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The DRONES Diversion

[ 293 ] March 13, 2013 |

Mark Tushnet is making a lot of sense here:

I’ve finally been driven bonkers by the quality of the discussion on the left about drone use against US citizens within the United States. OF COURSE it’s constitutionally permissible for executive officials to take actions against a US citizen on US soil that either (a) predictably will lead to the citizen’s death or (b) are intended to kill the citizen. (Drones are completely irrelevant to the constitutional question. Snipers using rifles raise the same question. And, in this post I’m talking only about the Constitution; there are statutory limitations on who can do the killing — for example, not the CIA — but I’m not going to deal with them.) The only interesting questions, and they aren’t all that interesting, deal with when it’s constitutionally permissible to do so — and, secondarily, with what processes do the officials have to go through before they take the action.

[…]

So, why hasn’t the Obama administration said what I just did? Well, first of all, I think it has, when you put together all the statements they’ve made. They’ve talked about imminence, for example, in ways that make it clear that they’re defining imminence in relation to the ability to arrest (or capture, when dealing with questions about terrorists outside the United States). Second, the more sophisticated critics have said they their primary concern is transparency, that they don’t know the circumstances under which the administration believes it wouldn’t violate the Constitution to target a US citizen on US soil. But, I doubt that the administration could fairly say more than something like this: “We think we can target people after we’ve done our damnedest to assure ourselves that the targets do in fact pose an imminent threat to domestic security, and when we’ve done the best we can to rule out the possibility that we can stop them by arresting them in circumstances where there’s a relatively low probability of doing so safely.” Ask for more than that, and all you’ll get is, “Circumstances vary so much that we can’t say anything more precise.”

I would qualify the last paragraph a little bit. While I agree that answer is implicit in past statements of the Obama administration, given some of the more radical claims of the past administration (particularly with respect to the constitutionality of statutory limits) asking for an explicit answer is a good idea. But Tushnet is right that a categorical denial of the ability of the executive to use violence without due process against American citizens on American soil is obviously impossible, not least because the use of violence by the executive branch without due process is sometimes legitimate in the use of ordinary police powers. And certainly, the use of “drones” is beside the point; the precise mechanism of violence is not a constitutional issue and generally will not be an issue of moral significance. (For similar reasons, I must confess to being unclear why the use of small drones for surveillance is in itself any scarier than, say, helicopters, or having a cop in a squad car tailing a suspect.)

When applied outside of American soil, there are more serious issues, and the questions of what constitutes an “imminent” threat and (to a lesser extent) the conditions under which capture is unfeasible are not merely academic — there’s good reason to believe that there have been extrajuridical killings of people who don’t meet the first criterion, and the process is plainly inadequate.  But, again, the relevant question is the process for defining legitimate military targets, not the use of drones (as opposed to conventional weapons). And I would add again that the question of American citizenship is beside the point; violence can be used in some circumstances against an American who is a military target, and should not be used against a non-American who isn’t.

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  • bargal

    Thank you. If I read one more word from American lefties about how outraged they are that Americans (AMERICANS!) might be treated by the US intelligence agency the way it treats us dirty foreigners, I’m going to burn my Mickey Mouse ears.

    • Glenn

      I really think this misses the point of at least some of the criticism. I believe the point is to try to use the intuition that extrajudicial killing of Americans by their government is wrong, and then use that to then ask, so why is it any less wrong when we do it to other citizens? A reverse slippery slope argument, if you will. I really don’t see anyone significant on the left making the argument as you’re framing it, though I certainly don’t claim to know all of what “the left” is saying.

      • I see it as shameless exploitation more than anything.

        • Barry

          Or trying to stop from sliding down what seems to be a slippery slope.

      • Scott Lemieux

        I believe the point is to try to use the intuition that extrajudicial killing of Americans by their government is wrong, and then use that to then ask, so why is it any less wrong when we do it to other citizens?

        Among other things, the Paul filibuster demonstrates to me that this strategy is incredibly ineffective. The vastly more likely outcome of focusing on hypotheticals about KILLING AMERICANS ON AMERICAN SOIL is that Obama will point out that this isn’t happening and then Congress can go back to sleep.

      • A reverse slippery slope argument, if you will.

        “Can’t do it to Americans on American soil” -> “Can’t do it to dirty furrners in other countries” does not strike me as even the slightest bit slippery.

      • Loud Liberal

        “Extrajudicial killings” of American and non-American criminal “suspects” by the police occur every day in America. I think the objection is to “planned assassinations” without due process.

    • L2P

      Well, there is the bit about how the 4th Amendment (among other things) protects US citizens and residents, not non-resident aliens. We can complain about constitutional restraints on the government’s power re US residents that don’t apply to “dirty foreigners.”

  • Witt

    Tushnet:

    So, why hasn’t the Obama administration said what I just did?

    Because the American public practices a don’t ask/don’t tell attitude towards its leaders’ use of assassination, and because this particular president is black.

    I can think of a number of people I know personally for whom the vague knowledge that President George H.W. Bush might have had a bad guy or two taken care of is unsavory but not worldshattering. Those same people, told bluntly that President Barack Obama did the same would react quite differently.

    I don’t agree with the administration, and I encourage people who are upset by these issues to join me in donating to the Center for Constitutional Rights. But I don’t think they the Obama folks are *wrong* in their calculation of how the US public would react to something like Tushnet’s proposed statement.

    From the OP:

    I must confess to being unclear why the use of small drones for surveillance is in itself any scarier than, say, helicopters, or having a cop in a squad car tailing a suspect.)

    For one reason, my understanding is that drones take a lot less personnel to field and support than your typical manned (personned?) surveillance aircraft. That lowers the cost of surveillance.

    And if there is anything the last 20 years have taught me (hello police & CCTV), authorities loooooove new, cheaper, and more expansive ways to troll for “bad guys.”

    • sharculese

      You can still say ‘manned’. It’s cool.

      • I believed the politically correct terms are mynned/wymynned or unmynned/unwymynned. But, I haven’t kept up with the subfield of postmodern gender studies.

        • Hogan

          I’M ON UR LAWN, MESSIN WYTH UR VOWALS

          • Theobald Smith

            I’d prefer “crewed”, myself — gender-neutral, while not sounding atrocious.

            • Theobald Smith

              Potentially also “piloted.”

            • Njorl

              It sounds crude to me.

          • Loud Liberal

            What’s a vowal?

        • STH

          There are plenty of good synonyms: staffed, piloted, crewed, etc. But don’t let that get in the way of poking fun at gender studies; it’s not like there’s enough of that around already.

      • “Manned” comes from the Latin word for “hand,” and has the same based as “manual.”

        Think of “all hands on deck.”

    • A better way to phrase it would be: hysterical opposition to DRONES! is wholly unserious, so why would the administration bother?

      • And we’ve seen what happens when this President responds to hysteria with reasonable explanations: think about “death panels.” Think about the release of the standard-form birth certificate. The dishonest hysterics just move the goal posts or find some semantic crevice to hide in.

        I’ve actually seen people note that Eric Holder gave a “No” answer to a question that included the phrase “in combat” – his answer didn’t include that; he replied to a question that included it – by accusing the administration of hiding behind an “in combat” loophole and playing fast and loose with definitions. They can “declare” you to be engaged in combat and drone you as you sit with Jane Fonda in a cafe, doncha know.

  • Witt

    Whoops, I lost a comma. Should be:

    Those same people, told bluntly that President Barack Obama did the same, would react quite differently.

    • Loud Liberal

      No worries. It was clear enough.

  • Incontinentia Buttocks

    It seems to me that the obvious difference between being surveilled by a helicopter and being surveilled by a small drone is that it’s easier to tell if one is being surveilled by a helicopter. Whether this is a feature or a bug depends on your point of view.

    And while I agree that, from a strictly Constitutional perspective, whether one uses a drone or some other method of killing is not very significant, practically speaking, drones are different. Reports from countries like Pakistan that have heavy drone traffic suggest, unsurprisingly, that filling the skies with killer robots has some pretty profound psychological effects on the populace. I imagine the same would obtain in this country.

    Yes, the way that the drone debate has been framed is frequently idiotic. However, those more upset about how carefully a debate is framed than they are about, e.g., imperialism or the growth of the surveillance state have, at best, seriously misplaced their priorities.

    • Rarely Posts

      I agree with this basic point, but:

      1) I don’t see why drones should be the stopping point. Shouldn’t a Civil Libertarians’ position by that the State needs probable cause and a warrant to use helicopters to perform searches, not just to use drones? What about heat detectors, etc.? Satellites? Other technologies?

      2) The Supreme Court, unfortunately, has allowed the use of a lot of technologies to allow searches without a warrant or probable cause (concluding that they are not searches).

      Drones aren’t entirely a side-issue when it comes to the Fourth Amendment and searches, but the general use of technology to perform searches that are not denominated “searches” by the Court is far broader and, as an actual factual matter, mostly involves things other than drones. In fact, are there circumstances where drones have been used to perform searches in the United States? I’m honestly not sure.

      • Incontinentia Buttocks

        I totally agree that drones should be a starting point, not a stopping point, for concerns about both warfare and the Fourth Amendment. Thus, rather than letting the fuzziness of thinking about drones lead to dismissing the concerns of those upset anout drones, we should encourage people to follow their critiques of drones to their logical conclusions. In this regard, people’s visceral concern about drones can be a kind of thin edge of the wedge.

        • DrDick

          This really is the heart of the matter, as those who rant about drones never move beyond that to the larger issues at stake in regards to the surveillance state and the expansion of police powers since 9/11.

          • Sean Peters

            That doesn’t change the fact that the use of mini-drones is in itself a fairly scary development. Sure, people should get excited about the larger issue. The fact that they haven’t doesn’t mean they’re wrong to be worried about the smaller one.

          • Manta

            “never”? one of the most prominent opponents to drones is Greenwald, that, for all his faults, is very vocal on those topics.

          • Barry

            “This really is the heart of the matter, as those who rant about drones never move beyond that to the larger issues at stake in regards to the surveillance state and the expansion of police powers since 9/11.”

