Thursday, March 7, 2013

Rand Paul, Drones and the Bigger Problem

I honestly never thought I'd agree with Rand Paul on much of anything.

Then yesterday happened.

He employed the filibuster in the way it was actually intended to be used, to draw attention to real and legitimate concerns.  Usually, filibusters are just stalling techniques, but this time it was warranted.

He has questions about drones.  Questions that were largely evaded by the Attorney General, then eventually answered in a way that seems to say that the Executive Office reserves the right to use these weapons against U.S. citizens on American soil.

Doing so would strip the 5th Amendment right to due process of any actual meaning.  Here in this country, we guarantee every person accused of a crime the right to a fair trial, the right to be judged by their peers, the right to defend themselves.

When exactly did we the people give authorization to this kind of action?  We didn't.  No one did.

I have to say, Rand has a point.

The concerns about potential (and some would say actual) use against people here domestically are legitimate, but also largely hypothetical.  The memo seemed to vaguely say that such techniques would only be employed in times of necessity, as with the 9/11 attacks.  That isn't very reassuring though, because a grant of that authority at all means that the President would now have the option to just eliminate American citizens deemed to be a threat for any perceived reason.

I won't go into the conspiracy theories that these weapons have already been used here, because doing so only serves as inflammatory speculation.

My concerns, though, go beyond our borders.  They go, in fact, beyond the drones themselves.

Though most people here support the use of drones, there are ethical implications and international implications of using them.

Some liken the drones to snipers and special forces units - highly specialized, tactical tools of war, evolving as technology has evolved. The difference being, snipers and special forces units are composed of humans placed in harms way, the drones are remotely guided unmanned devices.

There is clearly an argument to be made in favor of them.  They may indeed prevent us from needing to send our men and women into battle.  They may allow us to avoid shoving our soldiers into harms way. They might save American lives.  A close family friend of mine was shot down in a Blackhawk helicopter in Iraq at the age of 22.  I am, obviously, unabashedly in favor of keeping our soldiers as safe as we can. They are cost effective as well, making them even more attractive to many.

The U.S. approval rating for the use of drones hovers somewhere near 62%, though the people of every other nation in the world oppose our use of them.

There is a fundamental difference, though, between pulling a trigger a few hundred feet away and pushing a button hundreds of miles away.  It's the video game mentality - it's far away and removed from any individual, so the moral implication seems somehow less by those charged with making the orders.

There is a reason that there are so few snipers and special forces members in the armed services.  They are carefully screened, not just for ability, but to ensure that they have the moral capability of living with themselves when called upon to kill others.  Manning a drone is less real because it's distant, not something that anyone is witnessing first hand through a sight.

Shouldn't killing people be something that requires both necessity and in-your-face reality?  Without the absolute necessity or reality of it, it becomes easier and easier to see human lives as expendable.

Special forces units, historically, have been used to capture military and government leaders that eluded the authorities.  Kills are supposed to be ordered as a last resort, out of necessity.  Drones can't capture anyone, they can only provide surveillance and destruction.  Special forces can do more.  We captured Saddam Hussein and turned him over for a trial.  He was eventually sentenced and executed, but only after he was given an opportunity to face his accusers.

This is what we are supposed to do.  The United States, the so-called leader of the free world, is supposed to help bring these people to justice.  Not sit as judge, jury and executioner, certainly not from hundreds of miles away.

What happened with Osama bin Laden was different.  The compound entered by special forces, the target killed.  What happened to the mentality of our leaders between Hussein and bin Laden?  Why is the U.S. now in a position to order killings like this one?

I'm obviously making an argument that we shouldn't be.

There is this pesky thing called the Geneva Convention.  This judicial branch of the United Nations called The World Court.  There is the idea of bringing war criminals to justice.  There is the idea that the U.S., as the strongest military force in the world, is supposed to be the leader when it comes to upstanding behavior globally.

The United Nations has begun an investigation into the use of drones by the United States, and whether such use in and of itself constitutes a war crime.

We can't speak out about assassinations when we order them.

We can't decry torture when we've employed it.

We shouldn't be trying to justify remote strikes just because it's easier and cheaper when there are enormous ramifications to doing so, not the least of which is collateral damage and the killing of innocent bystanders.

We shouldn't be callous and narcissistic enough to believe that we can circumvent the will of every other country in the world.  We are supposed to be as bound by international codes of conduct as we demand every other nation be.

We are supposed to be better than this.


  1. couldn't agree more.

  2. yes...all of this

    As I wrote today, I couldn't me more apart from Rand Paul politically. But he's right on this issues. although today he saying he'd support drones on american citizens if they were threats.

    Eric Holder and John Brennan didn't take Rand Paul seriously so he took to the SEnate floor and filibustered. No issue from me. It was surprisingly entertaining.

    of course, I'm a politics nerd.

  3. Beautifully said. What some propose to do with drones is decidedly unAmerican, to say the least. that Rand Paul stood up against it was about as American as he could have made it under the circumstances.

  4. I totally agree, I think "drones" are an amazing tool for FACT GATHERING, picture taking, proof finding missions - that's is, they should have NO other capabilities; maybe stun gun usage to hold a terrorist until a human soldier can engage, - but humans cannot be trusted to stop there.
    I can tell you, ANY further foray into A.I. scares the crap out of me!

  5. As I posted on the FB comment... I'm guessing this somehow all falls within the rights of The Patriot Act? thoughts?

  6. I agree that the use of drones should be as tightly regulated as any armed aircraft, but I really have to question your knowledge about military special ops and piloting programs. Both groups go through psychological screening to determine if they can make decisions under stress, pilots responsibilities are not less than those of snipers or special ops forces. I don't think you're giving those UAV pilots a fair shake. Military members are trained first and foremost in discipline: the instant and willing obediance to all orders. The blame for collateral damage with the drones cannot fall on the UAV pilot. There is a team of people working together to decide on targets. Someone, not the pilot, issues the order to fire. Those pilots are not removed from the situation. It is in their faces 50 hours a week or more. They watched their targets with their children. They watch fire fights and battles in HD. They don't confuse what they do with video games. Keep this conversation focused where it belongs: up at the top.

    1. Absolutely, I would never intend to lay blame at the feet of the UAV pilots. They are there to do a job, just as every member of the armed services is, and understand that every order issued comes from somewhere higher. I think it's a slippery slope though, and once we are to some degree removing the human element in killing by only doing it remotely, it becomes easier for those in charge to issue the orders. I don't presume that it's easier for anyone to actually push the button. My comments are more about who is making the calls, not those charged with carrying out the orders.

    2. And you're right, it seems that way in the post, I will edit and clarify.

  7. Here is a link I found a long time ago, it's scary how much TRUST we really have to have in our gov't these days to do "right" by us...

  8. Being from Kentucky, I was hugely disappointed (but not surprised) when Rand Paul was elected. This is the first substantive thing he's done that I largely agree with. It's nice to see something I support happening in Congress involving my representatives, especially since I have to deal with Mitch McConnell... Sigh.

    This is really well-written, and you did a good job of saying what I wanted to. Thanks for this!


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