Bloomberg BusinessWeek, October 11, 2012
President Obama, who is putatively a civil libertarian—or, at the very least, the preferred candidate of most civil libertarians—has achieved something remarkable over the course of his term. He has led an expansive war against America’s enemies using lethal flying robots that not infrequently incinerate innocent civilians, and he’s been rewarded for it. According to a Washington Post/ABC News poll conducted earlier this year, 83 percent of Americans support Obama’s drone policy.
This is especially noteworthy because those who support the policy don’t actually know what it is. It’s discussed by the administration in only the most cursory and circumspect manner. Obama has provided the public with very little information about its revolutionary consequences.
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One reason the people of North Waziristan—the innocent as well as the guilty—find drones so frightening is the matter of “signature strikes,” or “atmospheric strikes.” The U.S. national security infrastructure allows the targeting in certain benighted places of clusters of young men whose identities are not known but whose behavior is deemed suspicious. This policy is as remarkable as the president’s decision to use drones to assassinate American citizens on foreign soil, as he did with the al-Qaeda strategist Anwar al-Awlaki, based in Yemen. Al-Awlaki was a despicable figure, but isn’t it just a bit strange that the federal government can’t eavesdrop on a U.S. citizen’s phone conversation without a court order but can assassinate him without one?