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Drone strikes on U.S. citizens in al-Qaida complex, but necessary tactic

Published: Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, February 6, 2013 01:02


America has been fighting against the terrorist organization al-Qaida since the 9/11 attacks in 2001, and in May 2011 Osama bin Laden, the former leader of
al-Qaida, was killed by Navy SEALs while hiding in a fortress in Pakistan. Bin Laden’s predecessors, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid and Abu Hafs al-Shariri were all killed by unmanned drone air strikes while in Pakistan. 

The deaths of these men — and thousands of other al-Qaida affiliates — should be commended for doing so without putting more American troops in harm’s way.

However, the practice of drone strikes becomes controversial when the target is an American citizen. 

On Sept. 30, 2011 American-born Anwar al-Awlaki was traveling with Pakistani-born American citizen Samir Kahn in Yemen when they were both killed by a missile fired from an American drone aircraft. Both men were high-ranking al-Qaida leaders and there was significant evidence they were planning to launch attacks against Americans.  

The question is whether it is lawful and ethical to kill American citizens abroad, ignoring their constitutional rights to due process — even if they are affiliated with al-Qaida. A bigger question lingers as to how much power the executive branch has to overstep the judicial system in claiming that a suspect should be a part of this special rule — a rule that until recently was confidential in its definition and description. 

America has been using drone technology for surveillance purposes since the 1960s, but has only been using them for air strikes for less than 13 years. Due to the immature nature of the technology, there are few military guidelines that precede over this kind of warfare.  

The only documentation available from the Justice Department regarding drone strikes is a 16-page paper uncovered by MSNBC’s Michael Isikoff that only briefly describes the justification of such attacks.

Though the paper is not an official memorandum, it works as a legal representation of the classified documents that were reportedly distributed to the president and the executive branch agencies from the Justice Department’s legal council.

The justifications of drone strikes, the way they have been presented in the paper, leaves the legality of overruling an American citizen’s rights up to interpretation by the executive branch alone. Because the executive branch has the obligation to ensure national security, it can act on any threat without the oversight of other branches of the government.

America’s war on terror will never be free of controversy and hardship. The men killed by drone strikes were men who were determined to cause as much pain to Americans as they could, many men fighting these forces died in the process.  

Unmanned drones allow the military to engage terrorists without the necessity having troops on the ground. 

However ambiguous the current framework is, the president and the Executive Branch have the obligation to protect us from any threat both foreign and domestic. We should trust they will continue to work in the best interest of national security in fighting al-Qaida through any means necessary.  

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