Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Talking about the Constitution...

I have always been a fairly strict defender of the US Constitution.  Not a strict interpreter of same, that's a different subject altogether - but a strict defender of it.  I've taken two oaths to do that, one military and one civilian.  Both I feel deeply and strongly.

As many of you know, I am also a fairly liberal fellow these days, although I do support individual rights to the ownership of firearms.  Again, another discussion for another day.

But being liberal is not skimping on that defense of the Constitution, as some Republicans would like to say.  The US Constitution is the document that is the foundation of this democratic government, the one that has successfully governed this country since its ratification.

It empowers the government, defines the power of the States and guarantees the power of the people over that government through the guarantee of our rights and the reservation of non-enumerated powers to the States or the people themselves.  Benjamin Franklin once said that we have a Republic - if we can keep it.  Thomas Jefferson noted that he felt that we, the people, need to examine that document every decade or two for whatever updates, changes, deletions or additions we might feel necessary to keep it in sync with the changing moralities of the times.

This is something we have failed miserably in keeping up with.  When that document was written, nobody dreamed of machine guns, tanks, bombers or artillery, or such things as telephones, radios or computers.  That's why the state of our rights regarding those things have fallen into such a sad state of affairs.  We've nobody to blame but ourselves.

Another thing the Founders never dreamed of were unmanned drone aircraft.  Especially armed drones.  I especially think that their reaction were they to learn of our current usage of them would be less than favorable in several ways.  Warfare in the 18th century, even as the Continental Army was radically changing the rules at times, was still considered a Gentleman's affair.   British General Lord Cornwallis, while he was in charge of British forces in the Carolinas, was incensed at the colonials' "underhanded" tactic of specifically aiming at his officers in skirmishes.  Officers at the time were nobility and considered gentlemen.  It was scurrilous and virtually criminal to target officers specifically, he thought!

How would he like our current tactic of shooting the leaders of our enemies from unseen and undetectable unmanned drones far above their heads?  What would the leaders of the Revolutionary Era forces, both British and American, think of having the ability to cripple their enemies' forces by killing their counterparts from undetectable locations - especially in situations where innocent civilians were within the killing zone?

I have no doubt that Cornwallis would have welcomed that ability wholeheartedly, as long as he could cut off the heads of the Revolutionary forces, and would certainly have no trouble with there being no requirement for a trial or any real evidence to be presented to a higher authority prior to the operation!  Nor, for that matter, would he have lost much sleep over the loss of non-combatant life.  His record in the Carolinas is fairly clear in that respect.

I feel equally certain that the colonists would have been outraged and alarmed by such a turn of events, and would almost guarantee that their reaction would involve denying that ability to the new US Government, had they any such dream that the technology was possible.

So, why, oh why does the current US Government take upon itself the ability to do that, when almost any schoolchild with even a rudimentary knowledge of our Revolutionary history could see how dangerous that ability is?

The bill of rights limits the government's ability to deny us our rights to situations where it is forced to use something called "due process" to decide the matter of punishment.   In situations of treason, it goes further and specifically requires the testimony of three witnesses to the treasonous acts before conviction can be pronounced!

There is not one word I can find in that document that allows the government to decide, without a single judicial review, that a person has so set him or herself against this government that it has the power to kill that person without trial.  A Justice Department lawyer is NOT a judge, and a memo written by such a lawyer is not a judicial review.

A similar situation is in play with the Patriot Act, which gives the Government the right to tap your phones, and copy and examine your email and other electronic traffic without so much as even a secret warrant, much less a warrant signed by a public court official.

I will note two things here.  Yes, this stuff began under Bush.  The Patriot Act was his baby.  Drones were first used by his Administration too, although not nearly to the extent they are being used now.

But in no way does that excuse Obama from staying the course and using those same unConstitutional tactics.

The Patriot Act should be declared unconstitutional, and the drone program, at the least, should be publicly discussed and perhaps eventually limited to use in declared theaters of war against valid uniformed military personnel and for valid military intelligence purposes.

I do not dispute the effectiveness of those tools in tracking down and eliminating the leaders of Al Qaeda.  Yes, they have worked marvelously.   One can argue that the function of those men were such that they made themselves legitimate targets in what we might be able to call a "war", in some sense.

But the tools are flawed.  Not only must the NSA copy and scan virtually all the electronic traffic passing through the US (some of it not even originating or addressed within this country) in order to track the needles in that very large haystack that represent the terrorists' communications, but the drones have often killed innocent civilians, either mistakenly identified as terrorists or as innocent bystanders close to legitimate targets.

Additionally, there is nothing in the recently leaked memo to show what evidence is required for a person to be declared a legitimate target.  None.  No court case need be filed, no arrest warrant need be signed and no alert to the individual giving him/her the chance to surrender need be transmitted.

Both tools are unacceptable.  Both are wrong, and are violations of the very most basic values we founded this country on.  They are overreach to an alarming degree by a government that is no longer being restrained by the people who are supposed to be the ones from whom its power derives.

This state of affairs needs to change, as quickly as possible.  I don't care if the President is a Democrat or a Republican, or whether the Congress is ruled by one party or a mixed bag between the two.

Lets get back to making our government follow the rules.  It isn't supposed to change those rules to suit itself.

That's OUR job.


Oldfart said...

The drones are no different than our snipers except they carry a larger and more deadly package. I've never heard anyone question our snipers or their targeting.
I guaran-damn-tee you that they would have loved the drones during WWII.

Robert Ahrens said...

But nobody is posting snipers in Pakistan or Yemen. Police forces aren't buying the services of snipers in the US.

The drones are being used in non-combat venues. As I mentioned, there isn't any judicial revue of the targets chosen, either.

As long as we use the drones in combat against uniformed enemy soldiers, no problem. That does NOT describe the situation in Pakistan, or Yemen, though.