Obama Drone Memo Sets Dangerous Precedent For Domestic Drone Use


One of the most defining characteristics of empires and countries with large military establishments is the tendency of these states to employ the tools of foreign subjugation domestically on the people they claim to be protecting. All historic empires expand and turn on themselves; states, especially militarily aggressive ones, grow like cancer cells, eventually overwhelm and destroying their host.

America is no different. While drone technology was in its infancy during the Bush administration, it has grown under President Obama to be a staple of his foreign policy. The Pentagon now operates over 7,500 unmanned drones and have been used to bomb Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and North Africa with horrendous collateral damage and dubious claims of legality.

While aggressive war, in whatever form, is often rationalized as being employed only against a supposed foreign enemy, the Justice Department affirmed the boomeranging nature of military interventionism in a leak detailing the Obama administration's legal code for targeting and killing American citizens with drones. 

The memo claims that the president can suspend the Fifth Amendment without submitting evidence to court, without congressional oversight, and without making it's legal reasoning available to the public. In typical government-speak, the Justice Department expands on already vague and broad domestic and international laws in claiming powers that as the ACLU's Jameel Jaffer puts it, "redefines the word imminence in a way that deprives the word of its ordinary meaning.”

Since the Obama administration has already targeted and killed two American citizens with drone strikes with only an embarrassingly minimal outrage among the American public, it is interesting that the Justice Department appears to be working hard on finding legal justification for these attacks. Perhaps the Obama administration is trying to cover its tracks. More likely, however, is that in a similar way to how Obama was scrambling to write a legal code to govern his illegal drone wars in case Republican Mitt Romney was elected in 2012, this is an attempt to codify and institutionalize the targeted assassination of American citizens.

Does this mean that drone missiles will be screeching through Omaha tomorrow? No, but what it does signify is another example of empires looking inward. All one has to do is take a peek back at American history to see the trend of domestic authoritarianism that results directly from war.

During the Spanish-American War, the U.S. military imposed drug prohibition and waterboarded captives during their occupation of the Philippines. Within a decade, both of these policies found their way across the Pacific. During WWI, while claiming to fight oppressive monarchies, President Woodrow Wilson initiated a brutal and draconian police state on the home front. Income-tax withholding was supposed to be a "temporary wartime measure" during WWII.

After 9/11, the CIA's global torture regime, with the cooperation of dozens of countries, that took place in former Soviet dungeons was soon unleashed on American hero Bradley Manning. The militarization of domestic law enforcement has its roots in the Iraq and Afghan wars where police, in their language, dress, tactics, and weaponry, resemble an occupying military force rather than protectors of person and property.

In other words, the tools and power needed to wage aggressive war — and in our current case, a permanent "war on terror" — set precedents that slowly find their way to be used domestically for largely the same reasons they are deployed abroad. How many times have you heard a modern president use a previous president's crimes to justify his own? Hey, if Lincoln suspended habeus corpus and FDR ran concentration camps, why shouldn't the president have his own secret assassins?

So it is only the logical next step that the Obama administration would expand on Bush's authoritarian claims of power by not only expanding on virtually every one of Bush's violations of domestic and international law, but by codifying news ones leaked in the memo. The only difference — in this case, weaponized robots — is the technology.

This is why the struggle for liberty and limiting state power goes hand in hand with opposing aggressive war and exposing the harm that it does not only to the countries the U.S. is currently targeting but to us domestically as well. War (except in the rare occasion of self-defense) is and always has been a racket, the health of the state, and an enemy of civilization. The threat posed by America's "enemies," since at least the Cold War, have always been highly inflated and exaggerated.

Crushing debt, loss of liberties and wealth, millions of casualties, an evisceration of the Bill of Rights, and a hollowing out of the soul of constitutional government: Is empire really worth it?

As the late Chalmers Johnson argued, either we abandon our empire or we'll live under it. And now with a president that claims the legal power, as judge, jury, and executioner, to suspend due process and assassinate American citizens from the sky, we're slowly running out of time before that decision is made for us.