When Drones Attack

Reaper drops first precision-guided bomb, protects ground forces

Despite delivering what many called a liberal inauguration speech, President Obama seems to have given up on his earlier campaign promises to protect our civil liberties.

Several weeks ago, the last vestige of the task force originally put together to facilitate the closing of the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center disappeared. And more recently, the Department of Justice promised to release a document laying out the Obama Administration’s legal justification for drone strikes targeting American citizens, but only after it was leaked to NBC News.

CIA and military use of drone strikes has always been controversial; the attacks often have high rates of civilian casualties, can violate the sovereignty of the nation within whose borders they occur, and increase the moral hazard of modern warfare by shifting the risk of combat operations away from military personnel. But civilians in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Yemen are not the only ones that have to worry; the government has already begun to target American citizens.

Our civil liberties came into the equation when, in September 2011, a CIA-operated drone strike killed Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen turned al-Qaeda operative working out of Yemen. Despite his radicalization and key role in al-Qaeda, al-Awlaki was still a United States citizen. By killing al-Awlaki without any semblance of due process, the CIA ignored the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.

Certainly, the world is a safer place without the threat of al-Awlaki; his recruitment prowess was a major asset to al-Qaeda. But by killing an American citizen without a trial, judge’s orders, or due process of any sort, the CIA has set a dangerous precedent. The rights of every American citizen are compromised when the government so wantonly abuses its power and ignores the Bill of Rights.

By pushing for this monumental violation of American citizens’ constitutional rights, President Obama is surpassing his predecessor’s record of egregious civil liberty abuses. Earlier this week, Charlottesville, Virginia became the first city in the country to pass legislation specifically banning drones from entering its airspace.

Perhaps laws like that are all that stand between us and inescapable death from above.

Published by Andre Manuel

Andre Manuel is a staff writer for The Politic from New York, New York. Contact him at andre.manuel@yale.edu.

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