The increasing use of drones for overseas military operations has sparked a flurry of controversies over the last week. Conservatives on the right lambasted liberals for being hypocritical on the issue. Whereas liberals scrambled to defend themselves by arguing their positions have simply evolved over time.
Regardless of conservative attacks and liberal posturing, the real question is whether Americans are comfortable giving away some of their civil liberties for increased safety. As the recently released White House document claims, the United States now has the legal authority to assassinate American citizens without a trial, jury or any type of due process.
Last year, The New York Times reported the White House has a list of suspected terrorists targeted for drone attacks and that the president picks which individuals he wants targeted. In affect, this makes President Obama the judge, jury and executioner of people who have not been proven guilty of any crime. These kill lists pose great questions as to whether or not it is constitutional for the president to exercise these powers. Regardless, he does so anyway.
These executive executions are not just limited to the suspected terrorists themselves, but also their friends, family members or anyone else who is around them at the time of the arbitrary actions against them. A 16-year-old American boy, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, was killed in one of these airstrikes not as a target but as collateral damage.
Additionally, what is preventing the government from assassinating American citizens on American soil as opposed to strictly overseas? Obviously, this hasn’t happened yet, but drones are already being used for domestic surveillance at the Mexican border. Predator drones are also being used by police departments around the country to spy on and catch suspected criminals. (Take careful note of the word “suspected”.)
The constitutional legitimacy surrounding this issue becomes more ambiguous as each drone takes off. Time Magazine said, “Until actual legislation is passed, it won’t be completely clear what information the government can and cannot gather using drones.”
An imaginative person contemplating the future of these programs could come up with tactics leading to a slippery slope of abused powers.
What is preventing the government from using aerial drones to spy through your window at home? If you are a suspected criminal, the president could just as easily strategically place a 1000-pound bomb on your house in the name of national security, as he could in another country. Except he would not receive the international criticism of impeding on a foreign country’s sovereignty.
With all of these mounting questions, it seems difficult to understand the true meaning of these actions. Nonetheless, one more must be asked. Are American citizens willing to give up their civil liberties in order to increase their safety?
According to a new Pew Research poll, the answer is, “yes.” The poll conducted this month concluded a majority of those polled, 56 percent, approved of the United States conducting drone strikes. Only 26 percent of those polled do not approve. The rest were not sure. This is a slight increase from the same poll conducted in July 2012 that showed 55 percent of those polled approved of the program and over 36 percent disapproved.
The convenient acceptance by liberals of this conservative program just so happens to come at a time when a democrat is calling all the shots in the White House. Maybe there is some truth to the evolution of thought regarding constitutional law and the military use of robotic drones.
In a sense, it is terrifying to think about how one man has the authority to kill you and everyone around you with armed flying robots without any constitutional restraints. On the other hand, an organized terrorist cell detonating a backpack nuke (in which there are around 12 somewhere in the world unaccounted for) in the middle of Manhattan, N.Y., is more terrifying than the destruction of our civil liberties.
In the end, dying from a terrorist attack is unlikely. But it is more important to make sure that likelihood remains low than to impede upon the tactics that are keeping us safe. Civil liberties are important, but once you actively plan attacks against the United States to kill American citizens, I think it’s safe to say you lose a significant amount of those liberties.