I'm finding the conservative reaction to this whole drone controversy amusing. That's to be expected at this point under this particular President. But more disturbing is the reaction from the left. The bedwetters on both sides still seem to believe if you're an American, dammit, you retain all legal protections while plotting attacks to kill other Americans inside and outside our borders. You couldn't be more wrong. And you've been officially put on notice by this administration--proceed at your own risk.
The President inherited two different drone programs in 2009, one ran by the Pentagon and another ran by the CIA. Combined, they operate out of more than a dozen military bases around the globe, from Nevada to Iraq to Qatar to Saudi Arabia. The Pentagon program operates in Iraq and Afghanistan, with three JAG lawyers on call around-the-clock at Al Udeid Air Force Base in Qatar to sign off on drone strikes (these lawyers are required to take a class about complying with the Geneva Conventions). For the CIA program, they use agency lawyers in Langley, but oversight remains classified and is far less restrictive since they operate in countries where the US is not officially at war, including Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan.
US drones are also used in southern border patrol operations, ran by the Pentagon out of Nevada.
The programs aren't flawless--far from it. Laser-guided Hellfire AGM-114's with 100 pounds of yield can cause quite a blast without leaving much of a crater. One blown strike in June 2009 took out 45 civilians in Afghanistan. Another in 2010, targeting Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the Pakistani Taliban, killed 35 people, including nine civilians. Yet another in Pakistan in March 2011 killed either 21 militants (US claims) or 42 civilians (Pakistani claims). A NATO strike gone awry in November 2011 killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
Do I sleep well at night knowing the downsides of the drone program? I do. I've visited maimed US soldiers from vicious Taliban IED attacks and pressure-plate 'mines', both inside and outside Afghan cities, that take off legs and arms with heartbreaking violence. Pakistan can't, or won't, stop the Pakistani Taliban from crossing the border and launching attacks on our guys, so President Obama both warned of, and then executed, attacks to protect our troops. They're quite effective.
No apologies here--the terrorists use whatever means at their disposal. So do we.
I also have no sympathy for US citizens, at home or abroad, that pose an "imminent threat of violent attack" against America. You backed the wrong side, pal, and if law enforcement doesn't stop you, the drones will.
If foreign or domestic terrorists want due process, they are welcome to surrender to any US consul or Embassy around the globe, or find any local police station within our borders and turn themselves in. They retain that choice up until the moment it's too late and their day of reckoning has arrived. At that point, they've made their decision and must face the consequences of their actions.
The guidelines we have publicly heard to date sound both reasonable and fair. And elected representatives on the Senate Intelligence Committee who requested and reviewed additional classified information on the drone policy immediately moved Brennan's nomination forward to the full Senate on a bipartisan 12-3 vote.
Extraordinary measures appear to be in place to assure any America citizen their rights whenever possible without endangering the lives of others. And the burden of proof appears to be extremely high to even consider a drone strike within US borders. But we elect and pay Presidents to make those very tough calls and any President that rules them out under any circumstances would be guilty of dereliction of duty to protect the American citizens from any and all threats, foreign and domestic.
George Bush actually issued an order to shoot down a plane of US citizens without due process on 9/11 and I do find it curious a Republican congress through 2006 chose not to pursue this debate at that time. Nor did I hear many Democrats bringing up these specific questions then either.
It's fair to maintain vigilance about our rights. But when American citizens dabble in terror and threaten the lives of myself and those I and others hold dear, we reserve our right to protection from those threats with any means available to our government...
**Thanks to Michael Hastings excellent 'Rolling Stone' article on the drone wars for some of the information used here**