            First, that’s an obviously BS claim, and second, a lot of people are trying to keep up with what the government’s doing. In some respects, we’re like the Allies in 1939-42, just trying not to get wiped out.

    • rea

      the obvious difference between being surveilled by a helicopter and being surveilled by a small drone is that it’s easier to tell if one is being surveilled by a helicopter.

      Allthough the case I had where my client was surveilled by a helicopter (they followed her home from the store selling growlights), she didn’t notice and only found out from the police reports after her arrest. Helicopters aren’t so unusual as to be conspicous–drones are are smaller, but have fewer innocent explanations.

      • On a slightly different track: is covert surveillance illegal in all circumstances now or something?

        • Of course not. But covert surveillance is something that, ideally, would be reserved for very dangerous individuals, because it involves a huge privacy invasion on innocent people even when conducted perfectly responsibly, and because there is a huge temptation among law enforcement officials (a community that includes some really bad apples) to cast dragnets, follow around innocent people for prurient reasons or to harass them, etc.

          A lot of what the new technology is doing is lowering the cost and detectability of covert surveillance, which means the temptation is going to be to do a lot more of it. And we don’t, actually, need a lot more of it. A lot more of it is bad for society. That’s sort of what Orwell predicted with the telescreens in “1984”.

          • “But covert surveillance is something that, ideally, would be reserved for very dangerous individuals”

            I would think you would want to use it in cases where you didn’t want to alert the suspects that they may want to take additional care to hide their lawbreaking from law enforcement, but I guess that’s just me.

            • What do you mean “lawbreaking”? Terrorism and a 16 year old girl sexting her boyfriend are both “lawbreaking”.

              The point is, the relative unavailability of surveillance has forced law enforcement to PRIORITIZE, which is a powerful check against enforcement of laws that shouldn’t actually receive maximal enforcement. (They don’t always prioritize right– witness the war on drugs– but that’s gonna get worse with all the new surveillance too.)

              And it also has made it more costly to engage in illegal surveillance, such as dragnets and fishing expeditions and salacious privacy invasions, as well. Bring the cost down and you will have more of that.

              No, the key to policing is you need a Goldilocks strategy– not too little and not too much. Cheap surveillance pushes us further in the direction of too much.

              • “The point is, the relative unavailability of surveillance has forced law enforcement to PRIORITIZE, which is a powerful check against enforcement of laws that shouldn’t actually receive maximal enforcement. ”

                Interesting. So you don’t trust police power, but you trust them to prioritize their resources well?

                • I answered that. At this point, you have stopped arguing in favor of onanism. I hope you climax soon.

    • JoyfulA

      I’ve read of one instance when an animal rights group surveiled hunters with a drone; the hunters shot down the drone, which is how it made the newspapers.

      Surely, there’s a lot more civilian usage of surveillance drones than this one case. Yet I haven’t seen discussion of that topic.

      • Wouldn’t anyone with the ability to attach a camera to a remote controlled airplane be able to build a “surveillance drone?”

    • Sean Peters

      This is exactly it. A cop in a squad car can only follow you on the road. If, say, an H-60 is hovering over your backyard, 1) you’re going to know it, and 2) it’s not going to be able to listen in on any conversations you have. Also, paying for helicopters and guys in squad cars is fairly expensive, so the state has a limited capability to do it.

      None of this is true with small drones. Because they can be made very small and quiet, they can get close enough to do video and audio surveillance without you even knowing about it. And they cost much, much less to operate, so the state can vastly increase the amount of surveillance it does.

      Drones == 1984? Well, not exactly. But they bring it closer.

      • “This is exactly it. A cop in a squad car can only follow you on the road. If, say, an H-60 is hovering over your backyard, 1) you’re going to know it, and 2) it’s not going to be able to listen in on any conversations you have. Also, paying for helicopters and guys in squad cars is fairly expensive, so the state has a limited capability to do it. ”

        This is a laughably terrible argument against police departments using surveillance drones. I’m honestly having a problem believing anyone could take it seriously.

        • It’s only a terrible argument for people who don’t give a crap about privacy and thinks that police departments are basically full of benevolent people who never make mistakes or have incentives to do bad things.

          • Because we got rid of domestic courts recently?

            • Courts can only stop things after the fact or award damages for them. That’s especially important with respect to surveillance, where the damage is done by the invasion of privacy. Unless you stop the surveillance ex ante, you can’t unring the bell.

              • But you can’t possibly stop surveillance ex ante short of abolishing the police altogether. Drones or no drones. So, again, there’s just no reasoning skill at work here whatsoever, just DRONES!!!!

                • You can’t stop it, but as they say on ESPN, you can hope to contain it….

    • Scott Lemieux

      being surveilled by a small drone is that it’s easier to tell if one is being surveilled by a helicopter.

      I think the opposite is true. A helicopter in the sky could be looking at a lot of things, but it’s hard not to notice a small plane that’s always on your tail.

      • I still can’t believe I missed the part where we decided to require that people under surveillance had to be given a fair chance to evade the cops. Seems like that would have been a bigger deal or something.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks

          As I said, opinions differ on whether knowing that one is under surveillance (especially when it is unchecked by the need for a warrant) is a good or a bad thing. My sympathies tend to lie with those folks who think it’s a bad thing…though fans of expanded police powers will always argue that if you’re not doing anything wrong, who cares if the state is watching you?

          • Incontinentia Buttocks

            To be clear: my sympathies lie with those who think it’s a bad thing NOT to know.

            • Could you elaborate on your theory that law enforcement is only legitimate if it is ineffective?

              • That’s a straw man.

                Again, there are a lot of bad people, and bad incentives, in police departments. As a result, they aren’t trustworthy, which is something the framers of the Constitution understood. They weren’t allowed to search people’s homes except in specific circumstances because the framers understood that there would be bad people in police departments who would abuse the power if they had it, and there would be incentives to do too many searches in the hope of catching whatever criminal threat was in the news at the moment.

                That, as I said, is the premise of our Constitution. The framers understood the cops are to be feared as well as trusted.

                Well, one of the things that we should fear is these bad people with bad incentives getting ahold of too much surveillance technology, so they can snoop on more and more innocent people in the hope of catching them engaged in some sort of wrongful activity.

                And as I said, the telescreens in “1984” were sort of the predictor of that. Nobody reads “1984” and says “having a telescreen in everyone’s home is fine because as long as nobody does anything wrong, it won’t hurt them!”.

              • rea

                “Reasonable expectation of privacy” is the key concept here. If you are in a public space, you can’t complain that people are there looking at you. Thus a lot of surveillance doesn’t pose any real issues.

                Cops on foot can enter open fields, they can walk up your driveway or up the walkway to your front door–but they may step over the line by entering your backyard, because that’s not open to the public. Arial surveillance of your backyard may be okay, though, because you know people can legally fly airplanes over your backyard and see what is to be seen.

                • That’s fair, I suppose I was thinking of court authorized surveillance specifically.

          • Mojo

            So should police who are tailing a suspect on foot be required to wear bells? Or are squeaky shoes an adequate protection of civil liberties?

    • Jeffrey Beaumont

      Why is filling the skies with killer robots any worse than filling the skies with F-16s or filling the roads with cavalry or any other use of military technology. In the phrase “killer robots”, the psychologically scary issue is killer, not robots.

  • Shwell Thanksh

    I must be one of the naive ones, because when I look ahead a decade or two and see swarms of tiny ones, affordable by any small global actor, I’m not sure why we’re so eager to set this precedent without having some kind of defense against them in mind for our own elected officials.
    Maybe they’ll get Popemobiles. Or just stay indoors.

    But if they’re just like manned aircraft, then worrying my silly head is just silly.

    • sibusisodan

      I’m not sure what you’re saying has actually been adhered to by any government anywere ever: ‘we have this shiny new toy, but we shouldn’t use it until we’ve figured out how to protect ourselves from it being used against us’.

      It’s a sensible idea, but it’s not the way govt actually works.

      It also doesn’t have very much to do with the issue at hand: whether govt has the right to do X, irrespective of whether they use drones to do X.

      • LeftWingFox

        It’s a sensible idea, but it’s not the way govt actually works.

        Or any technology, really.

        • DrDick

          Yep.

        • i.boskone

          I guess the history of radar-jamming chaff (‘Window’ to the British & ‘Duppel’ to the Germans) is the exception that proves the rule?
          via Wikipedia (and many other sources):

          “However, unaware of the opposing air force’s knowledge of the chaff concept, planners felt that using it was even more dangerous than not, since, as soon as it was used, the enemy could easily duplicate it and use it against them. In particular, the British government’s leading scientific adviser, Professor Lindemann, balefully pointed out that if the RAF used it against the Germans, the Luftwaffe would quickly copy it and could launch a new Blitz. This caused concern in RAF Fighter Command and Anti-Aircraft Command, who managed to suppress the use of Window until July 1943…
          …Although the metal strips puzzled the German civilians at first, the German scientists knew exactly what they were because they had developed Düppel themselves and refrained from using it for exactly the same reasons as Lindemann had pointed out to the British. Thus for over a year the curious situation arose where both sides of the conflict knew how to use chaff to jam the other side’s radar, but refrained from doing so fearing that if they did so the other side would ‘learn the trick’ and use it against themselves.”

          • sibusisodan

            That’s awesome!

      • Nuclear weapons are a partial counter-example.

    • UAVs are not the hydrogen bomb. If the US had never invented the H-bomb, the Russians would have never been able to build one.

      Drones are based on fly-by-wire technology, light airframes, and mobile data links. It’s 2013; this is basically off-the-shelf stuff at this point, or close to it.

  • Rarely Posts

    One problem is that people keep demanding the Administration to make statements on these issues, and then they shift the goalposts demanding more definitive and detailed statements. The problem is that it’s almost impossible to describe a broad test that could not be willfully or unintentionally misapplied. This is one reason we don’t litigate hypotheticals that aren’t presented.

