By way of November 25th’s New York Times comes to us an article entitled “Election Spurred a Move to Codify U.S. Drone Policy”. Weighty stuff it is, since Barack Obama has been, for quite some time, using unmanned aerial vehicles to blow up a long list of mostly-unlamented terrorist suspects without due process of law, as the constitutional phrase runs.
When Yemeni rabble-rousers were vaporized this way few objected; but when some American citizens received a complimentary missile from their government there were worried whispers. What would happen, it was asked, if President Obama exclaimed “Will no drone rid me of this turbulent Senator”? One suspects that there would be fewer filibusters, but also that the he didn’t quite have the right to do such a thing. The President of the United States might be the Nation’s Chief Magistrate, but he is emphatically not the Lord High Executioner.
In practice through, he really is judge and jury, if not the actual executioner. Every week, a cabal of security advisors meets by teleconference in order to nominate terrorists that should be blown into oblivion by drones. The names are sent to the White House, where Mr. Obama and some advisors study the nominees’ files. The President makes the final determination as to who should make the final cut, and signs off a kill list. Then, it may presumed, the list goes to a joystick-wielding pilot who, from some military base, commits the deed.
In order to wiretap a suspected al-Qaeda operative in Boston, say, the FBI has to go to a special two-tiered Federal court to obtain a warrant. There is nothing, however, that would prevent Mr. Obama from pointing a finger at the same person and make him history. Whatever one’s views about the War on Terror, it is, to say the least, a very interesting state of affairs.
Not to worry, tells us the New York Times. The administration has been working on a rulebook on the use of drone strikes. There will be “clear standards and procedures” to be followed before anyone is sent to the next world by way of a well-aimed Hellfire missile. Very good. But why this sudden spasm of activity, after years of inaction on the legal front?
Mitt Romney might have won the Election.
Of course, it wouldn’t do if a Non-Nobel-Peace-Prize-Winning person had unlimited power of life and death over anyone living within flying range of American airbases. So the administration accelerated their work on the development of those guidelines, so as to have something to bequeath, apart from a magnificent national mess, to the next occupant of the White House.
Says one anonymous official: “There was concern that the levers might no longer be in our hands”. Targeted killing is serious business, and how terrible it would have been if a Non-Constitutional-Law-Professor would have been allowed to put his little hands on those levers.
Says the reporter: “[institutionalization of targeted killing procedures] seemed particularly urgent when it appeared that Mitt Romney might win the presidency”. No explanation followed, and none was needed. What he meant was “A Republican cannot be trusted with such powers, for he shall surely misuse them”. So pro bono publico, the Obama administration’s lawyers began writing these long-awaited guidelines in order to tie his possible successor’s presumably crazed hands.
In addition of saying something about Mr. Obama’s modesty, this nugget of information is also an example of Mr. Obama’s much-vaunted evolution on manifold issues. It seemed like only yesterday when the junior Senator for Illinois loudly objected to warrantless wiretaps and Guantanamo, among other terrorism-related matters. Then, it was under the Bush administration, so presumably it doesn’t really count now that he’s in charge. “Do unto others what you do not want others to do.” Indeed.
Since it is confirmed that the White House will be retained by the present owner for another four years, the guidelines “will now be finished at a more leisurely pace”, says our ever-helpful anonymous official. The Great and the Good sitting in the Oval Office can carry on blowing up whomever he wants without any oversight. You see, he has the Nobel Peace Prize on his desk.