This morning the country is reading about a tragic shootout in the quiet suburban neighborhood of Watertown Massachusetts. From the New York Times:
The two suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings led police on a wild and deadly chase through the suburbs here early Friday morning that ended in the death of one of the suspects as well as a campus police officer; the other suspect remained at large while hundreds of police officers conduct a manhunt through Watertown, about five miles west of downtown Boston.The scenario that played out late last night is exactly the type of situation the Obama administration has said qualifies for drone strikes. If the Boston Marathon suspects had been connected to al-Qaeda, would it have been OK to just drone them in Watertown, Massachusetts? According to the administration's supposed criteria for kill lists, the President could have ordered the suspects killed.
The Boston Marathon suspects easily met Attorney General Eric Holder's criteria to justify a drone strike ((1) “that U.S. Government has determined after a thorough and careful review that the individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States;” and (2) “capture is not feasible;”). Obama himself said killing a suspect with a drone is appropriate when “. . . a threat that is serious and not speculative. It has to be a situation in which we can't capture the individual before they move forward on some sort of operational plot against the United States.”
The Boston Marathon suspects were obviously "operational." They had already attacked and had bombs and weapons with them. Capture certain seemed not feasible considering one suspect is dead and the other escaped. Other Americans have been droned for less, such as cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki's 16-year old son, who was not suspected of any crime, much less terrorism. Then there's al-Awlaki himself, who the administration claimed was "operational" only after they droned him. (There is convincing evidence to the contrary considering al-Awlaki was on the kill list long enough for the ACLU to bring a lawsuit to have him removed.) Regardless, the threat from the Boston Marathon suspects certainly appears more "imminent" than the threats from many of the 3000+ victims of American drone strikes.
Even Holder's reassurance to Senator Rand Paul that there would not be domestic drone strikes has a pretty gaping loophole that the Boston Marathon suspects fit through easily. Holder wrote Paul with an answer to one specific question "'Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?' The answer to that question is no." (emphasis added). If the Boston Marathon suspects were not American (news reports said they had only been in the U.S. for about a year), and were "engaged in combat," there is nothing in the Obama administration's criteria that would prevent a drone strike in Watertown.
If people are comfortable droning Americans far from any battlefield based on the Obama administration's criteria, then they should be comfortable with a drone strike in Watertown, Massachusetts, and with all the collateral damage that would come with such a strike.
If people are not OK with a drone strike in Watertown, then people should be raising hell at next week's drone hearing.