    I really like Kevin Drum, but he’s a good example. First, on February 22, Drum demands a Presidential statement on the authority to use military force in the United States. He states the Administration “better be” “constrained to prohibit the targeting of American citizens on US soil.”
    http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2013/02/can-president-target-american-citizens-us-soil

    Then, the Administration answers and states that:

    It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States. For example, the president could conceivably have no choice but to authorize the military to use such force if necessary to protect the homeland in the circumstances like a catastrophic attack like the ones suffered on December 7, 1941, and September 11, 2001.

    Drum then moves the goalposts, stating that: “Unfortunately, this is still a bit of a non-answer. The president plainly has the authority to authorize lethal military force on American soil if the country is attacked. I don’t think anybody has ever questioned that.”* But, in fact, the Administration has answered specifically the question asked. Drum then goes on to explain that he wants a more specific sense of when it’s appropriate.
    http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2013/03/killing-american-citizens-american-soil-take-2

    It’s just difficult to articulate any test that would encompass all the circumstances when the President’s authority would clearly allow deadly force by the military (I believe that Pearl Harbor and 9/11 qualify), but that can’t be applied incorrectly in the future — imminence is a vague standard, and although it may be required, it certainly could be interpreted to include situations where deadly military force would be unacceptable.

    One irony is that the Administration’s answer is far narrower than the types of tests laid out by the Supreme Court. It would require an “extraordinary circumstance,” such as if “the president could conceivably have no choice but to authorize the military to use such force if necessary to protect the homeland in the circumstances like a catastrophic attack like [Pearl Harbor] or [9/11].” That’s a very high bar to meet — similar to Pearl Harbor or 9/11? Wow.

    In contrast, in Scott v. Harris, the Supreme Court held that: a police officer’s attempt to terminate a dangerous high-speed car chase that threatens the lives of innocent bystanders does not violate the Fourth Amendment, even when it places the fleeing motorist at risk of serious injury or death. So, the Supreme Court has allowed the use of deadly force in response to the flight of a suspect if the suspect’s flight is merely dangerous. One other, obvious option: stop chasing the suspect and try to capture them through other means. Can anyone imagine the Court stating the Administration can’t use deadly force absent a threat such as Pearl Harbor or 9/11?

    It’s also frustrating because there are legitimate discussions about the legality of actions which the government is actually taking (whereas I am unaware of any instances of the Administration using drones within the United States).

    For example, this administration (and particularly the prior administration) walked on far more tenuous grounds in other circumstances. The prior administration’s authorization of torture contrary to statutes and precedent. The prior administration’s indefinite detention on Guantanamo (continued by this administration, though the blame for that now lies mostly with Congress). Both administrations’ approach to the Fourth Amendment, wiretapping, and FISA. This Administration’s interpretation of the War Powers Act with respect to Libya.

    I just don’t understand why people whose main focus is on civil liberties and the rule of law focus on certain hypothetical issues far more than others.

    * As an aside, I’m not at all sure that Greenwald and others would not question that.

    • Cody

      That’s why a lot of people find the motivation for Paul Rand’s speech so obvious.

      It’s not that we can use force on American soil or that there is an Executive with a lot of power.

      It’s that there is some Black man sitting around who can just decide to kill you! And obviously we can’t expect him to show restraint. I mean, really. How could he? He’s just… the President. Bush though, he is really trustworthy.

      • The problem with that analysis is, unless you think Rand completely disagrees with his father on these issues, it makes no sense as applied TO HIM. Ron Paul criticized the dickens out of the Bush Administration on various civil liberties and war on terror issues. He wasn’t perfect, and he supported some bad policies as well, but there’s really no reason at all to think that this is racism as opposed to pretty standard issue libertarian fear of the government stuff.

        • I agree, because I’m old enough to remember how batshit-insane the libertarian right was about Bill and Hillary Clinton. I remember when “It Takes a Village” meant that Headband Hillary was going to kidnap children from conservative parents and raise them in federally-run communes.

  • Anon21

    Far too much sense is being made for a single post. Why, my goodness, you mean we don’t actually hold a three-week trial before a police sniper shoots a hostage taker? What about DUE PROCESS?????

    But seriously, the only interesting legal question implicated by all this is how the administration determines it’s infeasible to capture American citizens rather than killing them. Beyond that, let’s all just agree that the targeted killing program is absolutely, 100% legal in every respect, stop casting all sorts of vague and dire nonsense in terms of constitutional provisions that won’t support its weight, and talk about what, as a matter of policy, should be done about targeted killing. I think regulation by statute is a good idea! I am open to the possibility that judicial process would add some needed independence to the decision to kill! But I just can’t have a discussion with people who think the Due Process Clause prohibits the President from deliberately killing a suspected terrorist hiding out in a lawless region of the world surrounded by armed men.

    • rea

      the only interesting legal question implicated by all this is how the administration determines it’s infeasible to capture American citizens rather than killing them.

      You know, we have a very large body of case law dealing with this, in the context of ordinary law enforcemnt.

      • Anon21

        I actually don’t know that. I know that we have a body of law dealing with when it’s acceptable to use lethal force against a fleeing criminal, and I know that we have a general rule that police officers (actually, anyone) can use lethal force when necessary to protect themselves or others from imminent death or serious injury. To me, those rules are made against a background assumption of state sovereignty, in the sense that the fleeing criminal will likely be captured at some point. I don’t think they fit well in a context like the parts of Yemen where the government has no effective control and capture is totally impractical. I think it’s necessary to develop new criteria for how the Fourth Amendment constrains the use of lethal force against citizens who go to places where capture is impracticable.

        But maybe you’re thinking of a completely different line of case law here.

        • rea

          I don’t think they fit well in a context like the parts of Yemen

          Well, yeah. Different rules apply to police power use of deadly force and war power use of deadly force. What we do in Yemen is war power–we have no police power in Yemen. What we do here is this country is police power, absent invasion or insurrection.

    • Barry

      “But I just can’t have a discussion with people who think the Due Process Clause prohibits the President from deliberately killing a suspected terrorist hiding out in a lawless region of the world surrounded by armed men.”

      Well, it’s no fun having a conversation with some whackjob who thinks that a permanent state of sorta-war with a concept all over the world is hunky-dory.

      • sibusisodan

        Well, it’s no fun having a conversation with some whackjob who thinks that a permanent state of sorta-war with a concept all over the world is hunky-dory.

        The fact that this is not the nature of your conversation partner is a relief to us all, indeed.

        How, exactly, will exploring the limits of executive power on drones deal with the rather pressing problem of the legislature having granted a permanent state of war with a concept all over the globe? How will legislative filibuster on the drone topic help?

        It won’t and it doesn’t, IMO. It actually works against the rather obvious end-goal, since it affords the legislature yet another distraction from doing their actual job.

      • Anon21

        It has nothing to do with warfare. This is law enforcement. Criminals who make themselves impossible to capture get killed. Not a new development.

        • I suppose it would be possible to use the police power as the basis for using force against terrorists in Yemen, but in fact, the administration has based its position on the war power. Which makes sense, because Congress declared war on them.

      • Well, it’s no fun having a conversation with some whackjob who thinks that a permanent state of sorta-war with a concept all over the world is hunky-dory.

        The differential between the honesty-levels on the two sides of this debate (at least between liberals) is striking. One side makes a serious effort to deal with the complexities of law, constitutionality, international norms, and policy outcomes. The other side writes shit like “some whackjob who thinks that a permanent state of sorta-war with a concept all over the world is hunky-dory.”

  • Murc

    For similar reasons, I must confess to being unclear why the use of small drones for surveillance is in itself any scarier than, say, helicopters, or having a cop in a squad car tailing a suspect.

    … seriously?

    I find it scarier because it reduces, greatly, the amount of manpower needed to maintain and expand the surveillance state. I find the surveillance state objectionable to begin with, so this bothers me. Other have made this point more eloquently upthread.

    On the other hand…

    We are rapidly reaching the point where storage, bandwidth, and recording technology reach the point where relatively high-fidelity lifelogging becomes a possibility at dirt cheap prices. Somehow, I think the various powers that be will suddenly become real concerned with privacy rights again if and when the surveillance is democratized.

    • Malaclypse

      I find it scarier because it reduces, greatly, the amount of manpower needed to maintain and expand the surveillance state. I find the surveillance state objectionable to begin with, so this bothers me.

      While this is an interesting point, why does that make drones scarier than, say, Google Glass?

      • Malaclypse

        Also germane: this, from whence I got the link above. Particularly comment 16.

      • DrDick

        Or the increasingly ubiquitous CCTV cameras?

      • Sean Peters

        1) it’s expensive to have a guy hang around in your backyard for any significant amount of time, with or without Google Glass. 2) If a guy was hanging around your backyard for any significant amount of time, you’d probably notice it. Neither of these are true with small, cheap, hard-to-spot drones.

        And besides, this is just another version of argument of the form: we can’t completely solve problem X, so there’s no point in working on any part of the problem. Limiting the state’s ability to surveil us with drones would be a good thing, regardless of whether they can still do it with in-person humans carrying small cameras.

        • “. Limiting the state’s ability to surveil us with drones would be a good thing…”

          No, limiting the state’s authority to do so would be a good thing. That you, at best, don’t understand the difference is telling.

      • Murc

        While this is an interesting point, why does that make drones scarier than, say, Google Glass?

        Well, to be clear, it’s less the drones specifically I’m concerned about than the ever-expanding surveillance state. But drones are a part of that.

        It’s sort of how I’m not so much concerned about the existence of tasers as I am with the ability of police to taser people to death with no consequences. The taser is secondary to that concern, but it’s still PART of that concern.

        In this specific, I would say drones are scarier than Google Glass for two reasons; they can be automated and deployed into the air, and they’re run by the state. It’s the combination that troubles me somewhat. If every police officer suddenly gained the power of flight, I’d be less concerned, because creating a giant surveillance net would still require thousands and thousands of cops.

        I’m not a huge fan of Google’s “all your data are belong to us” policies, but at least their stuff currently needs to be strapped to a real live human being, reducing its utility for wide-scale panopticon-style surveillance (although I suppose there’s no reason the technology couldn’t be mounted somewhere like a camera) and its run privately. Not to go all libertarian here, but private enterprise usually doesn’t give a shit about people except as profit centers, and doesn’t possess the levers of power and control the state does (which is why it co-opts the state so much.)

