Barack Obama

The Tyranny of Obama's Wars by Drones

The president has rejected the theory and practice of due process.

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White House/Instagram

Thomas Cromwell was the principal behind-the-scenes fixer for much of the reign of King Henry VIII. When Cromwell's son Gregory, who became sickened as he watched his father devolving from counselor to monster, learned that an executioner for the queen had been sent for from France a week before her conviction, he asked his father what the purpose of her trial was if the king had preordained the queen's guilt and prepaid the executioner. Cromwell replied that the king needed a jury to give legitimacy to her conviction and prevent the public perception of "the tyranny of one man's opinion."

In America, we have a Constitution not only to prevent the perception but also to prevent the reality of the tyranny of one man's opinion. The Constitution's Fifth Amendment makes clear that if the government wants life, liberty, or property, it cannot take it by legislation or executive command; it can do so only by due process—a fair jury trial and all its constitutional protections.

The constitutional insistence upon due process was the result of not only the Colonial revulsion at the behavior of Henry and his successors but also the recognition of the natural individual right to fairness from the government. If one man in the government becomes prosecutor, judge, and jury, there can be no fairness, no matter who that man is or what his intentions may be. That is at least the theory underlying the requirements for due process.

President Barack Obama has rejected not only the theory but also the practice of due process by his use of drones launched by the CIA to kill Americans and others overseas. The use of the CIA to do the killing is particularly troubling and has aroused the criticism of senators as disparate in their views as Rand Paul and John McCain, both of whom have argued that the CIA's job is to steal and keep secrets and the military's job is to further national security by using force; and their roles should not be confused or conflated, because the laws governing each are different.

Theirs is not an academic argument. The president's use of the CIA is essentially unlimited as long as he receives the secret consent of a majority of the members of the House and Senate intelligence committees. The secret use of these 37 senators and representatives constituting the two committees as a Congress-within-the Congress is profoundly unconstitutional because Congress cannot delegate its war-making powers to any committee or group without effectively disenfranchising the voters whose congressional representatives are not in the group.

Moreover, the War Powers Resolution regulates the president's use of the military and essentially precludes secret wars. It requires the public consent of a majority of the full Congress for all offensive military action greater than 90 days. That, in turn, brings about transparency and requires a national political will to use military force.

President Obama has formulated rules—agreed to by a majority of the 37, but not by a majority in Congress—that permit him to kill Americans and others overseas when he believes they are engaging in acts that pose an imminent threat to our national security, when their arrest would be impracticable, and when personally authorized by the president. This is not federal law, just rules Obama wrote for himself. Yet none of the Americans he has killed fits any of those rules.

Last week, the White House revealed that in January, the government launched its 446th drone into a foreign land, and this one killed three Americans and an Italian, none of whom had been targeted or posed a threat to national security at the time of his murder. The drone, which was dispatched by a computer in Virginia, was aimed at a house in Pakistan and was sent on its lethal way without the approval of the Pakistani government or the knowledge of President Obama.

The use of drones is not only constitutionally impermissible but also contraindicated by the rules of war. Drones pose no threat and little danger to those doing the killing. Except when the intelligence is bad—as it was in the January case revealed last week—deploying drones is a low-risk endeavor for the country doing so. But Obama's wars by robots produce more killing than is necessary. War should be dangerous for all sides so as to limit its lethality to only those venues that are worth the risk—those that are vital for national security.

If war is not dangerous, it will become commonplace. By one measure—the absence of personal involvement by decision-makers—it has become commonplace already. A mere three years after his self-written rules for the deployment of drones were promulgated, the president has delegated the authority to order drone killings to his staff, and the members of the congressional intelligence committees have delegated their authority to consent to their staffs.

Obama apparently doesn't care about the Constitution he swore to uphold, but he should care about the deaths of innocents. Obama's drones have killed more non-targeted innocents in foreign lands than were targeted and killed in the U.S. on 9/11. And the world is vastly less stable now than it was on 9/11. The president's flying robots of death have spawned the Islamic State group—a monstrosity far exceeding even Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell in barbarity.

