What is it like to have the absolute power of life and death over another human being? There are those among us who know. Judges and juries in states with capital punishment, for example, can condemn to death, or grant life, albeit in prison. But what about a person who is picking those to die from a list? And what if those people didn't have the benefit of due process? And suppose people, innocent people are incinerated by a remote controlled rocket, sent on its deadly mission by someone in an office someplace?
I love Barack Obama as our president. I think he's been, on balance, the best person to bring America through the tough times that came with the 2008 financial collapse and subsequent Great Recession. On the dual subjects of drones and kill lists, however, we part company. Authorizing the taking of human life based on the finding of a faceless, nameless "informed, high level official" smacks of somewhere that is definitely not America.
To be clear, the government must be able to fight those who would do this nation and its people harm. There are questions, however, about whether drones and kill lists are the best ways to accomplish this. We recently had a military intelligence expert as a guest, and he said when he worked in intelligence there had to be 80% verification of an intended target before a drone strike could be authorized. Under John Brennan, the man President Obama nominated to be CIA Director, that verification rate slipped to 40%.
Maybe this is why there have been horror stories coming out of Yemen and elsewhere about the devastation drones bring to innocents. The New York Times has a chilling account of a Yemeni cleric who dared openly criticize Al Qaeda. They sent a group of members to his mosque, and while they argued in front of it a US drone strike killed all of them. This cleric seems to have been on our side. Can we afford this?
Do we really want to be known as a nation that fights an enemy by establishing kill lists, at times of our own citizens, and establish they can be killed without trial? How do we hold ourselves up as a shining example to the world? While we may even think that Barack Obama would never order the taking of a human life without an imminent threat, this doctrine will outlast him. Are we that trusting of his successor?
It doesn't really come down to who we trust. Kill lists and indiscriminate drone strikes are simply wrong. As Americans, we need to be better than this, and do better than this, right?