TLast week's release of a white paper on targeted drone killings naturally stirred up quite the controversy – it's not everyday you find out that your government has actively sought to define an extremely broad reasoning for which it can subvert due process and kill you.
On first glance, the three key principles seem like they would carve out an extremely narrow range of instances in which one could be targeted, but let's consider each in turn.
1. Some Spook Classifies You As An "Imminent Threat":
The first guiding criterion in getting yourself targeted is to become, at least in the eyes of an undetermined "high-level" official, an imminent threat to the United States. But, since they only need to determine (not prove) that you have at some recent point been involved in "activities" posing a threat of violent attack, and that you haven't "renounced or abandoned such activities," a potential target must only hang out with his or her terrorist friends once to put a giant X on their back permanently. Doesn't sound too imminent or threatening to me.
2. U.S. Officials Determine Your "Capture Isn't Feasible":
The second step to getting targeted is the one that made drones make sense in the first place: the United States can't feasibly capture you. But these days, there doesn't seem to be many places where the government can't get to someone that a bomber could. My more paranoid and cynical self wonders if the drone might simply be seen as a cheaper alternative to sending in SEAL Team Six or coordinating with the local law enforcement or military.
Now, I'm no expert in military tactics, but without knowing the specifics of what it takes for someone to be considered unreachable, enemies of the state, citizen or not, should really be worried.
3. Someone Determines Killing You Is Okay With "Law of War Principles":
This one is the least troublesome, but we still seem to be going around it routinely. Laws of war are meant to define areas of operation, protect medical personnel, recognize the white flag, and so on, but it's been a long time since the United States' military actions fit into the simple boxes that these laws seem to define. In the first, and most well-known targeted killing of an American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki was killed in Yemen by a drone under the control of the CIA. Under the War on Terror, war is no longer confined to countries but to extra-state entities, and it's questionable what applies anymore.
I can understand why the drone policies are in place – it helps keeps the men and women of the armed forces out of harm's way, and gives us flexibility to purse those, like al-Awlaki, who actually do threaten the country.
But taken together, the three criteria laid out in the memo seem to establish a system by which many people, including American citizens, both abroad or at home, could become targets for a Hellfire missile.