Fugitive cop-killer Christopher Dorner has just become the first human target of an unmanned aerial drone, according to Express.
This news comes just days after a leaked Justice Department white paper laid out the Obama Administration’s legal arguments for using drones to target U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism. A response to the paper by Herbert Titus and William Olson was published in American Thinker and highlighted some of the more troubling aspects of the white paper, including the very real possibility that drones could be used on American soil.
According to the white paper, there are only three requirements to order a killing. First, “an informed high-level official of the U.S. government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States.” Second, capture is “infeasible.” And third, the ” operation would be conducted in a manner consistent with the applicable law of war principles.” Indeed, from the white paper, it is not clear why killings of U.S. citizens on American soil would be judged by a different standard.
The fact that these targeted killings have heretofore been conducted on the other side of the world might have allowed the Administration to shelter American voters from the true horror of what their government is unleashing. Having a drone strike on U.S. territory might change all of that. It doesn’t seem far-fetched to say that it would take extraordinary circumstances for American sensibilities to become accustomed to the presence of unmanned drones on American soil. Using them against a burly, Manifesto-writing, assault-weapon-wielding cop-killer would seem to be a perfect storm for those in the Obama Administration anxious to put a positive face on their drone program. The fact that Dorner’s string of killings comes in the wake of other highly-publicized mass shootings only makes the situation seem more desperate.
At this point, there is no way to tell what the long-term implications of drone use on U.S. soil will be. But if the media continues to hype up the recent surge in gun violence, it would be reasonable to expect to see more, not fewer, gunmen targeted by aerial drones. And at the end of the day it doesn’t matter whether those gunmen are ex-cops with personal grudges or part of an elaborate international conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. government; American citizens are bound to get caught in the crossfire either way.
It should be clarified that the use of drones to find Christopher Dorner has been questioned by some sources and that the LAPD has yet to confirm their use. Furthermore, the official quoted in the Express article implied that drones were being used merely to locate, not kill, Dorner. To the extent that my initial post failed to bear out this distinction, apologies are due. Finally, if unmanned drones are used to find Dorner, it wouldn’t be the first time they were used against American citizens: local police used an unarmed drone in 2011 in a standoff against a North Dakota family accused of stealing cows. I’m not kidding. Unarmed drones have also been used along the Mexican border.
That being said, I believe there are several points made in the original article that are still valid:
1) The recently-leaked Justice Department memo laying out the legal arguments for using drones to assassinate U.S. citizens fails to rule out the use of drones on U.S. soil, implying that the Obama Administration sees no legal barrier to their use on U.S. soil, against U.S. citizens.
2) We might not see the first lethal drone strike on U.S. soil today or tomorrow, but I found it hard to believe that it will not come soon. Both the escalating use of unarmed drones domestically- as well as of armed drones overseas- point to them playing an increasing role in eliminating perceived threats both at home and abroad. On this point, I hope that I am proven wrong.
3) The use of drones- whether armed or unarmed- without judicial oversight and authorization is troublesome from a constitutional perspective, as well as from a privacy perspective. Article III of the Constitution lays out the legal basis for treason against the U.S. government. For the executive branch to claim the authority to ignore standard judicial proceedings and summarily execute citizens without a trial process represents a gross violation of the separation of powers.
4) While I reject the argument that the LAPD is bound by the Fourth Amendment ban on “unreasonable searches and seizures,” I am deeply troubled by the use of high-tech aerial spy machinery, used without judicial warrant or public oversight.