Two things have brought drone warfare to public attention in an amplified way the last few days: our assassination of Abu Yahya al-Libi, Al-Qaida’s second-in-command, and The New York Times release of classified information showing that President Barack Obama, on a weekly basis, reviews a “kill list” and personally authorizes each kill. Is this Constitutional?
The paper revealed a “top secret ‘nominations’ process to designate terrorists for kill or capture” but that there is little interest in capture because of a hidden “take-no-prisoners” policy. In the last three months 20 “presumed terrorists” have been assassinated, 14 in Yemen and 6 in Pakistan. It complicates things when they have to be sent to Guantanamo Bay, thus only one person on the list has been sent to the Island prison. Killing them frees us from those messy practices of “enhanced interrogation” (torture) and “rendition” (exporting torture to foreign nations, called “black sites,” less squeamish about screaming victims), practiced under the George W. Bush administration. Under Obama the dead do not need rendition, military commissions, and indefinite detention, the paper infers (Secret “Kill” List Tests Obama’s Principles, New York Times, May 29, 2012).
Moreover, the Obama Administration also got rid of the messy civilian casualties problem by defining all “military age males in a strike zone as combatants … unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.” They would not be in the area if they were not also terrorists—guilt by association—they reason. Therefore the Administration can argue, “that not a single noncombatant had been killed in a year of strikes.” One administrative source said, “They count the corpses and they’re not really sure who they are.” Unfortunately for The Administration, The New York Times noted, “Videos of children’s bodies and angry tribesmen holding up American missile parts flooded You Tube, fueling a ferocious backlash that Yemeni officials said bolstered Al Qaeda.” Sometimes our actions create our next wave of enemies.
The case of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, an Al Qaeda propagandist hiding in Yemen, presented the President with Fifth Amendment “due process” problems which were quickly swept under the rug. Killed with him, however, was his 16 year-old-son and “Samir Khan, an American citizen who was not on the target list but was traveling with him.”
The President’s reaction to The New York Times disclosure, “First, I’m not going to comment on the details of what are supposed to be classified items… Second, as commander-in-chief, the issues that you’ve mentioned touch on our national security or critical issues of war and peace, and they’re classified for a reason” (Obama ‘Offended’ by Leak Allegations, New York Times, June 8, 2012).
So, are any of these practices Constitutional? Not one!! All military powers are housed under the Legislative branch Article I, Section 8, of the U.S. Constitution except for one. These include all power to declare and finance war, “make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces,” and even determine the land that the military can have for training purposes. The only power left to the president is as “Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States… ,” notice this, “when called into actual Service of the United States” which constitutionally can only be done by Congress. The totality of his authority can only follow theirs.
As far as I am able to determine there exists no declaration of war by Congress on Yemen or Pakistan (actually on no country presently) calling into “actual service” the military. Instead, our attacks are acts of war on these states. Imagine drone strikes on our enemies in Russia or China. They, being much stronger countries, would be returning fire. Nor is there a specific two-year funding limitation on this “Drone War” as constitutionally required. Moreover, Congress clearly has been nullified in making the “rules for the government and regulation of land and naval forces” in this no end conflict.
Recent presidents have usurped all of the military powers of Congress unto themselves. It is a dangerous slippery slope and clearly exceeds Constitutional authority regardless of who inhabits the White House, more especially when the kills are American citizens who are executed on the say so of just one man, in the Situation Room, thousands of miles away. Executed without the accused having benefit of judge, jury, trial or any of a series of other constitutional rights. Whatever happened to the presumption of innocent until proven guilty? Tell Congress that you want them to adhere to the Constitution with respect to all military conflicts.