Does the Drone War Need a Kangaroo Court?

Targeted killing is murder. No amount of bureaucratic layering will rescue perpetrators from that judgment of history.

by , February 11, 2013

It has been proposed that Executive branch lethal operations against US citizens be filtered through some sort of assassination court.

A moment’s reflection should make clear that the primary motivation for proposing this kangaroo "court" is to insulate senior elected and appointed bureaucrats from future criminal liability.

Lethal operations against US citizens constitute murder. No amount of bureaucratic layering will rescue perpetrators from that judgment of history – and perhaps may not rescue them from personal criminal consequences as well.

Now that the "War on Terror" is to be brought home, we might well pause a moment and ponder its success abroad.

If the War on Terror abroad is in part a struggle for "hearts and minds", then President Obama’s "drone war" has been worse than a failure.

In Pakistan – showered annually with both drone-launched Hellfire missiles and $2 billion in US aid, fully half of the population considers the United States to be Pakistan’s biggest enemy. Yet the bureaucracy incredibly insists that the use of drones is not counterproductive — but is in fact making the US popular!

What kind of fool could believe something like this you ask?

On Thursday, when asked if lethal drone strikes are (in the words of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal) creating new terrorists and a "visceral hatred" of the United States, the man whom many call President Obama’s "drone war architect" responded:

"What we in fact have found in many areas is that the people are being held hostage to al Qaeda in these areas and have welcomed the work that the US government has done with their governments to rid them of the al Qaeda cancer that exists."

This response (which probably also reflects the thinking of President Obama) was given by John O. Brennan at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Thursday.

Brennan will almost certainly be confirmed as the next head of CIA. He is a longtime political ally of President Obama – both in his role of early campaign contributor, mentor on counter-terrorism, and a close White House advisor.

Recent polling data show that fear and distrust of our government has reached an all-time high water mark among Americans. To the question, "Do you think the federal government threatens your own personal rights and freedoms, or not?", over half of Americans now answer, "Yes".*

War is won by holding territory, not by flying over it and terrorizing its population. Drones are a fearsome tool of intimidation – that is, of terror. Drones are truly a counter-terror weapon as are lethal operations against US citizens.

With lethal operations against US citizens, the War on Terror has finally come home. Will Americans thank the government for, "ridding them of the al Qaeda cancer that exists", or will we grudgingly accept that the War on Terror is inexorably morphing into a war against ourselves.

*Pakistan and US polls conducted by Gallup in 2012-2013.

Read more by Mark Rothschild