Americans have now had some time to digest President Obama's controversial memo leaked last week justifying the use of armed drones to take out Americans believed to be associated with terrorist organizations. But many questions still need to be answered with regards to the program's constitutionality and how the executive branch should be held accountable.
Defenders of this policy argue that the United States is at war and that there is congressional authorization to use military force in response to attacks. Many also have argued the drones are a reasonable extension of former President George W. Bush's terror policies. In addition, Presidents typically have enjoyed significant constitutional latitude during times of war. Some examples include Abraham Lincoln suspending habeas corpus to arrest confederate sympathizers and Franklin Roosevelt putting thousands of Japanese Americans in internment camps.
The problem with these arguments is we cannot dwell on examples of presidential power ion the pasty and need to focus on the present . No number of wrongs can ever make a right. Simply pointing out what other presidents have done in not good enough. We now know form history, for example, how many innocent lives were ruined by FDR's camps. We also know that Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus was at a time when there was a possibility the United States as a country would no longer exist.
The drones also go beyond anything Bush did during his administration despite arguments to the contrary. Say what you want about the former president, but he never played the role of judge, jury and executioner the way Obama is. If you want to argue that Obama's policy is completely justified, then you are okay with him having the power to order the killing of an American overseas without due process and little accountability.
Consider the case of Anwar Al-Awlaki's son, Abdulrahman, who was killed two weeks after Anwar was. His only "crime" was having the misfortune of being Anwar's son. U.S. officials claimed afterwards that the target was Ibrahim al-Banna, an Egyptian believed to a senior operative with Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. No one was held accountable for the death of Abdulrahman.
Where do you draw the line? Who will hold the executive branch accountable when it screws up? At the very least, there should be significant oversight over a president's ability to order drone strikes on Americans. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who otherwise largely agrees with Obama's drone policy suggested it would be appropriate to create a special court to review a drone strike.
This would be a start. It would also help if Obama decided to be more transparent from now on. The decisions a president makes have an effect on all of us and we have a right to know what our government is doing.