        To put it another way: the guys at Google are unlikely to spend some fun-filled evenings deploying their fleet of robotic cameras to go find them some undesirables they can haul in for one of the multiple crimes everyone in this country commits daily.

        I actually think stuff like Google Glass might be useful when it comes to pushback on things like this. If the surveillance state is inevitable, then democratizing it is necessary. Agents of the state conveniently “forget to turn on” their recording devices or somehow “accidentally” erase the recordings of cell phones they seize all the time. Kind of hard to do that when you suddenly realize the guy you’ve spent the last ten minutes harassing has been streaming the whole thing to a secure server.

        • But, conversely, making surveillance cheaper and easier in legal instances is probably a good thing. Call me crazy, but I think it would be rather sweet if police could cheaply and easily spy on suspected human traffickers or something like that 24/7.

          • Murc

            But, conversely, making surveillance cheaper and easier in legal instances is probably a good thing.

            I broadly agree with this, with the caveat “it depends on what’s legal.”

            It would be LEGAL for the fourth amendment to be repealed and for the government to place cameras in our homes. That wouldn’t be a good thing, but it would be legal.

            (This is, of course, an extreme example.)

            • Well, I sort of thought it was implied that I was using a definition of “legal” that included probably cause and a court issued warrant. Given that, I think making it much easier and cheaper for police departments to actually enforce laws designed to protect people would be splendid!

              I’ll also allow that I might be conditioned to be really skeptical of these kinds of critiques of the police because I live in Maryland and am bombarded with people whining that red light cameras make it so much harder for them to drive like idiots and run redlights even in places like downtown Annapolis.

      • Barry

        “While this is an interesting point, why does that make drones scarier than, say, Google Glass?”

        Gee, range? Firepower?

        • Jeffrey Beaumont

          Firepower? Seriously, stop conflating drone issues here. Surveillance and attack arent the same.

    • Cody

      More fun is the company selling a drone that will follow you around and record your whole life.

      I can’t be asked to find the link, but I’m sure Google will grant wishes.

      • sibusisodan

        Slap-droning? Yay! We are one step closer to Iain M Banks wonderful societal vision.

        Without the necessary first step of moving to a post-scarcity economy, alas…

  • brandon

    If you haven’t done so, read the comments to the linked post – they’re much more interesting than what we get around here, particularly when Joe from Lowell sticks his head in.

    Particularly, from pretty far down the thread:

    The anxiety on the right and left over the Executive branch’s possible use of drones to kill U.S. citizens on U.S. soil is one of the many “socks on the floor” controversies of the post-9/11 era. When a husband and wife get into a raging screaming match about his leaving his socks in the middle of the bedroom floor rather than putting them into the hamper, chances are there are quite deeper and more profound fissures in the marriage. In the post-9/11 era, so it is with citizens not employed by the government and those citizens who are: we have deeper issues of mistrust that go well beyond socks on the floor.

    Yet with the citizen and citizen-employee fissure, paranoid scenarios like “I was sipping my latte at the Starbucks in Dupont Circle when all of the sudden the government’s drone missile rained down from the sky and ruined mine and everybody’s morning!” would be the equivalent of the marital bedroom sock drama. In other words, we’re not getting at the root of the mistrust.

    (I’m not sure I agree with where the commenter goes with this tack, but this part is perceptive & probably a more fruitful starting point that what we’ve been working with around here lately)

    • BrianM

      I agree: the comments over there are much less about point-scoring. Well worth reading.

    • Dave

      By that token, about 99.9% of all policy argument, esp. on the interwebs, is a socks-on-the-floor argument concealing the basic question of ideological divergence. Which may, of course, be a simple situational truth.

    • JL

      I can’t speak to the right, but the people that I’ve met (in person, not on the Internet) on the left who are most paranoid on issues like this are people who have been mistreated by the police/state in some way, or watched it happen to their friends. They really do seem to fear being targeted by this stuff for being political dissidents – not necessarily right now, but they fear it happening in the future.

      I think this attitude is somewhat over the top at this point, and that for the foreseeable future drones are less of a threat to them than the parts of government that are already mistreating them. But I understand the distrust and fear, and to a certain extent I understand the ungroundedness that comes from spending a lot of time around justifiably-fearful people.

      • Barry

        “I can’t speak to the right, but the people that I’ve met (in person, not on the Internet) on the left who are most paranoid on issues like this are people who have been mistreated by the police/state in some way, or watched it happen to their friends. They really do seem to fear being targeted by this stuff for being political dissidents – not necessarily right now, but they fear it happening in the future.”

        They think about what Bush/Cheney the sequel would be like, when they can build on existing law, precedent, custom (including media) and personnel. Remember, Cheney himself was an ex-Nixon guy, as is Roger Ailes; the Bush administration people will be around in politics and government for a few more decades.

        They think about what the anti-Vietnam War and Civil Rights movements would have been like, given increased tech capability by the government.

    • I would like it if people replied to my arguments about the law and constitution with less point-scoring, too.

  • Ian

    This is bizarre. Police snipers are restricted to situations where threats really are immanent, situations such as hostage takings. They are not allowed to go on pre-authorized assassination missions to eliminate hypothetical future “immanent” threats.

    To put it another way, no one in the United States has legal authority to compile a kill list.

    • This isn’t true from a Constitutional standpoint, however. Lincoln most certainly could have pre-ordered the targeted killing of Confederate political and military leaders in 1863, couldn’t he?

      • rea

        Georgia, 1864. Confederate General/Bishop Leonidas Polk rides up near the front lines with his staff. Sherman spots him, recognizes him, and orders a nearby battery to open fire, killing Polk. Targeted killing. Anyone have a problem with it?

      • bradP

        Lincoln most certainly could have pre-ordered the targeted killing of Confederate political and military leaders in 1863, couldn’t he?

        If he had drones, yes, this sort of power would be problematic.

        • Yeah, I’m sure you would think that.

          • bradP

            No evil makes blind deference a good thing.

            • You don’t see any bits of circumstance that made that a bit of a unique time period in America? Nothing at all? You need my full copy of the Constitution to help you out, Glibby?

              • bradP

                Of course there were unique circumstances from a moral point of view, but from the context of our governments use of military force, it was hardly unique.

                I imagine you would also self-righteously distance yourself from the policy when it would be used to further the genocide of western Native Americans.

                • “Of course there were unique circumstances from a moral point of view, but from the context of our governments use of military force, it was hardly unique.”

                  Holy fuck, you can’t actually be this stupid, can you?

                • djw

                  Of course there were unique circumstances from a moral point of view, but from the context of our governments use of military force, it was hardly unique.

                  In the spirit of charitable reading, I tried ferret out some possible meaning here beyond “Of course A, but also not-A.” I was not successful.

                • bradP

                  What percentage of years since the Civil War have influential groups of politicians not told us that we face a grave and imminent threat?

                • Heh, keep fucking that walrus Brad.

                • bradP

                  In the spirit of charitable reading, I tried ferret out some possible meaning here beyond “Of course A, but also not-A.” I was not successful.

                  THe point is two-fold:

                  A) The problem is systematic. The degree of evil does not make the problem go away, it justifies our tolerance of the problem. In short, targeted killings of Confederate leaders would have caused the same problem as the targeted killing of Al Qaeda leaders.

                  B) What BJ is doing here is trying to use the moral necessity of ending slavery to justify us enduring the problem. However, it is pretty naive to think that the state will not endure the very same problem for far lesser moral imperatives: hence my question about the subsequent genocide of Native Americans.

                • ” What BJ is doing here is trying to use the moral necessity of ending slavery to justify us enduring the problem.”

                  No, no I’m not. I’m using your neoconfederate sympathies to show how shoddy the legalistic arguments against drones are. You, to your enduring “credit,” are doing a marvelous job of demonstrating that DRONES! critics can’t stay on point when making legal arguments and invariably end up conflating moral/policy points with legal/Constitutional ones.

                • bradP

                  No, no I’m not. I’m using your neoconfederate sympathies to show how shoddy the legalistic arguments against drones are. You, to your enduring “credit,” are doing a marvelous job of demonstrating that DRONES! critics can’t stay on point when making legal arguments and invariably end up conflating moral/policy points with legal/Constitutional ones.

                  I’ve not tried to make legalistic arguments, John Yoo. I’m making moralistic arguments, and typically when someone purposefully differentiates between the two, he or she intends to do something evil.

                • So you’re making a moralistic argument, in a thread started by referencing an author noting that liberal critics take policy/moral concerns and turn them into absurd legal arguments? Okay then, thanks again Glibby.

                • bradP

                  So you’re making a moralistic argument, in a thread started by referencing an author noting that liberal critics take policy/moral concerns and turn them into absurd legal arguments? Okay then, thanks again Glibby.

                  Its glib to hide behind legalistic arguments while refusing to address ethical concerns.

                  Again, when someone does so, he or she usually intends to do, or abide, evil.

                • I don’t have any desire to engage in pointless legal arguments. This is why I object to the prevalent tendency of DRONES! critics to engage in right-wing style Constitutional and legal theorizing in the name of point scoring. Simple enough for you to figure out?

                • bradP

                  I don’t have any desire to engage in pointless legal arguments. This is why I object to the prevalent tendency of DRONES! critics to engage in right-wing style Constitutional and legal theorizing in the name of point scoring. Simple enough for you to figure out?

                  I tend to prefer any legal argument that supports good ends, regardless of how sound it is.

                  I’m not a lawyer and can provide no valuable input on how legally sound the arguments coming from the left are, but I don’t really care.

                • “I tend to prefer any legal argument that supports good ends, regardless of how sound it is.”

                  Okay, seriously, Erik, Scott, Rob: Have Mizner and Glibby been the same person all along?

                • sibusisodan

                  In short, targeted killings of Confederate leaders would have caused the same problem as the targeted killing of Al Qaeda leaders.

                  If you look a few quotes up from yours, you’ll be able to drop the conditional.

                  It also proves you wrong, I think. Targeted killing of Confederate leaders did occur, apparently, and was not a problem, neither legally nor morally (unless you subscribe to a pacifist position).

