The Bush administration detained and tortured suspected militants; the Obama administration assassinates them. Both practices not only visit more hatred upon the United States; they are also illegal. Our laws and treaties prohibit torture. The Constitution forbids the government from depriving any person of life without due process of law; that is, arrest and fair trial. Yet President Obama has approved the killing of people, many of whom were not even identified before the kill order was given.
Jo Becker and Scott Shane reported in The New York Times that Obama maintains a "kill list." After consulting with his counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan, Obama personally makes the decision to have individuals executed. Brennan was closely identified with torture, secret prisons, and extraordinary rendition during the Bush administration. The Times story, based on interviews with three dozen current and former Obama advisers, reports that "Mr. Obama has avoided the complications of detention by deciding, in effect, to take no prisoners alive. While scores of suspects have been killed under Mr. Obama, only one has been taken into U.S. custody" because he doesn't want to add new prisoners to Guantanamo.
The leak of the kill list angered Republicans, evidently because they believe it demonstrates Obama's "strength" in foreign policy. Some progressives who do not fully understand the profound illegality of drone attacks find them preferable to the United States' all out invasions of more countries. We all need to understand that the unlawful precedent the United States is setting with its use of killer drones not only undermines the rule of law; it also will prevent the United States from reasonably objecting when other countries that obtain drone technology develop "kill lists" of persons those countries believe represent threats to them.
On June 15, for the first time, Obama publicly acknowledged that his administration is engaging in "direct action" in Yemen and Somalia.
Although the United States is not at war with either country, George W. Bush's "War on Terror" has morphed into Obama's "War on Al Qaeda."
Obama's "war" has been used as an excuse to assassinate anyone anywhere in the world whenever the president gives the order.
But "there is not a distinct entity called Al Qaeda that provides a sound basis for defining and delimiting an authorized use of force," according to Paul P. Pillar, deputy director of the CIA's Counterterrorist Center from 1997 to 1999. The United States is not at war with Yemen and Somalia.
Even if Obama identifies certain people living in Yemen or Somalia as members of Al-Qaeda who are desirous of committing acts of terror against the people of the United States, there is no basis in law for our government to declare war on individuals it considers a threat.
The United States has legal means to indict and extradite, both under U.S. and international law.
Since 2004, some 300 drone strikes have been launched in Pakistan.
Twenty percent of the resulting deaths are believed to have been civilians. The Pakistan Human Rights Commission says U.S. drone strikes were responsible for at least 957 deaths in Pakistan in 2010.
In the three and one-half years since Obama took office, between 282 and 585 civilians have been killed, including more than 60 children.
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