In an opinion piece this morning, former Clinton White House chief of staff John Podesta urges President Obama to make available to Congress and the American people the legal opinions governing the targeted drone killing program. Podesta writes:
“In refusing to release to Congress the rules and justifications governing a program that has conducted nearly 400 unmanned drone strikes and killed at least three Americans in the past four years, President Obama is ignoring the system of checks and balances that has governed our country from its earliest days. And in keeping this information from the American people, he is undermining the nation’s ability to be a leader on the world stage and is acting in opposition to the democratic principles we hold most important. This is why I say, respectfully: Give them up, Mr. President.”
AT TIMES IT SEEMS VERY HARD to realize that half a century has passed since my late wife, Rosemarie, and I were in Birmingham, Ala., living out a part of our years of service as representatives of the Mennonite churches of America to the Southern freedom movement—that historic black-led struggle for the expansion of democracy in America (inadequately labeled "the civil rights movement").
It was in the midst of those powerful days, in the late winter and early springtime of 1963, when our extraordinary people's movement was spreading to dozens of communities across the South, with some important reverberations in the North, and across the world as well. Usually initiated by courageous home-grown black leaders such as Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth of Birmingham and Victoria Gray of Palmers Crossing, Miss., the determined local groups often called upon national or South-wide organizations to help them in their campaigns.
Late in 1961, Shuttlesworth, who was part of the King-led Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), asked Martin Luther King Jr. and SCLC to come help the Birmingham movement. It faced a level of continuing white terrorism that led the black community to call their city "Bombingham," referring, of course, to the deadly violence they encountered whenever they attempted to challenge the white segregationist powers who were determined to keep black people in a submissive, separate, and dominated role.
When King and SCLC decided to respond to Shuttlesworth and move onto the Birmingham scene, Rosemarie and I were already friends and co-workers with Martin and Coretta, and King asked us to come participate in the struggle for the transformation of Birmingham. So we were present and in the line of marchers when King, his co-worker Ralph Abernathy, and others were arrested in early April 1963.
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Eight Members of Congress sent a letter to the president yesterday, requesting a complete report on the legal basis for the targeted killings by the drone program. The letter noted a 2012 GAO study saying that 75 countries and “certain terrorist organizations” now have drones. With this growing reality, the letter said:
“We are growing increasingly concerned that there is a risk that our country’s ‘global war’ doctrine will further corrode the foundations of the international framework for protection of human rights.”
The letter was organized by Rep. Barbara Lee, Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus Peace and Security Task Force, who said in a press release:
“It is far past time that the White House openly discuss the drones program. The President has full rein to protect the United States as Commander in Chief, but Congress has a vital oversight role in this issue, and we cannot shy away from those responsibilities. We have to protect the checks and balances that are at the heart of our democracy.”
Sen. Rand Paul’s 13-hour filibuster last week against the administration’s drone policy brought a long-simmering debate to a full public boil. Although some have criticized him for “grandstanding,” the Kentucky Republican did all of us a favor. Issues and questions that had been raised primarily by progressive bloggers and peace groups are now in full public view and debate in the mainstream media.
The New York Times carried front page stories both days this weekend. On Saturday, it highlighted the growing opposition to drones from across the political spectrum, writing that Sen. Paul’s filibuster had hit a “bipartisan nerve,” and:
“… animated a surprisingly diverse swath of political interests that includes mainstream civil liberties groups, Republican and Democratic lawmakers, conservative research groups, liberal activists and right-wing conspiracy theorists.”
The first reported drone strike in nearly a month is said to have happened Sunday morning in the North Waziristan tribal region of Pakistan. According to The New York Times:
“Two people suspected of being militants were killed Sunday morning in the volatile North Waziristan tribal region by what Pakistani and Taliban officials said was a drone strike. … Two Pakistani officials, one in Peshawar and another in the tribal belt, said that missiles fired from a drone operated by the C.I.A. hit the two people in the village of Degan, about 20 miles from Miram Shah, the main town in North Waziristan.”
“The CIA-operated, remotely piloted Predators or the more deadly Reapers fired two missiles at a pair of "militants" as they were riding horses in the village of Degan in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan. The two militants and their horses are reported to have been killed.”
While I stand with Sen. Rand Paul on the question of the use of militarized spy drones in American airspace and (potentially) on Americans, I am deeply troubled by our use of these weapons in other lands, too, where they are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of children and other innocents.
There's something dishonorable about killing without the risk associated with the act, no matter how heinous the target or valuable and beautiful the persons you put at risk in order to personally kill.
Sen. Rand Paul took the floor of the U.S. Senate Wednesday morning and announced that he was filibustering the nomination of John Brennan as CIA Director. As he began, reported The Washington Post,he said:
“I will speak until I can no longer speak. I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court.”
Twelve hours and 52 minutes later, Paul yielded the floor and the Senate adjourned.
The Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday confirmed White House adviser John Brennan as CIA director on a 12-3 vote. The Democratic Senate leadership is attempting a quick vote, but ran into a problem as a filibuster began. The Associated Press reports:
“Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., stalled the chamber as he took to the Senate floor to complain over what he said was President Barack Obama's failure to adequately answer questions about the legality of conducting lethal drone strikes against targets inside the United States. The Obama administration has said it does not intend to conduct such strikes.
"'No American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found guilty of a crime by a court,' Paul said. 'How can you kill someone without going to a judge, or a jury?'"
Sen. Paul began speaking about two hours ago, you can watch HERE.
The House Judiciary Committee yesterday held one of the first public hearings on U.S. drone strikes, with Democratic and Republican members expressing concern about the secret program. Reuters reports:
“The public congressional hearing on "drone-kill policy" was noteworthy: government officials refrained for years from even uttering the word "drone" when talking about the use of armed, pilotless aircraft because such operations were classified.
“But in the past year, the White House has sought more publicly to present its justifications for drone strikes, through comments by officials like Obama counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, who has been nominated to become CIA director.”
While the U.S. continues to debate whether the president has legal authority to order the drone killing of American citizens, it seems the British have found their answer to the question. According to The Independent:
“The Government has secretly ramped up a controversial programme that strips people of their British citizenship on national security grounds – with two of the men subsequently killed by American drone attacks.
“An investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism for The Independent has established that since 2010, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, has revoked the passports of 16 individuals, many of whom are alleged to have had links to militant or terrorist groups.”