Obama speech can't bury drone damage

By Zhao Jinglun
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, May 27, 2013
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US President Barack Obama speaks about his administration's drone and counterterrorism policies, as well as the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, at the National Defense University in Washington, DC, May 23, 2013. [Xinhua/AFP]

US President Barack Obama speaks about his administration's drone and counterterrorism policies, as well as the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, at the National Defense University in Washington, DC, May 23, 2013. [Xinhua/AFP]

"America is at a crossroads," declared President Obama in a major speech he delivered at the National Defense University in Washington D.C. The speech was essentially a lengthy, carefully argued, yet contradictory defense of his highly controversial drone war.

As president, Obama has sworn to uphold the constitution and he was also a professor of constitutional law. In his speech he claimed that "our commitment to constitutional principles has weathered every war." This statement, however, glaringly contradicts a number of known facts.

The expanded surveillance of American citizens without warrant is a clear violation of the constitutional protection of privacy and the long-term detention of terror suspects without trial violates the constitutional principle of habeas corpus.

More importantly, the targeted assassination of American citizens by remotely piloted aircraft, also known as drones, is clearly unconstitutional. President Obama said himself in his unusually long (nearly 7,000 words) speech, "I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any U.S. citizen – with a drone or a shotgun – without due process. Nor should any President deploy armed drones over U.S. soil."

Then, he proceeded to defend his order to kill four American citizens in Yemen and Pakistan. He made serious accusations against Anwar Awlaki, his sixteen-year-old son and two others, but their "crimes" were unproven and there was no due process. Why was the young, American-born Awlaki killed? Was it because he did not have the right father, as one U.S. government official actually said?

The president defended the unpopular drone attacks by making some cosmetic modifications, such as "the strong oversight of all lethal action." He said, "America does not take strikes when we have the ability to capture individual terrorists – our preference is always to detain, interrogate, and prosecute them." Again, not true, especially in light of the use of the word "always." U.S. commandos shot and killed an unarmed Osama Bin Laden instead of capturing him for prosecution, obviously on White House orders.

The president continued, "America cannot take strikes wherever we choose – our actions are bound by consultations with partners, and respect for state sovereignty." Unfortunately, though, history is littered with examples of the hegemon trampling other countries' sovereignty under foot.

He went on, "America does not take strikes to punish individuals – we are against terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat to the American people…And before any strike is taken [against the terrorists, there must be near certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured – [this is] the highest standard we can set." Again this is not true. In Pakistan alone, U.S. drones killed at least 400 innocent civilians, although President Obama disputed the figure. His drone war has faced strong opposition precisely because of civilian casualties and the making of new enemies. It has, in fact, been THE major cause of new terrorist attacks. Both Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to blow up an airplane over Detroit, and Faisal Shahzad, who planted a bomb in Times Square, said they were retaliating against U.S. drone strikes.

Obama called his drone war a "just war" – a war waged proportionally, in last resort, and in self-defense. But the just war theory does not help him; especially since his drone war has been neither proportionally waged nor undertaken as a last resort. He has expanded his drone war enormously and is using it as a major instrument to prosecute the War against Terror.

President Obama's speech was an attempt to defend his indefensible drone war and it was a clear indication that he will continue to expand that war.

Let me end, however, on a somewhat positive note. The president indicated that he would try to put an end to "Authorization for Use of Military Force" (AUMF) and close down the detention center at Guantanamo Bay (GTMO). Both are long overdue.

The author is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit:


Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China.org.cn.


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