In light of a Department of Justice memo laying out the general rules for assassinating American citizens with drones via a presidential “kill list” - and consequently, without Due Process - it was believed yesterday’s confirmation hearing for John Brennan as Central Intelligence Agency Director, the architect of these strikes, would be contentious. It sadly was not, and the Senate Intelligence Committee’s failure to press him on the assassinations of American citizens is nothing short of inexcusable.
As I stated in a post earlier this week, I did not expect the U.S. Senate to check the power it collectively usurped with the CIA; after all, they had a hand in constructing the legal framework for the extrajudicial assassinations of American citizens. The precedence set by this policy endangers the checks-and-balances inherent within a typical constitutional republic.
As of this writing, four Americans, all in Yemen, have been killed by Drone strike: first Kamal Derwish on November 5, 2002, then Samir Khan and Anwar al-Awlaki on September 30, 2011, and most disturbingly, Anwar al-Awlaki’s 16-year old son, Abdulrahman, two weeks later, on October 14, 2011.
While the first three were involved in nefarious activities, although some might consider them mere speech crimes, Abdulrahman was dining outside with friends when he was assassinated, and he has never been accused of wrong-doing. An Administration official stated Abdulrahman was “in the wrong place at the wrong time”, and that “the U.S. government did not know that Mr. Awlaki’s son was there” before the airstrike was ordered, implying complicity with assassinating children that are not U.S. citizens.
What’s more disturbing is what former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told a gaggle of reporters in October 2012:
“I would suggest that you should have a far more responsible father if they are truly concerned about the well-being of their children. I don’t think becoming an al-Qaeda jihadist terrorist is the best way to go about doing your business.”
As I write, the photos of my children on my desk are staring at me. It’s chilling to imagine them being killed for the sins of their father. And as their father, I can only imagine how I would retaliate if something happened to them. Likewise, the strikes killing children in Yemen have reportedly helped al Qaeda “recruit thousands.”
Consider the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s findings, that of the 3,000+ assassinated (so far) by drones, 176 have been children. Nevertheless, in exemplary Kabuki Theater, Intelligence Chairwoman Diane Feinstein cited “single digit” civilian deaths, revealing she is either ignorant of the program, or lying about her knowledge. The Committee asked no questions about the death of Abdulrahman.
Our unchecked drone policy and the civilian casualties it racks up overseas endanger the lives of Americans in the future. As former CENTCOM Commander General Stanley McChrystal recently told Reuters:
“The resentment created by American use of unmanned strikes is much greater than the average American appreciates. They are hated on a visceral level, even by people who’ve never seen one or seen the effects of one.”
McChrystal added that drones add to the “perception of American arrogance that says, ‘Well we can fly where we want, we can shoot where we want, because we can.’” Of note, news revealed this week of a drone base in Saudi Arabia proves we have forgotten the impetus for the 9/11 attacks, summarized in Osama Bin Laden’s 1996 fatwa entitled “Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places.”
Tempering my frustration after the hearing, I asked myself, “Why?” Why would the Senate, the world’s greatest deliberative body, the last check on the Executive, shirk their responsibility? I believe it boils down to three reasons: Pride, Power, and the Purse.
Pride: Along mostly partisan lines, Democrats are hypocritically unwilling to question Obama’s actions, when they would have impeached Bush for doing far less. Indeed, impeachment rumors swirled in light of Bush’s wire-tapping, rendition, and enhanced interrogation, aka “torture” programs. Republicans, recognizing the hypocrisy if they speak out against Obama’s assassinations, instead, do not. Consider that neither the “family values” Right nor the “civil rights” Left took the moment to stand up for the 16-year old assassinated by Brennan and Obama. Congress simply lacks the political courage to speak up.
Power: We must remember that the US Senate consists mostly of power-hungry politicians, who, I believe, questioned a man with absolute power with either jealousy or reverent admiration. In the hearing’s most encouraging moment, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) asked about the “unfettered power to kill an American without checks and balances,” insisting “every American has the right to know when their government believes it has the right to kill them.” But when Brennan blatantly avoided the question, and instead, blathered about simultaneously “optimizing transparency and optimizing secrecy,” the rest of the Senate Committee, fulfilling Lord Acton’s maxim on absolute power, ignored his obfuscation, as if nothing happened.
Purse: As the global drone market is expected to rise from $5.9 billion to nearly $11.3 billion by 2020, and US drone purchases rose from $588 million to $1.3 billion over the past five years, there’s an opportunity for cronyism, for where there’s money, you’ll find special interests. The Congressional Unmanned Systems “drone” Caucus unashamedly boasts 58 members, and hosts expositions at the Capitol with the “Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International,” aka drone Lobby. Cutting drone missions means cutting drone dollars, which means cutting both constituent jobs and campaign contributions for Congressmembers. So nothing happens.
It’s admittedly too easy to blame the drones; drones are as much to blame for extrajudicial assassinations as Hellfire missiles are. The problem is the legal framework that is trampling Americans’ right to due process, codified in both the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. With no opposition to extrajudicial assassinations, and an Administration unchecked, another brick in the wall is placed in the legal framework for the killings, and a more dangerous precedent is set. What if, in the future, an Administration had a “non-terrorist kill list?” Would we ever know? Worse yet, would we even care?