SODOM & GOMORRAH: The problem with drones is that they impersonalize killing.
Attorney General Eric Holder announced that four American citizens have been killed in drone strikes since 2009. In a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, Holder mentioned that the United States used a drone to specifically target and kill Anwar al-Awlaki in 2001. Al-Awlaki, Holder states, was an al Qaeda cleric living in Yemen and plotting attacks against the US.
Holder states that the individual in question was displaying a mindset indicative of a desire to kill Americans but that he also actively assisted in helping those who were engaged in plots to kill Americans. Anwar al-Awlaki is, to date, the only US citizen that the Administration has admitted to targetting in a drone strike.
The Justice Department further states that in situations like these, drone strikes should only be carried out under the appropriate constitutional framework and against threats that are imminent yet whose capture is not feasible.
We of course have some issue with this. First, if the threat is “imminent” then it seems likely that capture would not be deemed “not feasible”. Being in contact with and sympathizing with people actually carrying out attacks, while living outside the zone of conflict, might make someone a threat but does not make them an “imminent” one.
Second, the constitutional framework calls for a trial, not a “thorough review by Justice Department attorneys”. Whether such a trial would be fair or not is a different question, but the Justice Department doesn’t even appear to be caring enough to pretend to be fair.
Thirs, the use of drones signals an increasing impersonalization of the killing and death involved in conflict. Flying a drone is, in many ways, like running a flight simulator or video game. You just have to push a button and the person on the screen dies. We are stripping the meaning and reality from the conflict and instructing soldiers, attorneys, and the citizens of the countries involved in conflict to be insensitive to these realities.
Mass killings, extra-judicial strikes, rumored death panels – these things do not come to be through the evil bent of one or two minds. These things happen only once you convince the vast machinery of the bureaucracy that what is taking place is just routine. As Mr. Holder has already stated, this is just in line with what the courts have supported since the 1940’s. Nothing unusual here, nothing out of the ordinary, just business as usual.