As interesting as these recent developments are about the suspected drone war, the domestic use of drones has had several recent, interesting developments as well. (U.S. Dept. of Defense)
By Robert Bradley
The recent alleged claim of Iran to have captured a U.S. military drone brought the use of drones back into the news.
The White House press secretary denied Iran’s claim, and a spokesperson for the U.S. Navy stated that none of its drones were missing. This, however, does not detract from the Obama’s administration increased use of drones to conduct surveillance and carry out targeted killings of terrorists. For the president, an increased use of drones makes political sense. Instead of dedicating ground forces to remote, unfriendly areas harboring terrorists, the president can use advanced technology to find and kill terrorists without directly jeopardizing U.S. military personnel.
In regard to the foreign use of drones there have been some noteworthy developments including:
A Planned Official Rulebook: In the weeks leading up to the election, the Obama administration worked feverishly in developing an official set of rules on the use of drones to carry out targeted killings on foreign soil. This effort was due to the desire to have a set of rules in place in case Romney won the presidential election. Obama staffers did not want Romney to have unbridled discretion in the use of drones to combat terrorism.
The effort to develop an official set of rules was seriously hampered by a deep division of opinion in the Obama administration on the proper use of drones. One side, generally representing officials from the State and Justice Departments, urged restraint in the use of drones. They argued that drones should be used for targeted killing only as a last resort in dealing with individuals who constituted an imminent threat to the U.S. The other side, represented by CIA and Defense Department officials, argued for a more flexible, general approach to the use of drones. According to them, drones could be used on the behalf of allies and to prevent militant groups from threatening legitimate regimes which are friendly to U.S. interests. These uses would be in addition to dealing with known terrorists.
While national security advisors state that targeted killings by drone strikes are legal because of the ongoing war between the U.S. and al-Qaida, they also contend that a set of rules needs to be developed and followed. Despite some awareness that effort was devoted to designing a rulebook, thus far there is no knowledge as to whether that effort is close to producing a result.
Signature Strikes: For several years, the CIA and the military allegedly have used drones to conduct killings of targets that were on kill lists. These targets were generally believed to be known terrorists with direct links to al-Qaida. However, this is quite speculative as the Obama administration has never publicly disclosed how the kill lists were comprised or the contents of such lists.
Recently certain media sources indicate that the use of drones to kill individuals abroad has expanded beyond the kill lists. Now individuals can be targeted by a drone because they exhibit certain behaviors associated with terrorism in a specified geographic area. Thus, drones can be used to kill certain individuals without their identities being known beforehand by the government. Wonder how much of the planned rulebook will be devoted to this type of targeting killing by drones?
Litigation: Two recent lawsuits have been filed by various civil liberties groups. One challenges the government’s use of drones to kill three U.S. citizens in an area quite distant from any acknowledged combat zone. The case essentially claims that the victims were denied life without due process of law, and that the president should not have the sole discretion to order the execution of U.S. citizens who do not constitute a direct, imminent threat to the nation in an area far removed from a combat zone.
The second lawsuit is an effort to get the government to officially acknowledge the use of drones to conduct targeted killings. While many administration officials have commented on this particular usage of drones, the White House will not officially acknowledge that function. Until there is an official acknowledgment, then Freedom of Information Act requests are useless about the scope and intent of that use of drones by the government. Thus, it remains conjecture as to the number of people who have been killed, how many drones are used, and how long this function has been carried out.
As interesting as these recent developments are about the suspected drone war, the domestic use of drones has had several recent, interesting developments as well. Those will be the subject of my next blog.
Bob Bradley is solely responsible for the opinions expressed above. These opinions do not necessarily reflect those of WJBC, Radio Bloomington or Cumulus Media staff or management.
Bradley was a full-time professor in the Department of Politics and Government at Illinois State University where he has been since 1982. He has received several recognitions including: Carnegie Scholar for Civic Engagement, Constitution Trail Friend of the Year, and Faculty Star distinction by ISU Athletics. He dearly loves his wife, Reenie, of more than 25 years, and his daughter, Erin. He is an avid reader, devout sports enthusiast, gardener, golfer, and bird watcher.