                  Now, targeted killing of Confederate leaders prior to a state of war existing would/should have been problematic, but it’s not a very good analogy to the present day.

                • I’ll grant some leeway on the moral part. Not of military leaders, for reasons that should be obvious, but I could at least see an argument that it would be immoral to (hypothetically) have ordered a targeted killing (by drone or any other means) of Jefferson Davis or Confederate political/societal leaders in 1863. There’s no question, however, that the government would have had the legal authority to do so.

                  Also:

                  “Now, targeted killing of Confederate leaders prior to a state of war existing would/should have been problematic, but it’s not a very good analogy to the present day.”

                  I don’t think that would actually be true (again, from a legal standpoint), because in a domestic sense this would constitute a rebellion, and the Constitution clearly gives the federal government broad and extraordinary powers to put down insurrections.

                • sibusisodan

                  I don’t think that would actually be true (again, from a legal standpoint), because in a domestic sense this would constitute a rebellion…

                  I didn’t think of it that way – fair point.

                  But I am in definite agreement with the idea that the legality of the drone thing is not an issue. Oversight very much is, but is not being addressed by some of the loudest voices in the legislature.

                  Because that would be difficult, whereas asking ‘well, could the President kill a man from horseback, when the moon is gibbous, following two or more quarters of high unemployment ANSWER THE QUESTION!?’ is much easier.

        • Anon21

          You’re really acting like a vicious caricature of a targeted killing opponent here.

        • Scott Lemieux

          If he had drones, yes, this sort of power would be problematic.

          You know, I actually thought Brad was being clever here. But, no, follow-up comments seem to indicate that he really seems to think that killing a military target with a DRONE! is worse than killing one with a rifle.

          I’m curious where the line is. FDR had access to planes that could drop bombs. Does this make killing Nazis in 1944 illegal and immoral, or does the moral and legal limit depend on the size of the plane?

          • I think it’s more accurate to say that he has problems with understanding the distinction between military and non-military targets. Or that he’s just sympathetic to the Confederates.

            • bradP

              I think it’s more accurate to say that he has problems with understanding the distinction between military and non-military targets.

              I think everyone has a problem understanding the distinction between military and non-military targets, not just me.

              • I know this will shock approximately no one, but, you’re wrong!

                • bradP

                  Fair enough. I thought the civilian/military dichotomy was exceptionally muddy, but I’m no expert.

          • bradP

            You know, I actually thought Brad was being clever here. But, no, follow-up comments seem to indicate that he really seems to think that killing a military target with a DRONE! is worse than killing one with a rifle.

            I believe that arming a soldier or especially a police officer with drones enables greater abuse or unaccountable and uncorrectable mistakes.

            Couple the use of drones with unchecked target selection and vaguely defined targeting rules, and the drones become that much worse than mere rifles.

            Thank God the cops chasing down Chris Dornier didn’t have armed drones at their disposal. How many pickups would they have blown up?

            • sibusisodan

              I believe that arming a soldier or especially a police officer with drones enables greater abuse or unaccountable and uncorrectable mistakes.

              On what do you base this belief?

              If armed drones fired bullets rather than missiles, would your belief be of the same strength?

              If, conversely, the issue at hand were the use of man-portable missile systems among police, would your belief be the same?

              I think there’s a case for wariness about the increased possibility for collateral damage when using missiles rather than guns.

              But that doesn’t appear to be driving your worry. There seems to be an essential drone-ness to the danger which I can’t tease out.

            • Njorl

              One thing a drone monitors better than anything else is itself. A policeman using a drone is subject to more oversight than one interacting with the public in person. This reduces the potential for individual abuse, though it increases the risk of systemic abuse if the officer’s superiors are willing to cover up abuse.

              • bradP

                Transparency and accountability being our military and police forces’ greatest quality.

          • One problem with all of this is that one of the other unexamined assumptions is that just because we can legally (or at least nonjusticiably) be in a state of permanent war, that this means that it’s a good thing that the government is asserting all sorts of war powers on an indefinite basis.

            The main reason we don’t do targeted killings of American citizens outside of legitimate law enforcement situations is because we aren’t at war. When we did have an internal rebellion (the Civil War), we did them. And when we fought imperialistic wars on the American continent (against the Indians), we also did them (although the question of citizenship of Indians is complicated).

            A lot of our problems here were caused by not simply going in, getting the people responsible for 9/11, and getting out. Because we invaded a second nation, and have stayed in the first, for imperialistic reasons and use false claims of a terrorist threat to justify staying in there, we end up murdering a lot of people by drone simply because we say they are dangerous and assert a war power in a war that actually ended years ago and is now being fought solely because our leaders think it is moral to murder people to achieve the foreign policy objective (itself illegitimate) of world dominance. And the real problem with the drone strikes qua drone strikes is none of that is actually moral.

            • sibusisodan

              One problem with all of this is that one of the other unexamined assumptions is that just because we can legally (or at least nonjusticiably) be in a state of permanent war, that this means that it’s a good thing that the government is asserting all sorts of war powers on an indefinite basis.

              It’s certainly not one of my unexamined assumptions.

              I’m not sure who’s claiming that it’s a good thing to be in a state of permanent war. It’s certainly being claimed that it’s a thing, which makes a whole ton of stuff actually legal.

              And I suspect if you said it would be a whole lot better to end this permanent state of war, many people on this board would agree with you that it would be a Very Good Thing indeed and should happen.

            • “One problem with all of this is that one of the other unexamined assumptions is that just because we can legally (or at least nonjusticiably) be in a state of permanent war, that this means that it’s a good thing that the government is asserting all sorts of war powers on an indefinite basis.”

              Now who’s constructing a strawman?

      • Barry

        Jesus H. Fucking Christ – Read Lieber, and STFU. The Union *specifically* forbade assassination, although it’d have been morally justified. And targeting actual comabatants on an actual battlefield is a much more limited thing than targeting ‘combatants’ on a ‘battlespace’.

        • Barry

          Sorry, that was to Brien.

          And to all the other idiots, including Scott, who either refuse to see the difference between a battlefield, and the ‘battlefield’ of the War on Terror (namely, the entire Earth).

          BTW
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lieber_Code

          Is what the US did when faced with an actual existential threat.

          • Scott Lemieux

            including Scott, who either refuse to see the difference between a battlefield, and the ‘battlefield’ of the War on Terror

            I would recommend reading the post before commenting next time.

          • Mike Hess

            What if the battlefield is the entire pacific ocean? that’s a significant fraction of the entire earth.

            Because we assassinated Yamamoto, too.

            And I’m pretty sure you didn’t actually read that wiki page, because it states ” it permitted the summary execution (by musketry) of spies, saboteurs, francs-tireurs, and guerrilla forces, if caught in the act of carrying out their missions” which seems like a perfect parallel here.

            • The battlefield distinction is the single most absurd thing Greenwald ever fed his sheep.

              • The problem is, again, that the concept of a wide “battlefield” works fine when the war you are in is defensive and moral. But apply it to a war of imperialist foreign conquest where the government is lying about the threat, like the present one, and suddenly you’ve stripped most of the world of important civil liberties protections.

                • Well, no, the problem is that once you have the technological capability to project military power anywhere, the concept of a “battlefield” is completely outdated.

                • The derider

                  The suggestion that we are waging an imperialist war of foreign conquest with drones in Pakistan or Yemen is laughable.

                  The war against al Qaeda is as defensive and moral as any other war in US history. Moreso than most.

                • Brien:

                  Not true at all. Indeed, we just fought a war (Iraq) that basically did have a contiguous physical battlefield. Not even the Bush Administration was contending that we had war powers to take military action against Iraqis in the United States.

                  It IS true that the United States FALSELY CLAIMS there is no battlefield, because that allows us to pursue the foreign policy objective of world dominance. But that doesn’t mean that claim is right.

                  The derider:

                  Al Qaeda was defeated years ago. The people we are killing had nothing to do with 9/11. At best they are preemptive strikes of future terrorists (which is offensive, not defensive), more likely they are just people who stand in the way of US foreign policy objectives who we are killing in order to continue to lie about the “terrorist threat” so we can keep dominating that part of the world.

                • janastas359

                  I really, honestly would like to know what you mean by:

                  …so we can keep dominating that part of the world.

                  What would it gain the USA to be dominant in Afghanistan? Why is this such a vital objective that you think the US is willing to drum up all of these charges, committing manpower, money, and material to the area? What’s the end game? You throw the word “imperialism” around a lot, but I legitimately don’t know why Afghanistan/Pakistan, of all places, would be area that the US would target. What are your thoughts on this?

                  It IS true that the United States FALSELY CLAIMS there is no battlefield, because that allows us to pursue the foreign policy objective of world dominance. But that doesn’t mean that claim is right.

                  I mean, I guess Iraq had oil reserves, but what do you think is the end game for the US with Afghanistan and Pakistan that makes it so worth it to wage a fake war there just to dominate the region?

                • “Not true at all. Indeed, we just fought a war (Iraq) that basically did have a contiguous physical battlefield.”

                  Yeah…the entire country of Iraq.

                • janastas:

                  It isn’t that we went into Afghanistan for imperialistic reasons. It’s that once we go somewhere, we never leave unless forced out. How long did we stay in the Phillipines? Guantanamo? Germany? Korea?

                  Our military industrial complex wants us there. Dominating the world is profitable for them. Indeed, even terrorist blowback is profitable for them.

                  So every chance we get to continue a military presence somewhere, we do it. Every time. Because pulling back and respecting other nations’ sovereignty is antithetical to the goal of world domination, which is the expressed goal of American foreign policy. It isn’t just about resources– it’s about power.

          • sibusisodan

            SECTION IX.–Assassination.

            148. The law of war does not allow proclaiming either an individual belonging to the hostile army, or a citizen, or a subject of the hostile government an outlaw, who may be slain without trial by any captor, any more than the modern law of peace allows such international outlawry; on the contrary, it abhors such outrage. The sternest retaliation should follow the murder committed in consequence of such proclamation, made by whatever authority. Civilized nations look with horror upon offers of rewards for the assassination of enemies as relapses into barbarism.

