Can the President kill an American?
That’s the question, isn’t it?
Can the President kill an American?
Well, OK, Obama looks pretty fit, I’m sure he could kill a guy if it really came down to it. Maybe stab somebody to death with his little flag pin or something, or borrow a shiv from his Secret Service detail.
But can he do it legally? From the air? With a robot?
Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone within the sovereign territory of the United States to kill an American citizen not actively engaged in hostile actions against our national interest?
That’s the real question.
The Attorney General of the United States says the answer to that question is no.
No, the President can’t just use a drone to gun down American citizens.
Well, whew, that’s a relief.
Glad we settled that. Because, man, that’s been keeping me up at night, the thought that Barack Obama might just decide to target me for death from the sky. Because, of course, that’s exactly what Hitler did, right? Sure. Right after Der Fuhrer gave everybody free government health care and a cell phone, he sent in the Gestapo Flying Robot Gunships to kill them all. It’s in the history books, you can look it up – it’s right next to the chapter about how Jesus founded America from the back of a T-Rex while fighting off the Nazi Communists Of Climate Change.
Forgive me if I don’t run outside with my assault rifle right now and look to the skies for the hovering Evil Obama Death Robots of Death
On the other hand, I can sort of see why Senator Paul and his posse might be concerned.
No, seriously, I mean given the nauseating volume of bilious yellow paranoia he and his fellows have heaped on the President these last few years, I suppose it’s not beyond imagination that Paul might be a little apprehensive. I guess if I’d been spewing ridiculous hysteria and talking shit about the most powerful man in the world, the man who commands deadly flying robots, I’d also maybe worry that Barack Obama would unleash the Predators from the computer terminal on his desk and start offing random conservatives from the comfort of the Oval Office. Rush Limbaugh? Kapow! Glenn Beck? Brazzzp! John Boehner? Mitch McConnell? Sarah Palin? Boom! Zap! Powie! Mitt Romney? ZZzzzslrp! Oh yeah! Hell yeah! Right in the magic underwear! Whoohoo! Like shooting womp rats from my T-16 back on Vulcan! Zap! Zap! Next, world domination! Oh Yes! Yes! Get some! Get some! Pew! Pew! Muwahahahahaha!
But I digress.
I’ve written about drones before, in detail, and their use against Americans overseas and the fact that it causes me little in the way of teary-eyed sleep loss.
But can the President of the United States of America authorize the military or the CIA to use a weaponized drone to kill a citizen of the United States on United States soil if that citizen isn’t actively engaged in hostile actions against the United States?
I think it’s a pretty big step to get from the first case to the second (hypothetical) one, but Senator Paul felt it was important enough to spend fourteen bladder bursting hours droning on and on about it.
Can the President kill an American?
You know, that question, that one right there, speaks more clearly than anything else as to the current state of our country, our rights, and the overall nature of the hysterical posturing dimwits we’ve elected to manage our republic.
You see, because the answer to that question, whether or not the president can just kill whomever he feels like, isn’t exactly clear.
It should be clear.
It should be obvious.
It should be unambiguous, you shouldn’t have to ask the Attorney General or the prospective head of the CIA – it should be spelled out in the job description in no uncertain terms.
It should be well regulated and codified in law for every American to see.
It shouldn’t even be a question – but it is.
And it’s a question because legislators like Rand Paul and the rest of the overpaid, overfed louts in the House and Senate have made it so.
Can the President of the United States kill you, an American?
Well, let’s see, he can disappear you, or rather he can authorize your indefinite detention under military confinement without a trial, without access to a lawyer, without basic civil rights or even the basic level of access to civil jurisprudence that we give daily to Charlie Manson. He can have the question put to you, just as hard and just as long as he likes, just so long as he doesn’t call it torture. He can authorize active surveillance and the monitoring of your phone calls and emails and tweets and texts and social media posts without a review by a court of law. He can authorize the search of your home without a warrant or authorization by a judge and he can have it done in secret so that you don’t even know you’ve been violated and there’s not a damned thing you can do about it. He can authorize the confiscation of your property if anybody thinks you might be engaged in terrorism. He can have you and your children strip-searched in the airports and put on a secret no-fly list without the right to confront your accuser or the right to appeal your guilt or the right to petition the government for redress. He can make the library give up a list of the books you’ve checked out. He can authorize the secret infiltration of your church, your social clubs, or your school, for the express purpose of spying on you simply because you look like you might, just might, be a subversive – he just can’t openly call it racial profiling even though that’s exactly what it is. He can have you snatched off the street in a foreign country and rendered into the custody of another foreign power for interrogation – and this time he can even call it torture if he likes.
