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Straying From Our Ideals

Use of Pilotless Drones for Assassinations Violates the Rule of Law

by ALICE SLATER

A secret US government legal memo, prepared for President Obama, was recently ordered to be released to the public by a Federal Court responding to a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union. The Administration’s legal reasoning clearly fails to justify the use of pilotless drones, controlled by a killer operator, sitting behind a desk somewhere in the US, aiming his computer joy stick at human targets on the ground, thousands of miles away. The heavily edited “legal” rationale has only highlighted the disgraceful lack of respect for the very laws and constitutional protections that America has always proclaimed as its unique contribution to world order and the advancement of civilization.

More than 4,000 people have been murdered by drones, many of them civilians– old people, and children as well– in attacks aimed at people selected for assassination by the President of the United States in weekly meetings with intelligence and military officials without benefit of charges, evidence, or trial. The President of the United States, a former Constitutional professor at one of America’s most prestigious schools of law, Harvard University, acts as judge, jury and executioner all in one—a terrible violation of the US Constitution’s promise to protect the rights of individuals.

Shortly after the court-ordered release of the memo a new bipartisan commission of former military and security officials issues a report warning that US drone policy had put us on a “slippery slope” towards a proliferation of similar actions by other countries. They made a whole series of recommendations to help America avoid “blowback” from its unregulated use of this lethal new technology, which is easily capable of being replicated by other countries who may wish to wreak similar harm and havoc upon the US.

There is a growing lawlessness at the highest levels of government, justified by the criminal destruction of the World Trade towers in 2001. Instead of treating that tragic catastrophe as a criminal act, punishable in a court of law, a phony “war on terror” was declared and enabled the obscene growth of the US military-industrial complex, and a flagrant disregard for traditional American rights. With the continued incarceration of suspects in Guantanamo prison in Cuba, America has suspended the common law tradition of the ancient Magna Carta, in which it was held that the British king had no right to lock someone away in a dungeon and throw away the key without evidence, charges, and an opportunity for a trial. This latest secret memo, now partially revealed by a court decision, which attempts to justify illegal assassinations by drones, serves only to highlight how far America has strayed from its own ideals and professed respect for the rule of law.

Alice Slater is NY Director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and serves on the Council of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space.