            Is that the part you’re referring to? If so, I’m struggling to line that up with the notion of ‘targeted killing’. There’s a difference between being an outlaw and a legitimate target, surely?

            In the example given above in Georgia 1864, that’s a recorded, targeted killing – what the US did when faced with an actual existential threat. It doesn’t appear to go against this Field Order either.

            How do you reconcile the two?

          • by any captor

            No one has proposed killing people who have been captured.

            None of the people killed in drone strikes could have been executed without trial once captured, anymore than POWs can be lined up and shot without being convicted by a crime.

            Oh, and Barry? As it turns out, neither snottiness, not scare quotes, nor your individual feelings about the wisdom of a particular war are of even the slightest legal or constitutional relevance. Sorry.

        • “The Union *specifically* forbade assassination…”

          Heh. So what?

    • Police snipers are restricted to situations where threats really are immanent, situations such as hostage takings.

      While military snipers are not.

      However, military snipers are precluded from operating on US soil at all except during extraordinary circumstances by the Posse Commitatus Act, while police snipers are not. Hence, we see a hell of a lot more police snipers than military on US soil.

  • wengler

    Yes, I am so outraged that people are uncomfortable with the use of armed drones in the US. Totally outraged!

    Imminence has too often equaled convenience in the way this and the previous administration have applied their Rules of Engagement both in the CIA-run drone program and the military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. But I guess we aren’t talking about that. Rather, we are only affirming the right of the Executive to kill people in the US under certain circumstances.

    The arguments presented in these posts have gotten very depressing.

    • witless chum

      This is the source of the discomfort. The way the drone war on Al Qaeda and various terrorist organization has been conducted suggests that their pretty full of shit as far as their assurances that everything is being done carefully and that targeted killings are only being used as a last with resort and with people who really, really deserve it.

      This administration has done better, without the endless killing of Al Qaeda’s number three operative for instance, than the previous but being less stupid and vicious than people who work for Dick Cheney is a low bar. But it just seems like it’s offing a lot of people who, while they’d be nasty to live next to, really aren’t that much of a threat from the other side of the world.

      • Manta

        This: and “suggests” is quite an understatement.
        People should never trust their government, but in this particular area the administration has done its best to be distrusted (which is not surprising: in any war the first casualty is truth).

    • The problem is that, if what you say is true, obsessing over the weapon used to do the killing is transparently absurd. So you’re “uncomfortable” about drones killing people with Hellfire missiles, but you’d be more comfortable with the same people being killed by the same Hellfire if only it were fired from a manned war plane?

      • bradP

        The problem is that, if what you say is true, obsessing over the weapon used to do the killing is transparently absurd.

        Great. Here comes the “We should be free to own tanks and missile launchers” crowd.

        Wait… what was the topic again?

        • Someone’s going to have to help me out here, my “translate into Reason” skills are rusty.

          • bradP

            It is not “transparently absurd” to dwell on the weapon used when the weapon used makes the problem more prevalent.

            You seem the equivalent of the “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people” crowd who completely downplays how the greater lethality of a weapon exacerbates the problem.

            • Orly? Tell me more about how drones are more lethal than “traditional” manned bombers.

              • bradP

                That was an analogy.

                The problem drones are exacerbating has to do with the growing militarization, overreach and lack of accountability concerning domestic police activities.

                Just like it is easier to shoot someone with an automatic weapon, it is easier for police to conduct the low-visibility, unaccountable militaristic activities that have become so worrisome with a drone than by flying in a F-117.

                • That would be neat if it had anything to do with anything.

                • Jeffrey Beaumont

                  Wait, is the problem the cops or the problem the war-powers of the Presidency? This is all some really mushy infowars anti-government paranoia here.

      • DrDick

        Or they used assassins armed with conventional weapons, the way the CIA did in the 1950s and 1960s.

    • Scott Lemieux

      armed drones

      What does this have to do with the linked post?


      Imminence has too often equaled convenience in the way this and the previous administration have applied their Rules of Engagement both in the CIA-run drone program and the military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

      Indeed. But how killing illegitimate targets with conventional aircraft is any less bad than killing them with unmanned aircraft remains unclear.

      • Indeed. But how killing illegitimate targets with conventional aircraft is any less bad than killing them with unmanned aircraft remains unclear.

        Nobody seems willing to say this, but isn’t the fact that we can do it without risking our own soldiers’ lives, and for far less money, a big deal here? Any economist would tell you that if you reduce the cost of murder, you are going to have more murder. And that’s what drones have done.

        If we couldn’t use drones, we’d still go in and get the really big fish (we didn’t even use a drone for Bin Laden himself), but we wouldn’t bother with the small ones.

        Drones = a lot more state sponsored murder, of people who are in many cases no threat to the American public. That’s basically a really, really, really bad development, given we were already big-time imperialist murderers who caused a lot of death and destruction and evil through our foreign policy.

        • “Nobody seems willing to say this, but isn’t the fact that we can do it without risking our own soldiers’ lives, and for far less money, a big deal here?”

          No, but I sure am glad you came right out and said this!

        • Scott Lemieux

          Nobody seems willing to say this, but isn’t the fact that we can do it without risking our own soldiers’ lives, and for far less money, a big deal here?

          It really isn’t a big deal at all. How much risk does a manned aircraft face in Yemen?

          Drones = a lot more state sponsored murder, of people who are in many cases no threat to the American public.

          Assumes facts that are extremely not in evidence.

          • The no threat part is clear, Scott. None of these people who we are killing has any chance of bringing down an airplane or anything else. At best, they are Walter Mitty types. If you believe otherwise, you trust the government too much.

            As for drones equaling more state sponsored murder, is there any example of us repeatedly violating the sovereignty of another country we are not at war with, over and over again, to do targeted killings, before drones were invented?

            • None of these people who we are killing has any chance of bringing down an airplane or anything else. At best, they are Walter Mitty types. If you believe otherwise, you trust the government too much.

              Drone hysterics are increasingly similar to global warming deniers.

            • As for drones equaling more state sponsored murder, is there any example of us repeatedly violating the sovereignty of another country we are not at war with, over and over again, to do targeted killings, before drones were invented?

              Yes. World War Two comes to mind.

              There are not, however, such examples over the last few years, since Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia’s governments are all cooperating with the US on the targeted strikes. You have an amazing capacity to “know” exactly what you want to know, whether it’s true or not, while not knowing anything that might disturb you.

    • Barry

      “Imminence has too often equaled convenience ”

      This.

    • I am so outraged that people are uncomfortable with the use of armed drones in the US.

      For my part, I am outraged by the provision of jet packs to dinosaurs.

      • Jeffrey Beaumont

        Brilliant. I personally have never seen an armed drone in the US (or, ironically enough an armed bomber….hmmm) but my cousin’s girlfriend’s brother’s plumber was stalked for two days by jet-pack provisioned dinosaurs. Where is Rand Paul on that one?

  • cpinva

    what freaks people out about the drones is they are unmanned. not uncontrolled (like, say, The Terminator), but they don’t have a person right there, at the controls. getting killed by a guy with a .50cal sniper rifle is no different from getting killed by a drone, except, one has a human pulling the trigger, the other has a human, far away, pushing a button. either way, you’re still dead.

    as you note, the police have been doing this since, well, forever, and no one seriously argues they don’t have the legal right to do so. the only reason it’s become an “issue”, is because it’s a black, democratic president doing the authorizing. if it were bush, limbaugh and his cronies would be leaping for joy, and rand paul would be the batshit crazy he’s always been.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks

      Obama might explain most of the right’s supposed drone concerns, but surely he doesn’t explain the left’s concerns about drones (which are the focus of the OP). Nor would people in Waziristan feel a lot better about a drone war conducted by a white Republican.

      As some have said upthread, all the effort devoted to explaining away and dismissing all concerns about drone use is profoundly depressing.

      • “Obama might explain most of the right’s supposed drone concerns, but surely he doesn’t explain the left’s concerns about drones…”

        Right. It’s only a coincidence that the most vocal critics of Obama on drones from the left also happen to be critical of him on every other issue too.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks

          Charlie Pierce and others on his blog at Esquire have been highly critical of the drone war. Are you saying they’re a bunch of closet racists who’ll be happy once President Jeb Bush takes over the drone war?

          • Well Pierce was also apoplectic about a rather meaningless compromise with the Catholic Church over the contraceptive mandate, even though said deal had the endorsement of Planned Parenthood, so I don’t necessarily think he doesn’t fit the bill. I don’t think race has anything to do with it (on the left or the right) though.

            • Barry

              Brien, you’re full of it. Charles has repeatedly criticized the administration for a number of things.

              • Isn’t that what I said?

                • Incontinentia Buttocks

                  And therefore he just hates Obama and shouldn’t be taken seriously?

                  This is a circular argument. Critics of Obama are critical of Obama. That doesn’t automatically make them wrong, let alone indicate that they’re arguing in bad faith. Whether or not you agree with Pierce, who, incidentally, explicitly endorsed Obama’s reelection, it’s ludicrous to accuse him of being a victim of some sort of Obama Derangement Syndrome.

                • I didn’t make any causal argument, per se. Just noted that there was a very high degree of overlap.

            • Anonymous37

              Well Pierce was also apoplectic about a rather meaningless compromise with the Catholic Church over the contraceptive mandate, even though said deal had the endorsement of Planned Parenthood

              I remember that: it was such a spectacularly dumb argument that I felt embarrassed for him.

              I like Pierce in general, but after that I read him with a lot more wariness.

      • David W.

        What’s profoundly depressing isn’t the use of drones, it’s the fact that it’s so damned hard to get a viable government that’s not pathological (like the Taliban) up and running in Afghanistan. Part of that problem is Pakistan’s obsession with it’s own defense, which has meant decades of Pakistani intrigue in Afghanistan. Toss in the tribal nature of politics in Afghanistan and al Qaeda, and you have to wonder why Obama didn’t neglect it like Bush did.

      • all the effort devoted to explaining away and dismissing all concerns about drone use is profoundly depressing.

        Yes, losing arguments is sad.

