Administration Officials Perform Some Very Public Handwringing Over Extrajudicial Drone Killing
from the the-eternal-martyrdom-of-the-executive-branch dept
The administration has sort of painted itself into a corner with its new rules on drone strikes. It’s apparently seeking to take out a US citizen who has joined al-Qaeda and is “actively plotting” against the US. Multiple issues have arisen, thanks to Obama’s better-late-than-never drone guidelines, which were issued last year to appease the many countries perturbed by the US government’s increasing reliance on drones to take out suspected terrorists.
The CIA drones watching him cannot strike because he’s a U.S. citizen and the Justice Department must build a case against him, a task it hasn’t completed
Four U.S. officials said the American suspected terrorist is in a country that refuses U.S. military action on its soil and that has proved unable to go after him. And President Barack Obama’s new policy says American suspected terrorists overseas can only be killed by the military, not the CIA, creating a policy conundrum for the White House.
Oddly, the DOJ hasn’t completed its case against the targeted American, despite officials (anonymous ones) claiming the man is a “facilitator” who has been “directly responsible” for attacks on Americans overseas. Flimsier cases have floated entire prosecutions (including many, many of the FBI’s homegrown terrorists). It must be the potential stripping of due process (no matter how meaningless that process has been in practice) holding the US back.
It may not even need a case. It may just need to offer sufficient justification for carrying out a death sentence without due process. That’s the sort of thing Rep. Mike Rogers seems to think the US should be doing anyway. His unwavering belief that the US is a country constantly besieged by attackers leaves no room for constitutional nuances like due process. This, along with “transparency” is referred to by Rogers as “red tape.”
Even as the “case” is being built, there are other concerns. As we just covered recently, the NSA aids in tracking down strike targets, but it’s doing so using (no big deal, it’s just) metadata, some of which is less than precise. Those who think they are targets are swapping SIM cards around as quickly as possible to thwart geolocation tracking, which ultimately means the target being killed may not be the person the NSA thinks he/she is.
But moving beyond Rogers’ histrionics and the NSA’s haystacks, these statements by anonymous government officials don’t look like much more than further appeasement. Rules were put in place to make other countries happier and this very public hand wringing looks for all the world like the administration stage-whispering “See how very complicated this is, and how restrained we’re being in response.” Admittedly, stagecraft is a large part of politics, but this particular incident is notable for its overacting.
The government has killed four Americans with drone strikes since 2009, so this open-air discussion has less to do with concerns about following proper steps than it does with letting unhappy foreign nations know how seriously we’re suddenly taking our targeted killing responsibilities. The limitations on drone strikes were a long time coming, and it has taken a sustained uproar over several years to get them implemented. The last time the administration spent any time considering the implications of its hands-off approach to extrajudicial killing was towards the end of Obama’s first term in 2012, when there was the momentary concern that The Bad Guys (the other party) might have the same unfettered access and authority.
As much as the unnamed American might be deserving of punishment for his attacks on Americans, the administration should stick to its self-imposed rules and follow the processes it implemented. And the least it could do is follow the rules without carrying on in public, trying to conjure up some sort of sympathy for the difficult decisions it faces.