And he can very likely do a number of other things to you as well. What exactly? Well, see, you’re not allowed to know that, it’s a secret.
When legislators just like Rand Paul, acting in fear and rage and panic, passed the Patriot Act and the Protect America Act and a dozen other laws with secret provisions and draconian authority and have since continued to renew those very same laws, well, they gave the President those powers.
And us? We citizens? We let them do it, and we rewarded them for it and we asked for more.
We gave that power to the President.
Or rather, we gave the previous President those powers.
And the people cheering Rand Paul’s impressive filibuster today? Those people were just fine with that power, that nearly unlimited presidential authority to deny Americans their rights under the Constitution, just so long as it was directed at those dirty bearded (alleged) terrorists being held in a cage down in Cuba, some of which are indeed Americans. They were the same folks who were lined up ten deep begging for a chance to personally pull the lever on Army Major Nidal Hasan, an American, without a trial and damn his Constitutional rights (and yes, full disclosure, me too. Given a chance I’d strangle the cowardly son of bitch with his own beard. But I digress. Again). These are the very same people who talk of the Second Amendment in hushed reverent tones and dream of taking their guns to Washington – who exactly were they planning on using those weapons against when their little revolution comes? Will those targets, those Americans, get a trial? Will their Constitutional rights as American citizens be respected? Go on, make me laugh.
As I’ve said many, many times, if you give the Jesus Lovin’ Midwestern Texas Conservative Patriot the power, you’ve also given it to his Tofu Eatin’ Chicago Bunny Humping Socialist ‘Merica Hatin’ successor.
Rand Paul has nobody to blame but his fellow Congressmen, including his own father, those who wrote and passed the bills, and his own political party whose President signed that power into law, and his conservative Supreme Court who turned a partisan eye away and allowed that power to stand.
You give it to Bush, you give it to Obama.
Quod erat demonstrandum.
So, yes, given the current state of affairs, I suppose it’s not entirely out of line to wonder if the President, any president, thinks he has the authority to zap citizens into bloody mush on the streets of America.
And he does, you know.
Despite what Eric Holder said in his letter to Senator Paul, the President can kill innocent Americans.
The President, this one and the one before him, they have pointed guns at innocent law-abiding American citizens. In public. On TV. With the very real threat of killing those innocent law-abiding citizens right along with the supposed enemies of America. I’m not talking collateral damage, not exactly, I’m talking about using the military to deliberately kill innocent Americans on American soil with malice aforethought.
Or rather, over American soil.
And we would have let them do it too, both of them, Bush and Obama.
See, every single time armed Air Force fighters are scrambled to intercept a suspect aircraft, private or commercial, in American airspace that’s exactly what the President is threatening to do, kill Americans.
And we would let the President authorize the shoot-down of an airliner in order to prevent another 9-11, wouldn’t we?
And we’d do it knowing that the innocent would die right along with the presumed guilty.
We’d kill them all, mothers and fathers and children, old and young, Americans and not, innocent and guilty, without trial, without warrant. Not without remorse or regret, certainly, but nonetheless we’d tell ourselves that it was necessary, that those dead Americans were heroes who died to protect a greater good, to prevent another 9-11. We might even build them a memorial after it was over, if we could get Congress to authorize the expenditure.
We’d hate it, but we’d let the Air Force blast them right out of the sky.
That’s exactly the iron fist the President flexes whenever he sends fighters up to intercept a jetliner.
So, yes, the President can authorize the killing of innocent Americans on, over, American soil.
I’ll pause for a minute while you think carefully about the full ramifications of that.
Okay, sure, I hear you say in that argumentative tone you use when you’re glancing nervously over your shoulder, watching the sky. Sure, OK. But that’s different, Jim, it’s not the same thing. And the president would only order a shoot-down under extraordinary circumstance, when all else has failed, when danger is close and the threat is clear and present and imminent. When people are about to die!
Of course, the President has never ordered the actual shoot-down of a civilian airliner, not yet. But it could happen, we can’t rule out the possibility. That’s why we have fighter jets sitting ready around the country right now. We all remember the falling towers and the burning Pentagon and that smoking hole in the middle of a cornfield outside of Shanksville, PA, don’t we? And we could easily imagine a similar nightmare happening again.
