QJPolitics: Drone decisions defy civil liberties

For four years, Barack Obama and his top counterterrorism advisor John Brennan met regularly. During these meetings, Obama and Brennan worked methodically through a “kill list” of men who they perceived as a threat to America’s national security. After Obama and Brennan marked someone for death, the target would be taken out with a missile fired by an unmanned aircraft know as a drone. Thankfully, this process has sparked a controversy.

To say the absolute least, the victims of drone strikes receive no due process of law and many are simply fighting their locals governments and don’t represent an immediate threat to the US. Whole communities in Pakistan’s North-West – the main target for drone strikes —live in constant fear of imminent death.

Knowing a good executor of state power when he saw one, Barack Obama recently nominated John Brennan to head the CIA. On the eve of Brennan’s appointment, a senator from Kentucky rose to filibuster the proceedings and voice his concerns about Brennan’s record.

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky was chiefly concerned about the possibility that Barack Obama could order a drone strike against a US citizen in American territory. The Obama administration isn’t shy about claiming the right to do this. However, attorney general Eric Holder responded to Paul’s filibuster and said that a drone strike would never be used on anyone “not engaged in combat”.

One of the most striking things about the debate over drone strikes is that no prominent figure from the mainstream American left has come forward to criticize Obama’s actions. As such, the libertarian wing of the Republican Party –of which Rand Paul is a member — is seen as the only group of principled dissidents. When it comes to civil liberties, the Obama administration has been fairly regressive. Rather than torture like Bush, Obama has simply killed. Obama has continued Bush-era surveillance programs like the Patriot act and the Guantanamo Bay detention center remains open. Most ominously, the Obama administration has aggressively appealed a legal challenge to the National Defense Authorization Act which allows US citizens to be held indefinitely without charges.

It’s worth noting that Obama’s drone program has popular support. Polls show a large majority of Americans support drone strikes, even a majority of self-identified liberals endorse them.

Had the drone program been accelerated under Bush, there would have been a greater outcry. Even Bush-era torture techniques have larger public support under Obama. In the words of Glenn Greenwald, what was once “shredding of the Constitution” under Bush is now “bipartisan consensus”.

In an electoral system as flawed as the one in the US, voters often rationalize their choice in terms of the “lesser of two evils”. However, in the words of one commentator, it may have been that Barack Obama was “not the lesser of evils, but the more effective evil”. When it comes to civil liberties this is undoubtedly correct.

David Hadwen is QJBlogs’ Political Columnist. He’s a fourth-year history major with a specific interest in American Politics. Follow him on Twitter @David_Hadwen.

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