In early March, Senator Rand Paul had America buzzing about drones. They were the highlight of his 13-hour filibuster against John Brennan, Barack Obama’s nominee to be director of the CIA. Paul’s intention was not to actually stop the nomination of Brennan – he knew the filibuster would fail. Instead, he wished to turn the nation’s attention to the use of drone-fired missiles to kill American citizens and others around the globe.
Paul repeatedly cited the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, part of our cherished Bill of Rights, saying: “The Fifth Amendment… should protect you from a president that might kill you with a drone.”
“You can’t be judge, jury and executioner all in one,” Paul warned.
Well, John Brennan tried to play that role when executing Americans at the behest of Barack Obama’s War on Terror strategy. Even George W. Bush put terrorists in Guantanamo Bay before bringing them to trial. Obama just dispensed with the trials and moved right to summary execution.
Sadly, Brennan was confirmed, and the missile-mounted drones continue to fly.
“Are you going to just drop a Hellfire missile on Jane Fonda?”
So are drones (or unmanned aircraft systems–UASs–as they are called by the military) useful? Sure – in war zones. They are good for spying on the enemy and targeting enemy forces and supplies.
But even in these situations, drones have scary consequences. By some accounts in the foreign press, secret drone attacks have killed an estimated 4,700 people – nearly one quarter have been civilians, and as many as 200 are reportedly children.
And worse yet, the Obama administration admitted to targeting Americans and foreign nationals (albeit those in terror groups).
They also claim the legal authority to kill U.S. citizens without a trial (even here in America) as long as the target is linked to a terrorist organization.
Look, I am not alone in being very suspicious of these powers. As government agencies increase the use of drone technology, opportunities for abuse grow exponentially, especially when the Obama administration reserves the right to kill Americans without due process.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder recently defended using lethal force against Americans in America, saying it would be considered legal and justified in an “extraordinary circumstance.”
“The President could conceivably have no choice but to authorize the military to use such force if necessary to protect the homeland,” Holder concluded.
10,000 New Drones By 2020
If the Obama administration’s life-extinguishing policy wasn’t enough, get this: A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) report anticipates 10,000 new civilian drones will be flying the skies of America by the year 2020.
Sound outlandish? It’s not. Since 2007, the FAA has issued 1,428 licenses to police, universities, and federal agencies to fly drones domestically.
This sounds like a perfect storm of threats to privacy and security. Imagine these drones spying on your business or even your teenage daughter as she sunbathes next to the backyard pool.
Sounding the Alarm Bells
In December 2011, The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) issued a report entitled “Protecting Privacy from Aerial Surveillance” that warned of the potential “mission creep” related to the use of drone technology.
The ACLU concluded: “Based on current trends – technology development, law enforcement interest, political and industry pressure, and the lack of legal safeguards – it is clear that drones pose a looming threat to Americans’ privacy.”
The report provides a disturbing glimpse into a future where unmanned drones become an indispensable tool of law enforcement: “Fleets of UAVs, interconnected and augmented with analytics software, could enable the mass tracking of vehicles and pedestrians around a wide area,” the study revealed. “The use of drones could also be expanded from surveillance to actual intervention in law enforcement situations on the ground.”
The ACLU advised that with UAS technologies, police agencies could “dispel protesters, stop a fleeing auto, or fire weapons.” You know, like Hellfire missiles.
Sounds like a scene from a Tom Cruise sci-fi thriller.
Unfortunately, it’s very real… at this point, drones are here to stay. But thanks to Senator Paul, they are now on the tip of everyone’s tongue; and I hope this will encourage much greater scrutiny of the government’s drone policies going forward. At least some of us still believe in our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
This article originally appeared at CapitolHillDaily.com and is reprinted here with permission.