And, so if he had too, well, Boy, the President better do it, because we’d damned well hold him accountable if he didn’t. Right?
When Senator Paul first asked the Attorney General in a letter on February 20 about the use of armed drones directed against Americans on American soil, this was Eric Holder’s response:
The U.S. government has not carried out drone strikes in the United States and has no intention of doing so. We reject the use of military force where well-established law enforcement authorities in this country provide the best means for incapacitating a terrorist threat. The question you have posed is therefore entirely hypothetical, unlikely to occur, and one we hope no President will ever have to confront. But it is possible, I suppose to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States. For example, the President could conceivably have no choice but to authorize the military to use such force if necessary to protect the homeland in the circumstances of a catastrophic attack. Were such an emergency to arise, I would examine the particular facts and circumstances before advising the President on the scope of this authority.
Given our actions regarding national security since September 11th, 2001, on both sides of the Aisle, what in Holder’s response is in any way controversial? Or is in any way whatsoever “frightening” or any more an “affront to the Constitutional due process rights of all Americans” as Senator Paul proclaimed the Attorney General’s response to be than any other option we have on the table? Is it more frightening than the prospect of blowing an airliner full of innocent people out of the sky? Is it any more frightening than the fact that we live in a country where our former Vice President wanders around extolling the morality of fucking waterboarding?
Honestly, at this point, how damned frightened can you possibly be?
You want to talk about frightening? Rand Paul belongs to the very same political party who was outraged when the President wouldn’t commit to leaving “all options” on the table when it came to dealing with Iran and North Korea – and by “all options” they specifically meant nuclear war. You got any idea how many innocent people, American and otherwise, would die horribly if such an “option” was actually used?
Again, consider the ramifications. Consider the full ramifications of the nuclear option and all that would come after its use including the endless acts of terrorism in revenge.
Just so I’m clear here: you’re OK with nuclear war, but you’re frightened by flying robots with guns?
That about right?
I guess that’s no more contrary than any other partisan political position.
Snark and sarcasm and political theater aside, let’s get down to brass tacks: Rand Paul isn’t exactly wrong.
You, every one of you, American or otherwise, should be concerned about this power.
You should be asking what the limits are.
You should be demanding that your elected representatives stop acting like spoiled petulant children and start doing their jobs.
Rand Paul was a grandstanding jackass with his little filibuster, and he accomplished exactly nothing other than to keep his name in the headlines for 2016 … but he wasn’t entirely wrong.
Look, here’s the thing, you can’t put the Djinn back into the bottle.
Drones and other UAVs and RPVs are just too damned useful.
We spent billions developing these things and the technology is long past the experimental stage.
And we’re going to see more and more of them, at home and abroad, on the battlefield and off it. Drones extend our reach, both civilian and government, they give us a cost-effective middle ground between satellites and the surface of the earth. They are an incredibly versatile and valuable tool.
And you’re going to see a lot more of them in a lot more places doing a lot more things with a lot more capability.
Sure drones can kill people, there’s no question in that regard.
And sure, a government can abuse the use of drones in a thousand different ways to make a mockery of civil and legal rights.
And yes, there is no doubt whatsoever that drones and similar technologies could most certainly be used as another tool of totalitarianism and oppression – and given the nature of human beings, it’s likely that they will be used as such, somewhere, sooner or later.
No, not “so what?” but rather “So, tell us something we don’t know.”
Tell us something that the men who wrote the Constitution didn’t know. No kidding? Technology can be used to enslave us? Well, of course it can.
But it can also free us.
Drones and other advanced technology can save lives too.
Drones can help to ensure civil and legal rights.
Drones can be used to enforce government compliance with the Constitution, to ensure liberty and justice and the American Way (whatever the hell that is).
Every technology has both benefit and bane.
Drones can be armed and used to kill, but they can also be used to find children lost in the wild or track criminals or rapidly survey the damage from hurricanes so that emergency relief can be quickly directed to where it’s needed the most.
