Tuesday U.S. senators return to work and the first order of business for the upper house is a vote on the confirmation of two members of president's national security team, Chuck Hagel for secretary of Defense and John Brennan as director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The debate over Brennan's nomination revolves around the Obama's administration's use of drone missile attacks. Some senators, mostly Republicans, are angry because they feel President Obama has not been forthcoming with details on the attacks. Other senators, mostly Democrats, are unhappy because they oppose the attacks and Brennan is the architect of the drone programs serving as a national security aide to Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
The debate over Brennan's nomination has fortunately sparked a national debate on the merits of the drone attacks. Some people believe that drone attacks are counterproductive tactically and others feel that the attacks raise serious moral and constitutional questions.
The hit Showtime series "Homeland" focuses on the morality of U.S. drone attacks in the Middle East. Many of the victims of the attacks are terrorists but a large number of the casualties are innocent civilians. The annual report of the United Nations Afghanistan Mission (UNAMA) states that the civilian deaths are a function of people living in terrorist dominated areas that are on the receiving end of the attacks. But some of the civilian deaths happen because of misguided missiles. For example, the UMANA report cites the depth of four Afghani children who were living four miles from a terrorist target.
It's not enough for the U.S. to just say "my bad" and move on. The drone attacks have killed many key Al Qaeda leaders but have probably created a new group of insurgents from the families of the innocent kids whom the drones killed. The U.S. acknowledges that there has been collateral damage caused by the attacks. Collateral damage of course is a euphemism for dead women and children. Besides the U.S. Air Force attacks in Afghanistan, the CIA mounts its own drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen.
There are also serious legal and constitutional questions about the drone program. The administration admits that drone attacks in the Middle East have resulted in the deaths of at least two American citizens who were terrorist suspects. The 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that Americans "can not be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law. The purpose of the Bill of Rights is to guarantee that no one person serves as judge, jury and executioner.
But that is precisely the power that the CIA director and secretary of Defense have over Americans abroad. Just because the CIA thinks an American is a terrorist doesn't mean that person is a terrorist. Remember, it was the CIA that assured President George W. Bush that the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was a "slam dunk." We all know how that worked out.
The growth in an American empire leads to a decline in the rights of Americans. But Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, will hold a hearing on a proposal to mandate a role for federal judges in deciding whether there is legal cause for a drone attack on American citizen. That's not quite up to the 5th Amendment standard but it's better than no standard at all. And the U.S. should not ignore the deaths of innocent citizens even if they're not Americans. Shouldn't the U.S. set a higher code of conduct that will serve a shining example to the rest of the world?
Brad Bannon is president of Bannon Communications Research, a Washington D.C.-based political polling and consulting firm that helps Democratic candidates, labor unions and progressive issue groups win political and public affairs campaigns. Campaigns and Elections magazine named Brad a "mover and shaker" in the political consulting industry. He is also one of the "Democratic Insiders" in the biweekly National Journal pundit poll.
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