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  1. I scoff at this power-hungry mammal’s puny robot enforcers.

    1. That is only because you can grow a new tail.

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  2. …the CIA’s job is to steal and keep secrets and the military’s job is to further national security by using force; and their roles should not be confused or conflated, because the laws governing each are different.

    I’m guessing the military community is so foreign to Obama he doesn’t like dealing with them. He’d much rather work with a more compliant intelligence community.

  3. Someone is late loading the cartoon again.

      1. That sappy bloc of television? Didn’t they cancel that in the 90s?

      2. WTF was I thinking….

        1. Advocating for the six day week?

  4. Holy fuck. A page search for a question mark turned up not a single one in The Judge’s piece. How the shit can he write a story with fewer than a dozen question So? I thought it was physically impossible.

    1. He’s telling you, not asking you.

      I also find the logic to be weak. I’m as on-board with reducing war as anybody, but by the logic of, “If it’s not dangerous it will be commonplace”, then we should send troops in naked and with no equipment or food. Just make them scrabble at the enemy with their fingernails. Don’t give them any advantage. Just think about it – we could eliminate voluntary war in a generation!

      1. No, I see where he’s coming from. The biggest stumbling block to war is that American troops get hurt and killed. If you take that away, there’s really no obstacle to America being continually at war. It’s impersonal at that point. “No blood for oil” is catchy. “No transistors for oil” just doesn’t have the same gravitas.

        1. I fully understand the logic, and it’s sound as far as it goes, the problems are:

          1) The more costly and undesirable war is for a country, the more its neighbors are encouraged to threaten it to get what they want, particularly when the neighbors are non-democratic or culturally “warlike”.

          2) “Keeping war undesirable for our leaders” is an awfully abstract principle for which to let your loved ones die, outgunned.

        2. War is not a polite little affair; it is state sanctioned mass murder and vandalism.

          Trying to turn it into something safe, run at a distance isolates individuals (you and me) from the actions of our agents. If we’re going to have a war, we need to know about it, and debate it.

          For the Star Trek fans in the crowd, this is all getting to be just a bit too similar to an original series episode “A Taste of Armageddon” (where people when willing to their deaths in neat little disintegration booths rather than having cities destroyed in a real war).

        3. You’re missing a point in the article. Don’t think for a second that the executive branch gives 2 shits about its troops it sends into harms way. The biggest obstacle for him is the American people and getting congressional approval to be able to declare war. That is the entire point, by using the CIA (aka biggest terrorist group in the world) he unilaterally removes a vital branch of our government to do wtf he wants without question or transparency. As the cia is not bound to disclose jack shit. Effective dictatorship.
          In the past presidents used false flag events to influence and appeal to the masses as a reason to go to war. Look up Gulf of Tonkin incident. Confirmed false flag by OUR government as the reason for us to go to War in Vietnam.

      2. As long as every other country agrees to do the same.

      3. we should send troops in naked and with no equipment or food.

        Would something like this be OK?

      4. I agree, the logic is shoddy. Was it Patton who said the goal is to make the other guy die for his country?

        War should be rare and safe. Morality prevents war, not making it dangerous.

      5. BERSERKER!!!

      6. I think his argument is basically the same as the moral of the A Taste of Armeggedon Star Trek episode. If war becomes to clean and sanitary then there won’t be any reason for political leaders to avoid it. I think it’s a valid point, just Roddenberry might have done a better job of getting it across.

  5. “…the absence of involvement by decision makers…”

    I dunno. I think it has been a long, long time since any of those deciding to initiate an act of war (as far as the US was concerned) had any skin in the game. When I was a US Marine grunt I doubt anybody I had ever even seen was given that level of authority.

  6. The use of drones is not only constitutionally impermissible but also contraindicated by the rules of war. Drones pose no threat and little danger to those doing the killing. Except when the intelligence is bad?as it was in the January case revealed last week?deploying drones is a low-risk endeavor for the country doing so. But Obama’s wars by robots produce more killing than is necessary. War should be dangerous for all sides so as to limit its lethality to only those venues that are worth the risk?those that are vital for national security.

