, and wipe them from the face of the earth. Easy. The problem lies in that actions which comes with ease are easily abused.