Death by Drone

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by Conor Friedersdorf

Says James Poulos:

There's something about drones that makes me queasy. Maybe it's the whole robots-with-guns thing. We're a long ways away from the day when machines programmed to kill fight wars so human Americans don't have to, but I think the following principle is important to keep in at least the back of our minds going forward: war is something awful, serious, and dangerous enough that real people should have to do the bulk of it. Assassinating evildoers in remote locations is one thing; getting in the habit of outsourcing death and destruction to the bots is another.

And elsewhere at Ricochet, here's Adam Freedman:

I did my usual snorting and scoffing when I heard about the ACLU's latest lawsuit to enjoin the killing of terror suspects abroad. But is it possible that they're on to something?

According to the complaint, the CIA and JSOC (Joint Special Operations Committee) maintain a "kill list" of individuals whom the US can kill anywhere, anytime. The list includes US citizens. The ACLU appears to concede that the US can kill its enemies in war zones, such as Iraq and Afghanistan. But what authorizes the government to summarily kill US citizens on suspicion that they're plotting terror activity? Even if the targets are guilty of treason, the Constitution requires the testimony of two witnesses or a confession in open court.

The ACLU also objects to killing foreign nationals outside of war zones; however, that argument is much weaker. But US citizens? Like my fellow Ricocheterians over here, I have my qualms about the ease with which the government can now send a drone to do its dirty work.

I wish the right would do less scoffing at the ACLU. It's often unjustified. But I'll live with scoffing if it's followed by the dawning realization that the Obama Adminstration has imprudently asserted for itself an extraordinary extra-constitutional power, the potential abuse of which ought to terrify any citizen who is half paying attention.

Once that realization has sunk in, I'd encourage this followup thought: whereas the ACLU is standing against this radical expansion of federal power -- an executive branch death panel, if you will -- conservative instituitions like The Heritage Foundation aren't merely silent, they're hiring a senior staffer who believes that the ability to draw up a list of American citizens to be killed is inherent in the power of the presidency.

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