  • Data Tutashkhia

    …and when we’ve done the best we can to rule out the possibility that we can stop them by arresting them in circumstances where there’s a relatively low probability of doing so safely.

    How can you rule out that possibility, without telling the guy in question: ‘drop the gun and put your hands up, or I will shoot’? I thought this is how you tell apart a police action from an assassination, not taking your best guess of what the possibilities are.

    • Anon21

      I think you’re wrong about that. If a police officer had come upon Jared Lee Loughner unloading his gun, he would not have to make an audible demand for surrender that might only prompt Loughner to shoot him, too.

      • Anon21

        Sorry, I should be clear. I used “unload” colloquially to mean “firing.” If Loughner were literally unloading his gun after completing a shooting spree, I guess that introduces some ambiguity as the officer’s duties. (Or maybe not.)

        • Data Tutashkhia

          Sure, there is always an exception, a-la the ‘ticking bomb scenario’. If it doesn’t make sense to follow the procedure, then you do what needs to be done, and then make yourself available for a long investigation and, possibly, a trial. But this thing takes a hypothetical exception and makes it the rule.

          • Erm, no. I think you are erroneously applying the “magic words” doctrine to the law where it doesn’t exist.

            • Data Tutashkhia

              No magic words, no law, just common sense, really. Mobsters analyze the possibilities and then assassinate, but the police tend to arrest and then investigate. That’s how it used to be, anyway.

              • No, I think you’re missing the point of why your analogy fails. Let’s say that in the ticking time bomb scenario, I’m driving 100 MPH down the highway because I have to warn someone there’s a bomb in a building and for some reason I have no phone available. I get pulled over for speeding, and tell the cop my exceptional and well founded reasoning for doing so. There isn’t actually any written exception to the law against speeding that makes my actions legal, and for good reason (it’s impractical to carve out written exceptions for when it’s okay to break the law). We simply count on the ability of human beings who apply the written law to exercise discretion in extraordinary circumstances like this one.

                That’s not at issue in the case of the cop shooting someone, however, because the cop actually does have the legal authority to use lethal force against someone who poses an imminent threat to others regardless of whether he issues any verbal warnings or not.

                • Data Tutashkhia

                  Fine, you could be right, for all I know. IANAL. In that case, this is all about the semantics of the word ‘imminent’.

                • I think you’re confusing “targeted killings” ordered by the White House with routine police action, honestly. For all intents and purposes, it’s hard to imagine a scenario that would fit Tushnet’s hypothetical that didn’t entail either a large scale rebellion against the United States government (which would change the legal question entirely), or some other, even more radical, seismic changes to the world as we know it (some sort of catastrophe that limits the governments ability to project human law enforcement into large areas of the country).

                  Which, again, illustrates why these legal arguments are entirely pointless.

                • Barry

                  “No, I think you’re missing the point of why your analogy fails. Let’s say that in the ticking time bomb scenario, I’m driving 100 MPH down the highway because I have to warn someone there’s a bomb in a building and for some reason I have no phone available.”

                  I haven’t seen a ticking time bomb scenario which isn’t logically and morally equivalent to saying that if somebody is allowed to kill in self-defense then they are allowed to kill at will.

                • Really? So if we grant that we’ll let you get away with speeding in the unique event that you’re rushing someone to the hospital in a medical emergency, that means we’re essentially saying that everyone can drive as fast as they want to anytime they want to?

                • Data Tutashkhia

                  How could legal arguments, in the context of someone killing someone else, be pointless?

                  For that, you’d need to declare the target a non-person. Less significant than an animal, even. Something like a faulty mechanism that needs to be destroyed. A zombie.

                  But perhaps that is exactly where this is going.

                • They’re pointless because they either:

                  a) involve “questions” whose answers are entirely obvious and/or settled law

                  or

                  b) You have to get into hypotheticals that entail some sort of really extraordinary circumstances that would probably have unforeseeable effects on the law.

                • Data Tutashkhia

                  So, maybe not ‘legal arguments’, but ‘legal analysis’. This seems important enough to establish some legal framework.

                  If this is some ‘permanent state of emergency’ sort of thing, fine, but that should be defined as well, so it’s clear what’s going on.

                • If what is perpetual? The war on “terror?” Yeah, that’s a problem, but it’s not some sort of unique hole in the law, it’s that Congress has authorized an open ended and ill defined war and they have no desire to end it.

          • Anon21

            No, absolutely not. An officer who shoots a guy with a gun who is shooting people without first demanding surrender has not committed any crime, nor has he entered into the general area of committing a crime. There’s a spectrum of situations, but there is no rule-like requirement that police officers precede a use of lethal force with a demand for surrender; what I’m trying to tell you is that that is something you are making up.

  • Manta

    It was touched in the OP, but I think it deserves more emphasis: who checks that the government actually follows the rules?

    In the use of drones (and of more-or-less-targeted killing) there has been a sore lack of supervision, due both from Congress unwillingness to do its job, from the administration aversion to transparency and checks to its power, and from the Press repeating the government propaganda instead of verifying it.
    From that point of view, hopefully Paul’s filibuster will have a positive effect, spurring Congress and the Press to do their jobs slightly better.

    • bradP

      From that point of view, hopefully Paul’s filibuster will have a positive effect, spurring Congress and the Press to do their jobs slightly better.

      It won’t. Government will continue to ratchet.

    • who checks that the government actually follows the rules?

      In the area of overseas military operations, it is typically the Congress, through the Armed Forces Committees. Since these operations have been carried out by the CIA, however, that has fallen to the Intelligence Committees, which have less oversight and operate in a less-transparent manner.

      John Brennan, the new CIA Director, is a big advocate of migrating the program over to the DoD, for this very reason.

  • bradP

    Despite being completely unable to employ technology efficiently where it might be of some good use, our military/police/prison, we’ll just call it our Industrial Violence Complex, is learning to exploit the rapidly-widening gap between the technology at their disposal and the ethical/legal codes that typically serve to keep them checked.

    That’s what sets drones apart.

    Instead of having five armed goons per block, drone technology allows one armed goon with the same amount of power and discretion over 10 blocks.

    When you have taken notice of the weekly “isolated incident” in which 2, 3, 4, 5 cops use their power to work out their frustrations on a homeless or unstable individual, the massive growth in the ability drones provide is very, very scary.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks

      I largely agree. We’re well down this slippery slope. And logic-chopping those who get upset at this stage of the slide is fundamentally the wrong response…like telling the proverbial frog who suddenly notices that the water he’s in is gettong hotter and hotter to calm down, ’cause the temperature has been slowly increasing for a long time and you’ve never complained before!

      • Paula

        So their solution now is not “get out of the pot ASAP” but worry about whether the water is getting stirred by a spatula or one of those noodle spoon things?

        To extend the analogy.

    • I’d just note that by framing your argument in the prism of referring to the police writ large as “armed goons” (and, you know, pearl clutching for Jefferson Davis)you’re completely giving away the lack of seriousness in your position. Well played glibby!

      • bradP

        The point still stands whether you think 100% of cops are armed thugs trained and molded to be antagonistic to the public, or only 1%.

        In both cases, the problem becomes worse.

        • “The point still stands whether you think 100% of cops are armed thugs trained and molded to be antagonistic to the public, or only 1%.”

          No it doesn’t, but hey, LOLGlibby.

          • bradP

            Are you the least bit concerned about the growing militarism of our police forces?

            • Yes, but I’m not about to waste time having such a discussion with someone who thinks it makes no difference if “armed thugs” make up a small, small minority of police or literally accounts for every single police officer in the country.

              • bradP

                Yes, but I’m not about to waste time having such a discussion with someone who thinks it makes no difference if “armed thugs” make up a small, small minority of police or literally accounts for every single police officer in the country.

                We can discuss the necessarily antagonistic position police forces are trained to take when dealing with the general public in another thread.

                The problem is the unchecked power afforded. It will continue to be the problem wether that power is afforded to one person, or a million.

                • janastas359

                  You really don’t understand the distinction?

                  If 100% of law enforcement officials were power mad fascists, this would be far different than if 1% of law enforcement officials were.

                  To put it another way, every year there are certainly some incidents where someone uses a car to harm or kill another person. By your logic, no one should have a car, because the power to kill afforded to someone driving a vehicle is an inherent problem, regardless of whether the number of murderers with cars are a small number or large number of drivers.

                  Out here in the real world, we understand that being a functioning member of society means understanding that there are tradeoffs when making decisions. I understand that sometimes police, for example, use their guns in bad faith – but I also don’t think that means that every officer everywhere should be disarmed, either.

                • janastas359

                  But then, from what I can see further down thread, I don’t think you would have a problem with private citizens using force on other private citizens, so long as the government has as little power as possible, so maybe that wasn’t an apt example for you.

                • bradP

                  To put it another way, every year there are certainly some incidents where someone uses a car to harm or kill another person. By your logic, no one should have a car, because the power to kill afforded to someone driving a vehicle is an inherent problem, regardless of whether the number of murderers with cars are a small number or large number of drivers.

                  Man, the adopted gun-rights arguments are multiplying.

                • bradP

                  But then, from what I can see further down thread, I don’t think you would have a problem with private citizens using force on other private citizens, so long as the government has as little power as possible, so maybe that wasn’t an apt example for you.

                  From my post downthread, you should have understood that I think the threat of reciprocity would prevent a great deal of violence, but if I support government attempts to do so.

                • janastas359

                  Man, the adopted gun-rights arguments are multiplying.

                  Hey man, your argument, not mine;

                  The problem is the unchecked power afforded. It will continue to be the problem wether that power is afforded to one person, or a million.

                  One person of a population using their power to do harm is exactly the same as everyone in that population using their power to do harm. I’m just taking it to its logical conclusion. Have you just carved out a special exception for the government?

            • Also too, you’re doing a really good job of embodying the critique against the critics (I guess). So much so that I’m almost wondering if it isn’t deliberate!

            • The derider

              Given that in your example the use of drones reduced the number of armed goons being employed by the police by 80%, shouldn’t you support unmanned surveillance drones?

              • bradP

                Given that in your example the use of drones reduced the number of armed goons being employed by the police by 80%, shouldn’t you support unmanned surveillance drones?

