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Top White House official comes clean about covert drone strikes

In recent weeks, controversy has been boiling over the targeted killings of American citizens with drones.  While most would agree that Americans who join hostile overseas terrorist groups like al Qaeda may be difficult to capture and may necessitate strikes with deadly force, most also take issue with the way the administration handled the information.

At a time when drones are deployed over U.S. airspace to "monitor the homeland" and discussions of arming such drones are ongoing, the issue is a sensitive one for Americans who fear what could happen under a system with such a lack of transparency.

I. Down the Rabbit Hole

Robert Gibbs, a former White House press secretary who recently joined MSNBC -- a network owned by Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), Comcast Corp. (CMCSA) and General Electric Comp. (GE) -- gave an exclusive interview with his new employer on the politics talk segment "Up".

In the interview clips are played in which he and the new press secretary -- Jay Carney -- are shown dodging questions about targeted drone killings.  In the interview, he confirms, "When I went through the process of becoming press secretary, one of the things, one of the first things they told me was, ‘You’re not even to acknowledge the drone program. You’re not even to discuss that it exists.'"

When reporters started asking questions about drones, Mr. Gibbs recalls, "I realized I'm not supposed to talk about it."

The case is drawing fictional comparisons, such as "The Wizard of Oz" (in which a normal man hides behind an animated curtain to hide his lack of magic powers) or "Alice in Wonderland" (due to questions of how many layers of obfuscation are wrapping the reality of the covert actions -- i.e. how far down the rabbit hole, we must go to find the truth).

Reaper drones
Reaper drones are currently being used over U.S. airspace. [Image Source: The Real Revo]

Mr. Gibbs used The Wizard of Oz analogy in his own interview.  The former official, who says he never talked to President Obama about the issue, complains that "when [drone strikes on Americans are] obviously happening, undermines people’s confidence overall in the decisions that their government makes."

II. Drone Medal Awarded, Brennan Nomination Jeopardized

The White House has finally agreed to release some documents to the Senate and House, but much about the reportedly highly codified death strikes program is unknown.  Reportedly the only people with fully details are the Obama administration and high ranking military and intelligence officials.

President Obama
President Obama says sometimes U.S. citizens must be killed, although it may be too sensitive to say when that time is. [Image Source: AFP/Getty Images]

U.S. use of drones overseas has exploded in recent years.  The autonomous surveillance-cum-killing machines offer a way to project U.S. hegemony without risking the lives of servicemen.  Reportedly one in three U.S. warplanes is today a drone.

The Pentagon recently announced a new medal of honor -- the Distinguished Warfare Medal -- for drone operators and cyberwarfare experts.  The medal ranks above the prestigious Purple Heart (which is awarded to servicemen wounded or killed in battle), raising criticism.  Critics dub the award "the Geek's Cross".

The controversy over drone killings of American citizens and the secrecy surrounding the administrations' rules on the topic has impacted the nomination of John Brennan to become director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

John Brennan
John Brennan helped mastermind the drone killings. [Image Source: Reuters]

John Brennan has also been criticized for supporting "enhanced interrogation" (torture), warrantless wiretaps, and the Iraq invasion/war.  Much of these policies were his work during his time with the previous Bush Administration.  Salon has a nice piece on these issues.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Tenn.) says the strikes raise serious Constitutional issues, due to the administration's secrecy and ambiguous language.  He says unless he gets answers he plans to do "whatever it takes" to block Mr. Brennan's nomination.  

That in turn, could create chaos in U.S. intelligence ranks and compromise America's ability to monitor enemies and defend itself overseas.

Source: MSNBC News

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RE: Gibbs always pissed me off.
By ppardee on 2/25/2013 4:11:52 PM , Rating: 5
OK, so if we know these people are enemy combatants and we believe them to be a threat to national security (which is not required according to the DoJ), why can't we get a judge involved and actually have some oversight? It is a unilateral decision. The Executive Branch makes the decision with absolutely no checks and balances.

While I believe state-sanctioned killing is murder, I understand that is not the current law and is not the popular view of the country. I'm not going to say we shouldn't execute people. But this would be akin to the governor of a state sending the police out to shoot someone who is a member of a gang but has not been connected to any crime himself. The person has admitted to being an enemy of the state (no gang in the history of the world has ever been all about charity) so the governor has the right to kill him.

Clearly, this is wrong. The view that members of terrorist organizations are different is the problem. Until you can prove that this person has the intent to commit a crime or has committed a crime (and have proven it in court, or at least had some judicial oversight of ANY kind), it is unconstitutional to execute them.

The conversation now is "They could have been a threat to national security. I took them out."

It should be
"They are an eminent threat to national security."
"Prove it."
"Here's my evidence."
"Yeah, I agree. Take them out."

Until that judicial oversight happens, any killing of an American citizen by the military is murder.

And as far as renunciation of citizenship:
"A person wishing to renounce his or her U.S. citizenship must voluntarily and with intent to relinquish U.S. citizenship appear in person before a U.S. consular or diplomatic officer, or in a foreign country (normally at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate); and sign an oath of renunciation"

You can't do it verbally or even by mail. It has to be done in court and voluntarily. Simply joining an international gang doesn't do it.

RE: Gibbs always pissed me off.
By Scrogneugneu on 2/25/2013 10:31:59 PM , Rating: 1
Until that judicial oversight happens, any killing of an American citizen by the military is murder.

Because killing anybody that is NOT an American citizen is absolutely NOT murder.

RE: Gibbs always pissed me off.
By espaghetti on 2/26/2013 8:57:36 AM , Rating: 2
It bares the name "war", sometimes.

RE: Gibbs always pissed me off.
By ppardee on 2/26/2013 3:37:07 PM , Rating: 2
I know it seems like a double standard. I would like to say that the government shouldn't kill anyone at any time, but that's not really realistic. When there is an eminent threat of danger, lethal force is necessary.

If someone points a gun at you, you shoot them before they can shoot you. I believe that each person has the right to defend themselves. I believe that the country has a right to defend itself, but in either case, you have to prove that the person killed was an immediate threat. Obama can't do that with the drone strikes (on Americans or otherwise).

"Young lady, in this house we obey the laws of thermodynamics!" -- Homer Simpson

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