The Free Press, Mankato, MN

February 23, 2013

Our View: Drone policy needs stricter oversight

The Free Press

— In his 1953 inaugural speech, President Dwight Eisenhower — a warrior famous for helping lead the Allies to victory in World War II — said “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”

Today, our warfare technologies are advancing to the point where combatants never have to face the horrors of war. And so it is with the accelerated use of drones by the United States. We have escalated their usage, especially in Afghanistan and Pakistan as we pull our troops out of harm’s way.

The use of drones became more controversial when we learned the Obama administration was secretly ordering such strikes, bypassing the Pentagon, and the controversy grew when it was learned such attacks were being leveled against American citizens overseas. Since then, the president has agreed to give the intelligence committees of both chambers access to a classified legal opinion it is using to justify use of drones to kill U.S. terror suspects on foreign soil.

The administration says it is justified in killing such Americans so long as an “informed, high-level official” determines that individual is an “imminent threat of violent attack against the United States.” This is so vague it was argued that even low-level functionaries in a Mideast desert could make the call. It further argues that this is an executive decision and as such is not subject to external review.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has said he wants a federal court, not Obama, to make that decision. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said a court deciding such matters would be “the worst thing in the world.” Meanwhile, some Democrats are more incensed about a movie’s depiction about America’s use of waterboarding than they are about the use of drones.

The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states that “No person shall be … deprived of life … without due process of law.” Proponents of the administration’s policy argue that the “war on terror” is unique and demands different rules in order to keep America safe. This is a slippery slope at best and at worst is morally inconsistent with our values as a democracy.

Pressure rose to end the Vietnam War grew when America learned of the ever-rising body count. The profound sadness of seeing flag-draped coffins arrive back home sparked outrage and demands for accountability. Today, with the use of drones, there are no such images — at least not at home. It has made it much easier to wage war on faceless people and even ignore the collateral damage to foreign civilians that inevitably occurs.

Drones allow the administration to wage a shadow war with casualty numbers hidden and now even bypassing our own rules and laws of due process in the killing of some of our own citizens. This is too much power in the hands of any president.

Any policy that authorizes the administration to kill anyone — even in war — should require accountability. Congress passed the War Powers Resolution following the Vietnam War to establish procedures by which the president and Congress would follow before introducing troops abroad to armed conflicts.

The intention was to ensure there were safeguards and oversight in place before committing ourselves to war. Lawmakers must honor that intent — even if troops are not involved. We are a nation of laws. Transparency and shared approval of America’s commitment needs tremendous vetting before initiating policy, especially now that we have video game-like technology that “sanitizes” the ability to wage war.

We have made killing much too easy and that requires significantly more accountability.