    Are these “rules” written down somewhere? I’d like to read the rule that states an engagement in war must be dangerous to both sides of the engagement.

    I guess I’m really just calling bullshit on this statement. Make your moral argument and leave “rules” that don’t exist out of it.

    1. An engagement in war that is not dangerous to both sides is worse than using chemical weapons!

  7. Obama apparently doesn’t care about the Constitution he swore to uphold, but he should care about the deaths of innocents.

    He cares a lot!

  8. The use of drones is not only constitutionally impermissible but also contraindicated by the rules of war.

    Um, no. Using a drone, per se is certainly not unconstitutional – does this mean Global Hawks should not do recon? Armed enemies cannot be engaged. Now, using them to blow up folks like the above incident can most certainly be against both. The tool is not wrong, its use is.

    Drones pose no threat and little danger to those doing the killing.

    OK, that is good. Again, using them correctly, this is terrific, unless you want more Air Force people dead or hurt.

    …should I have phrased all that in question form?

    1. *nods aggressively*

  9. If war is not dangerous, warns Napolitano, it will become commonplace.

    Sorry, Judge. It’s *already* commonplace.

  10. “War should be dangerous for all sides so as to limit its lethality to only those venues that are worth the risk?those that are vital for national security.”

    Is it too much to ask that we have wise and restrained political leaders that respect the Constitution and its limitations on war-making AND a military that has overwhelming capabilities in force projection and protection? Don’t get me wrong, I understand the “if there’s less risk, there’s more willingness” argument. I just think it’s a dodge for our politicians. All they have to do is follow a piece of paper. If they do it correctly, we should either be waging war properly or (preferably) staying out of it entirely. But if it’s the former, I want the risk balance to be as skewed as possible towards those we are waging war on.

    1. Is it too much to ask that we have wise and restrained political leaders that respect the Constitution and its limitations on war-making AND a military that has overwhelming capabilities in force projection and protection?

      Obviously, yes.

  11. Wait a minute – since the judge posted his article in the form of statements shouldn’t we be posting our comments in question form? Is there some precedent for this?

  12. What if someone droned all the alt-texts?

  13. I wondering what the people who think it’s just fine for the President to whack American citizens based solely on whatever thoughts ricochet around in his skull while he’s taking his morning shit will say when some other country–say, Iran or Communist China–starts doing exactly the same thing? And you know they will, when they get the wherewithal.

    “Gasp! How dare they do that! Unprecedented! What makes them think they can violate another country’s sovereign territory like that?”

    Or, perhaps when the American President starts whacking American citizens within our own borders because they’re “racist teabaggers” or “darn crazy gun nuts” or “crazy homophobe Christians”.

    1. Or, perhaps when the American President starts whacking American citizens within our own borders because they’re “racist teabaggers” or “darn crazy gun nuts” or “crazy homophobe Christians”.

      Wouldn’t surprise me one bit, what with this narrative that “right-wing terrorists” are a credible threat.

  14. If war is not dangerous, warns Napolitano, it will become commonplace.

    We already live in an age of perpetual war for perpetual peace.

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  16. I agree with the concern that these actions have not been vetted by all of congress…..unless I missed the vote on the War in Pakistan. I also agree with the concern over violating another country’s property without permission. As someone posted above, how would we feel about Mexico launching drones into Texas to kill drug smugglers that off a few Americans in the process? My guess is the day after that happened that there would be a lot of gnashing of teeth along with new targeting codes for some missiles. That is some dangerous arrogance there. Finally, what in the hell is the CIA doing flying killer drones? I should think that there is a general or two pretty pissed about losing the responsibility of directing war operations. Hopefully this incident will prompt a congressional review and result in some long needed changes in policy and procedure.

    1. Hopefully this incident will prompt a congressional review and result in some long needed changes in policy and procedure.

      BWAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!1!!!11!!!! *inhales deeply* BWWAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHHAAAAA!!111!!!!!!

      Oh man, I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time. That’s a funny assjoke, you should be a standup comedian.

      1. Yeah, so I was making a funny face when I wrote the last line. Busted.

  17. dispatched by a computer in Virginia

    wars by robots

    I find it hard to take seriously an argument made by someone who doesn’t understand the different between remotely piloted aircraft (what we actually use) and automated robot (what we don’t have/use). There’s a valid rules of war argument to be made for sure, but for chissakes, try to have a working knowledge of what a “drone” is in practice, judge.

  18. Too many declarative sentences in this one, Judge.

  19. I get the idea that a war should require sacrifice so that we are not always making war. But terrorism is a form of war that also requires little sacrifice on the offensive front – few people die by making the attack. Given only that basis, drones vs terrorism seems like a relatively equal fight.

  20. I think he argued it poorly, but the central point that video games taken to this level is a dangerous turning point for society. And, it could lead to perpetual war. Why would cities not police by drones? If the technology was there, why would not drones fly around taking pics of people selling drugs? And, then if that is okay, why not order the drug dealers to drop their drugs and surrender to the drone, and if they don’t why not send other drones in to kill them? Why risk a hero when you can drone strike a thug? It’s a bad precedent to set.

    On the other hand, why risk two lives, when one life, that of the enemy, is all that is required to be risked?

    Blade Runner might not be too far out.

  21. Every so often a situation arises that you know is wrong, but you can’t articulate a perfectly rational argument against it.

    The boycott crowds who go after companies for a comment made by their CEOs is an example. If they wish to do this, then let them. But, tyranny by a mob whom the government listens to is not a lot different than tyranny by the government. Try telling the mob they are unwitting tools of the government and they will be turned on next would likely do nothing. They see their actions as being successful. They’re not, but they won’t recognize it until a lot of damage has been done. But, it is a tough one to come up with a perfect argument against.

    Drone strikes are similar. Why risk the life of a soldier when you don’t have to? But, the government can kill at will and never have to report their mistakes. They can make up stuff with complete impunity since no one actually knows what happened 1000s of miles away, and no one actually knows who was killed.

    Interesting issues. Easy enough to see what is right or wrong, but a lot harder to argue it perfectly without arguing against principles you might uphold elsewhere.

  22. Napolitano wrote: “Congress cannot delegate its war-making powers to any committee or group without effectively disenfranchising the voters whose congressional representatives are not in the group.”
    .
    That argument is logically flawed. If Congress cannot delegates its war-making power to the president because doing so would be “effectively disenfranchising the voters whose congressional representatives are not in the group” then by the same argument it also cannot delegate powers to regulate the financial system to the Federal Reserve without disenfranchising the voters. Or its power to regulate digital or radio communications to the FCC. Conversely, if it CAN delegate such other powers to such non-congressional bodies why can’t it delegate its war-making power to the president? Is the war power some special exception to all its other powers?
    .
    I note that Congress seems to have no problem delegating powers of arrest to the FBI. Or powers of surveillance to the NSA. If those sorts of delegations are legal why not a delegation of the war-making power?
    .
    The truth is the US constitution is flawed on that point. America’s founding fathers did not specify that ONLY Congress could exercise the war-making power.
    .
    What you should be asking yourself is not whether a delegation of congressional war-making powers is legal or not but what would be the consequences if Congress has not actually exercised those powers at all.

  23. What if Judge Napolitano wrote a column full of statements instead of questions? What if the peanut gallery in the comments section didn’t like it? What if the judge never wrote another piece that wasn’t all questions again?

  24. Obozo is a war criminal. Lock him up. Throw away the key.

  25. Excellent analysis!

    Some statistics:

    500 children murdered by parents in the U.S. every year

    Approximately 5 or 10 children killed by sex criminals every year (the U.S. D.O.J. says about 40 but they provide no support; in short, they’re lying).

    Number of children killed outside of the U.S. BY the U.S. government each year? Who really knows?

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