Drones can be used to snoop on the average citizen and be used to violate privacy rights in a hundred different ways from visual observation to monitoring of electronic emissions and heat signatures (and not just in the hands of the government. Imagine a drone equipped with the kind of advanced sensors that are widely available on the civilian market, let alone military equipment. Now imagine them under the control of, oh, say paparazzi. Now imagine you were Kate Middleton sunbathing topless … but I digress), but those same drones could be used by the media to observe police and government operations (over, say, an Occupy or Tea Party Rally) like a suped up police cruiser dashcam. That’s why the Founders felt freedom of the press was so important, not so that Glenn Beck could spew his idiotic conspiracy theories unchecked or so that bottom feeding yellow journalism could publish pictures of the Queen’s royal tits , but so that the citizens have an unrestricted method to observe the very government that was observing them.
If you want to impose limits on government power, then instead of Libertarians and Conservatives demanding more guns to protect themselves from government what they should be demanding are drones of their own – because that would make the use of guns a whole lot less likely.
Drones are simply too useful, both to government and for civil use, to abandon now.
Eventually they’ll be used not only for that border patrol conservatives are so keen on, along with tracking illegals entering this country on foot via the deserts of the American Southwest, but they will also be used by the average farmer to survey crops and livestock. Farmers band together now in state Cooperative Extensions (Farm Co-Ops) for grain sales and help with the harvest and planting and advice on pests and yields and so on – I see the day when Co-Ops buy and operate their own agricultural drones equipped with special IR and UV sensors designed by NASA to analyze the health of crops and animals. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that those drones will be equipped with tanks and sprayers and capable of precision crop dusting beyond the capability of manned aircraft, and do it more cheaply, faster, and without risk to a human pilot.
The use of drones in search and rescue should be obvious – and demanded by the public as capability immediately available at the state level for areas where the manned Civil Air Patrol and National Guard units are unavailable or too costly.
Did you know that drones mounted with transmitter/receivers could serve as temporary cell phone relays over disaster areas – or sporting events? And do it cheaply and with much greater height of access than a traditional tower, without leaving an impact on the environment the way a fixed tower does – and, when it needs servicing or upgrade, it can be flown to the service center instead of requiring that somebody put on climbing gear.
With a little effort and a little imagination, you should be able to envision thousands of uses for drones, thousands of uses that would markedly improve our daily lives, that would ensure liberty and justice and the American Way for all citizens.
Drones are merely a tool, they are neither inherently good nor inherently evil.
Like any technology, from a club to a nuclear bomb, it’s how you use them that matters.
And in that regard Rand Paul is certainly right, we need to establish the rules now.
That’s the legislature’s job. Establishing those rules, setting boundaries, limiting power, examining the ramifications. It’s got nothing to do with Left or Right, liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat. It is simply a facet of our ever advancing technology, our ever changing world, no different than the advent of the automobile or the internet.
There may indeed come a time when a President may have to authorize the use of armed drones against Americans on the soil of the United States.
And because of that, the Attorney General was absolutely correct in his statement.
Congress is derelict in its duty if it does not acknowledge the possibility for partisan reasons. They don’t have to like it, just as they don’t have to like the idea of shooting down a plane full of Americans, but they do have to acknowledge the possibility and plan for the eventuality. That’s their job.
But like all power, that power should not be left to the opinion of any one man, even if he is the President of the United States. Or the Attorney General. Or a Senator.
How we use this technology should not be determined by grandstanding, or filibuster, or partisan coup counting.
It should be decided by the people, in the manner specified by the Constitution – i.e. via elected representatives of our republic doing their jobs in a rational and adult manner, without hysteria and histrionics and hyperbole. If Americans want that option taken off the table, even under the most dire of circumstances, then Congress needs to put forward the proper legislation to make that a law. If we want to keep armed drones as an option within the confines of the United States, then Congress needs to sharply define that power and its limitations and write it into the President’s job description in black and white.
They don’t need a filibuster to do that.
They just need to do the job they were elected to do.
But then again, that’s how we should be doing a lot of things.
No Senator should ever have to ask the question Rand Paul did. To do so is to admit publicly that neither he nor his fellow Congressmen are doing their jobs. Congress makes the law, by definition. They shouldn’t ask the Attorney General for his opinion, they should give it to him – as a clearly defined law.
The Legislative Branch makes the laws, the Executive Branch enforces the law. That’s how our government is supposed to work.
If Rand Paul doesn’t like Eric Holder’s answer, then the Senate shouldn’t have given the Attorney General room for interpretation in the first place.
The use of force against citizens by their government, be it rendition or torture or indefinite detainment or no-fly lists or pepper spray or death from the sky, should never be open to interpretation by any one person.
It should be clearly defined. Tightly bounded. And sharply limited.
And it would be, if only Congress was doing its job.