2016 Candidates Must Talk Extrajudicial Drone Strikes

As President Obama looks to legacy building during his remaining time in office, he’s leaving behind a troubling institution for the next commander in chief to inherit: A program permitting the extrajudicial killing of U.S. citizens abroad. Though President Bush and his administration were responsible for establishing these practices, the Obama White House has, in some respects, expanded some of them. As the 2016 election season heats up, it is worth looking at where the possible presidents-to-be stand on the issue.

Despite the fact that targeted killings, whether by unmanned aerial drone or cruise missile, are not a new element of the U.S. military, a new, concerning threshold was crossed in 2011. In an unprecedented move, President Obama authorized a lethal drone strike which successfully targeted Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born citizen. It is unclear if Samir Khan, a U.S. citizen also killed in the strike, was meant to be hit as well. However, the decision to target Anwar al-Awlaki for death has drawn heat from human rights critics, as has the death of his U.S.-born, 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, with good reason.

As the Fifth Amendment is written, all U.S. citizens are guaranteed due process, the right to confront one’s accusers and to be tried before a jury. One exception to this requires a conviction of treason. The other, as argued by the White House, is that of “imminent threat,” the definition of which has been stretched to justify targeting U.S. citizens for lethal strikes as with al-Awlaki. What makes this especially problematic is the way this legal definition has been used, as in this case.

Though Western media has often dubbed al-Awlaki the “9/11 imam” and the White House claims he was a senior member of al-Qaida, the “imminent danger” justification for targeting al-Awlaki has been held in secrecy per executive privilege. Fortunately, a recent ruling by a federal judge may force the U.S. government to disclose the details of this highly controversial decision. Al-Awlaki has not been the only U.S. citizen targeted. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, at least two other U.S. citizens have been deliberately targeted for such extrajudicial drone strikes.

Though setting these grim new milestones in the Global War on Terror under President Obama is deeply concerning on its own, what is more concerning is the 2016 presidential candidates’ talk around the issue, or rather, the lack thereof. With a field of a dozen Democrats and Republicans having declared their intentions to run, it’s reasonable to think there would be an array of views on this issue, but this isn’t the case. Predictably, the Republican candidates have either lauded al-Awlaki’s death or, in general, President Obama’s liberal use of targeted drone strikes.

Some, like Senator Lindsey Graham, have even gone so far as to accuse Obama of under-utilizing his authority to approve extrajudicial killings. The one exception appears to be Senator Rand Paul, who stands apart from his peers having openly questioned the decision to target al-Awlaki. However, Paul has not gone so far as to condemn the practice of targeting U.S. citizens based on a threat of “imminent danger.”

Among the Democrats seeking the 2016 nomination, discussion on extrajudicial targeted killings is nearly as absent. Hillary Clinton has expressed her clear support for Obama’s drone program, arguing its importance in the War on Terror. Senator Bernie Sanders, while not against the use of drones, has said he takes issue with how they have been used under Bush and Obama. However, he’s stopped short of specifically condemning al-Awlaki’s killing or the practice of targeting of U.S. citizens.

So far, among the declared Democratic hopefuls, former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee has been the most direct with his general opposition to extrajudicial drone strikes, arguing that the drone program in Yemen (incidentally, the country in which al-Awlaki was killed) has helped fuel destabilization there.

Even though the U.S. drone program and its use in killing U.S. citizens without due process are clearly ripe for abuse and executive overreach, there is virtually no discussion among those who will wield this power for the remainder of the decade. Extrajudicial drone strikes against U.S. citizens abroad heralds a troubling future. It is essential that the 2016 presidential candidates make their positions on this issue clear and more importantly, that they be made to justify them to the American public.

Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force

53 comments

John J
John J1 months ago

thanks for sharing

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John J
John J1 months ago

thanks for sharing

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Jack Y
Jack Y3 months ago

thanks

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Jack Y
Jack Y3 months ago

thanks

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John J
John J3 months ago

thanks for sharing

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John J
John J3 months ago

thanks for sharing

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Kathryn Irby
Past Member 3 years ago

Keep 'em flying!! American traitors, put your behinds directly underneath them while you're at it! Thanks for sharing.

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Kathryn Irby
Past Member 3 years ago

The GOP'ers don't even know what a drone is, with their ignorance! It would be nice if all of them could be underneath them!! LOL!

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Kathryn Irby
Past Member 3 years ago

Keep 'em flying, President Obama!! They've taken out more high-level Thugs than I'd ever dreamed they would have! Thanks for sharing.

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