Missile Contagion

Only the US, Israel, and Great Britain (of course) have used unarmed drones to strike targets in foreign lands. But 50 countries have now built drones, and China unveiled 25 different models at a recent air show. Independent actors–cults, sects, terrorist cells, fundamentalists of every stripe, random guys with grievances–are not far behind. The US has an arsenal of 7000 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which it calls Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPAs). They are (relatively!) cheap and safe to use, especially from the perspective of the aggressor.

The first bombs were dropped on civilian populations in 1912, and soon all of Europe was engulfed. It’s now become a fully normalized part of modern warfare. Drones are next.

The US assassinated Anwar al-Awlaki, the US-born propagandist for Al Qaeda hiding in Yemen, with a drone strike in September despite an executive order banning assassinations, a US law against murder, protections in the Bill of Rights, and various strictures in the international laws of war. This was a US citizen killed on orders from the executive without a trial or any semblance of due process of law. No one in government will admit to the facts, even though it’s common knowledge, because to do so would be an admission of guilt to a criminal act. Whatever else he was Anwar al-Awlaki is now a murder victim as well. His murderers are the entire line of march from the commander-in-chief to the game-boy operator who, following orders, pulled the trigger.

The rule of law has no meaning here, and if you accept this precedent then the government can kill anyone it deems guilty without evidence or trial. Where are the strict Constitutional constructionists now? Where is the outcry? Were the Founders waffling on this point?

It’s a new day: Nazi war criminals faced their accusers and answered the evidence; Cambodian, Yugoslavians, and Rwandas suspected of crimes have all been pursued in criminal courts. No more; only might makes right. If Russia or Iran sees an enemy on US soil, following this precedent they will send a drone. The gate is wide open.

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