                If only to diminish the political clout of police unions.

                Again, the problem is the sheer amount of discretion and power afforded to a single individual or group of individuals.

                • Mike Hess

                  Reflexive anti-State sentiment? Check.
                  Conflation of police with violent criminals? Check.
                  Hatred of public employee unions? Check.

                  You are one “taxes are stealing” post away from Randroid status.

                • No, Brad is our resident Randroid.

                • Mike Hess

                  Ah, then I understand your reticence to engage in a discussion about good government with someone who believes the term is an oxymoron.

                  Progressives enamored with Rand Paul should understand he espouses exactly the same crypto-anarchy.

                • bradP

                  I’ll give you the first two, but my problem with police unions is hardly reflexive.

                  Are unions unassailable.

      • Barry

        “I’d just note that by framing your argument in the prism of referring to the police writ large as “armed goons” (and, you know, pearl clutching for Jefferson Davis)you’re completely giving away the lack of seriousness in your position. Well played glibby!”

        And BS Civil War/WWII comparisons don’t?

        • Comparisons to what? Are you having trouble staying on topic again?

          • Barry

            No, I was switching windows between Balkanization and here.
            A bunch of people figure that since (a) secrecy was used in WWII, the government has the right to keep anything they want secret now, and (b) since Union troops could shoot at high-ranking, uniformed Confederate officers on the actual battlefield, the US government has the legal right to kill anybody, at anytime, anywhere.

            • janastas359

              since Union troops could shoot at high-ranking, uniformed Confederate officers on the actual battlefield, the US government has the legal right to kill anybody, at anytime, anywhere.

              This is exactly nobody’s position (or nobody here, I think). The argument is that the government has the right to kill enemy combatants, as it has had the legal right to do for essentially its entire history. The analogies to past wars are meant to illustrate the absurdity that using drones is somehow different in this regard than using rifles, airplanes, whatever.

              You can argue that you think the definition of “enemy combatant” can be applied too liberally, or that the definition of war in this case is too broad, but no one here claims that the government may kill anyone they want at any time.

              • sibusisodan

                Bingo.

                • In general, the side with the argument that relies on straw men is the losing side. Eg, opponents of the Iraq War think Saddam Hussein is awesome and Arabs are incapable of democracy, while supporters of shooting at al Qaeda overseas believe that the government can kill anyone, anywhere, for any reason.

      • police writ large as “armed goons”

        The police is very much a necessary evil. With emphasis on the evil. Millions of innocent black men are terrorized by their police departments on a regular basis. And a police department with time on its hands (such as the one in the suburb I grew up in) will always find “crime” to investigate, which consists of harassing ordinary citizens over minor activities. Police departments have all the incentives to do it, and they also don’t attract the best elements of society– lots of people who want to be cops have big time power trip issues.

        So we need them, but we can’t trust them. And the framers of the Constitution understood this, which is why there are severe restrictions on police in the Bill of Rights. These people understood that the police department was likely to be filled with a bunch of untrustworthy people with bad incentives.

        So whine about “armed goons” all you want, but we can’t trust the police and aren’t supposed to trust the police. We are supposed to curtail their powers so they have just enough to fight crime and aren’t able to harass the innocent. Giving these people drones is a very, very bad idea.

        • “The police is very much a necessary evil. With emphasis on the evil.”

          How fucking old are you? Better yet, how fucking old are you and glibby combined? Do the two of you even clear 40?

          • I’m older than you think, but you really believe that if you are old, you suddenly erase every incident of police abuse, perjury, fabrication of evidence, invasion of privacy, racism, and everything else out of your mind? I would hope not.

        • sibusisodan

          So we need them, but we can’t trust them. And the framers of the Constitution understood this, which is why there are severe restrictions on police in the Bill of Rights. These people understood that the police department was likely to be filled with a bunch of untrustworthy people with bad incentives.

          Isn’t it interesting how you never see the framers of the constituion and NWA in the room at the same time? Suggestive.

          • janastas359

            Alright, that one made me LOL.

        • rea

          And the framers of the Constitution understood this, which is why there are severe restrictions on police in the Bill of Rights. These people understood that the police department was likely to be filled with a bunch of untrustworthy people with bad incentives.

          Actually the framers weren’t thinking about the police at all, because the modern police force is a 19th Century invention.

    • David W.

      There was a song about black helicopters that comes to mind right about now, but I forget the name of the band that did it.

      • DrDick

        It is rather endearing coming from Brad, who espouses the right of uncontrolled private power. I frankly find the idea of the Kochs or Waltons with drones or actual armed Pinkerton/Xe goons much more terrifying. That said, I am concerned about the ongoing expansion of the surveillance state and militarization of the police, but drones are the least of my worries.

        • bradP

          I espouse private power checked by private power.

          I also believe the government exacerbates the divide between powerful and powerless.

          If private police could not maintain civil society, as it almost certainly wouldn’t in our society, I support government force as a check against private force.

          • DrDick

            I espouse private power checked by private power.

            You live in a fantasy world. There is an inherent asymmetry of power in capitalism which you refuse to engage.

            I also believe the government exacerbates the divide between powerful and powerless.

            While that is often true, in a democracy the government is the only mechanism for the powerless to confront the powerful.

            • Njorl

              The prime directive of libertarianism is that the government should never prevent the strong from harming the weak.

              • Lyanna

                Oh, I wouldn’t say that. The prime directive of libertarianism is that the government should protect private property rights at all costs. That includes those of people who would be very weak if our government didn’t protect their private property rights.

            • bradP

              While that is often true, in a democracy the government is the only mechanism for the powerless to confront the powerful.

              Let me know when it starts working.

          • L2P

            I also believe the government exacerbates the divide between powerful and powerless.

            Yes, that’s why in Somalia powerless farmers and shopkeepers are living a life of ease and luxury, while powerful warlords live a life of fear and degradation. A government would only ruin the level playing field in that anarchistic paradise.

            • bradP

              Is Somalia faring worse than its state controlled neighbors?

              • djw

                Compare Mogadishu to Somaliland.

                But I am curious; now that you’ve outed yourself as a hard-core Heideggerian with respect to technology, how exactly do you reconcile that with libertarianism? To say they sit in tension with each other would, it seems to me, be a pretty substantial understatement.

              • Yes, it is faring worse than Kenya.

              • Njorl

                Yes.
                Was it your intention to try to gain sympathy by acting like a complete idiot?

    • mpowell

      It’s true that drones expand the potential for abuse of police power. But arguing that police power is different than what it is when it comes to drones is both wrong and futile. You can’t stubbornly insist that the constitution protects us from drones. You have to actually persuade the bulk of the public that police powers are abused and that this abuse will grow so much worse with drones that they either need to legislatively ban the use of drones or substantial reform the use of police powers.

      I have not seen any of the anti-drone crowd moving in this direction. As with many of their other political tactics it’s clear that they have no idea how to advance their agenda.

      • janastas359

        I’ve been trying to articulate something like this all day, but you’ve said it very well here. Last month during the manhunt for Christopher Dorner, Salon ran a front page scare headline of “DRONES APPEAR ON AMERICAN SOIL.” There wasn’t any sort of discussion about whether or not it’s okay for the state to run a gigantic manhunt, or whether or not it’s appropriate in this case to use drones to track someone through the woods; the heuristic is drones = bad, and that seems to be all they thought needed said.

  • Witt

    Rarely Posts: It’s my understanding that the US govt IS using drones in the US, along the US-Mexico border. While these are apparently unarmed now, the FAA has refused to say whether they are permitted to be.

    Much more to the point, US Customs and Border Patrol already have a disturbing history of killing teenagers at the border — at least three by my count in recent years. Here’s one:

    http://m.colorlines.com/archives/2010/06/fbi_opens_civil_rights_probe_into_border_patrols_shooting.html

    • DrDick

      They are also using them up here along the Canadian border. They really are much more efficient than human patrols in this context.

      • Njorl

        They are also much less likely to kill people than an armed border patrolman. Even if the drone is armed, the person flying it is much less likely to feel threatened or “dissed”. There is also the added benefit that the drone is intrinsically self-monitoring. It is a lot easier for a border patrolman to shoot innocent people and lie about it than it is for a drone operator to do so.

        • Barry

          “They are also much less likely to kill people than an armed border patrolman. Even if the drone is armed, the person flying it is much less likely to feel threatened or “dissed”. There is also the added benefit that the drone is intrinsically self-monitoring. It is a lot easier for a border patrolman to shoot innocent people and lie about it than it is for a drone operator to do so.”

          First, the drone operator is more likely to feel alienated from targets objects in his screen, which counters feeling bad. Second, the last sentence is not correct, IMHO; it’s much easier to lie and get away with it, unless the records (the actual files) are made public. Odds on that?

          • Barry

            (crap f*cking formatting not working right).

          • Njorl

            Considering the relationship between border patrol and Mexicans, “alienated” is an improvement.

        • DrDick

          These are unarmed surveillance drones. They spot anything and the Border Patrol are dispatched. Mostly they are looking for drug smugglers.

  • jeer9

    Department of Defense
    1000 Defense Pentagon
    Washington, DC 20301-1000

    Dear innocent Pakistani victim of funeral party drone attack,

    Though the loss you have suffered is terribly harsh, I hope you will take comfort in the fact that the U.S. government could be using manned flights instead of drones during this War on Terror and employing even less discrimination in our targeting. We try to be careful. President Obama is also to the left of the median Democrat in Congress, an important factor when considering the morality of drone policy, and one which provides no small consolation to his supporters who are increasingly perturbed by the Left’s unhinged obsession with kill lists, combatant definitions, and collateral damage. Things are tough here, too. Unfortunately in our country, civil liberty issues, especially in the context of foreign policy, do not have any constituency to speak of. The average American simply doesn’t feel your pain. Please know that I do.

    Sincerely yours,
    I. M. Turdsmear

    P.S. Just a small heads-up. Do not go to any weddings in Quetta next weekend.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Dear Mr. jeer9,

      You may wish to read the posts before commenting. Might make your overlong failed satire at least on point.

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