U.S. drone strike kills 15 civilians in Yemen “by mistake”

This is absolutely disgusting.

Fifteen people on their way to a wedding in Yemen were killed in an air strike after their party was mistaken for an al Qaeda convoy, local security officials said on Thursday.

The officials did not identify the plane in the strike in central al-Bayda province, but tribal and local media sources said that it was a drone.

“An air strike missed its target and hit a wedding car convoy, ten people were killed immediately and another five who were injured died after being admitted to the hospital,” one security official said.

As awful as President Bush’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were, President Obama’s expansion of the drone strike program to kill terrori pretty much anyone at this point isn’t much better.

Thoughts on President Obama’s anti-terrorism speech

On Thursday President Barack Obama gave a speech focused on our nation’s anti-terrorism strategy, and during that speech Obama made it clear his administration will continue to use drone strikes to kill individuals suspected of engaging in or supporting terrorism, even if those suspects happen to be American citizens. Speaking about the assassination of American citizens without the due process rights afforded to them by our nation’s Constitution, Obama said that U.S. citizenship should not “serve as a shield” protecting that person from assassination.

While I certainly support keeping our nation safe from those who’d do us harm, I think the assassination of American citizens without due process is a dangerous precedent, and it certainly could end up being a slippery slope.

In his speech on Thursday, President Obama also promised to close the detainee prison located in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but consider me unconvinced, because I’ve heard that before.

Ultimately, the rhetoric in President Obama’s speech may have assuaged some fears about his administration’s overall approach to the war on terror, but I’m not among that crowd. After all, action speaks louder than words.

Obama administration admits to killing Americans in drone strikes

Apparently the Constitution doesn’t matter much in Obama-land…

The Obama administration has killed four U.S. citizens in drone strikes, the Justice Department said in new revelations Wednesday, ahead of President Obama’s major national security speech set for Thursday at the National Defense University in Washington.

Attorney General Eric Holder’s letter, obtained by POLITICO and addressed to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), includes justification for the administration’s targeted killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen who was involved with Al Qaeda in Yemen. Obama had confirmed Awlaki’s death soon after it happened in September 2011, but the administration had not, until Wednesday, confirmed that the killing was carried out by American forces in a drone strike.

While I understand and support efforts to keep our nation safe from those who’d do us harm, our Constitution and the protections it affords all American citizens should not simply be cast aside when it’s convenient. Assassinating American citizens without affording them their due process as guaranteed by the Constitution simply isn’t right, no matter if it’s a Republican or a Democrat who’s ordering the assassination.

Bipartisan Drone Bill Introduced in Madison

Late last week, Rep. Tyler August (R-Lake Geneva), Rep. Frederick P. Kessler (D-Milwaukee), Rep. Dave Craig (R-Town of Vernon) and Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) introduced a bill that would ensure drones do not threaten the privacy rights of people in Wisconsin. A number of other states already have similar laws restricting the use of drones or are considering enacting them. With the growing sophistication of drone technology and decreasing costs it is inevitable that local law enforcement agencies will start to employ drones here in Wisconsin.

So what does the bill entail? First of all it prohibits the use of drones in surveillance by law enforcement agencies without a warrant…except in limited cases such as search and rescue or active police situations where the public and law enforcement are in immediate danger. Any evidence collected during an illegal use of a drone is automatically inadmissible in court.

According to the synopsis from the Legislative Reference Bureau:

The bill prohibits a person, except a law enforcement officer who has a search warrant or is acting for a permissible emergency purpose, from using a drone that is equipped with video or audio recording equipment to photograph,
record, or otherwise observe another individual in a place where the individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy.

The actual bill states it this way:

942.10 Use of a drone. Whoever uses a drone, as defined in s. 175.55 (1) (a), to photograph, record, or otherwise observe another individual in a place where the individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy is guilty of Class A misdemeanor. This section does not apply to a law enforcement officer authorized to use a drone
pursuant to s. 175.55 (2).

So I guess my question as a civilian is, what is the definition of ‘person’ or ‘whoever’? Would that include Google? Facebook? The Department of Public Works? Organizations that are not law enforcement but also clearly not an individual? I don’t think it would hurt to have a bit more clarity on this item. I would like to think that not only individuals but corporations, political parties, government agencies, and other organizations would also be prohibited from spying on Americans.

And lastly, again from the LRB synopis, you can’t weaponize your drones:

Under the bill, a person who sells, possesses, or uses a weaponized drone is guilty of a Class H felony, and may be fined up to $10,000, imprisoned for up to six years, or both.

Now, I am certainly in agreement that prohibiting weaponized drones is a good idea…great idea…but will the NRA go on the offensive because this is an infringement of ‘our’ second amendment rights or do they really only care about guns?

Mosquite Drone

I Stand With Rand Paul On This One

Generally speaking I find filibusters to be a waste of time…and I find the paper pushing type to be totally abhorrent. But there are a few times when they serve a specific purpose and surprisingly, I find myself in agreement with Senator Rand Paul on this one!

For nearly 13 hours, Senator Rand Paul held the Senate floor in a good old time traditional filibuster essentially until his bladder gave out. And to his credit he spent nearly all of his time actually talking about the issue at hand instead of reading a phone book or the complete works of Shakespeare.

And the cause he felt was so important that he took up his filibuster. The totally unsatisfactory response from the White House on policy relating to using armed drones in the United States against US Citizens. There are very few Americans who are readily willing to give up their rights to a fair trial, to face their accuser, to habeas corpus, etc…and certainly don’t want to be summarily executed via armed drones here in the US.

So to make his point, Senator Rand held up the vote on the nomination of John Brennan as the new head of the Central Intelligence Agency. Senator Rand brought up some ancient history to make his point, but he made his point in good fashion. Here are some excerpts taken from the NY Times:

Mr. Paul, who opposes Mr. Brennan’s nomination, followed through on his plan to filibuster the confirmation of President Obama’s nominee after receiving a letter this month from Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. that refused to rule out the use of drone strikes within the United States in “extraordinary circumstances” like the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The filibuster started just before noon on Wednesday, with Mr. Paul ostensibly objecting to Mr. Brennan’s nomination. But in fact, Mr. Paul’s main concerns were those of the civil liberties and Constitutional rights, which he said are under attack by the administration’s potential use of unmanned drone strikes on American citizens on United States soil. (By Mr. Paul’s own admission, Mr. Brennan, who as the White House counterterrorism adviser was the chief architect of the largely clandestine drone program, served as a good proxy.)

“What will be the standard for how we kill Americans in America?” Mr. Paul asked at one point. “Could political dissent be part of the standard for drone strikes?”

Referring to Jane Fonda, who went to North Vietnam during the war there to publicly denounce the United States’s presence in the country, Mr. Paul added: “Now, while I’m not a great fan of Jane Fonda, I’m really not so interested in putting her on a drone kill list either.”

Repeatedly, Mr. Paul explained that his true goal was simply to get a response from the administration saying it would not use drone strikes to take out American citizens on United States soil.

This is an incredibly important topic and gets more important every day as the White House continues to expand the use of drones overseas in the ‘War on Terror’. At this point what would prevent a similar escalation here at home in ‘extraordinary circumstances’ which remain wholly undefined.

And as we’ve seen the White House hasn’t been above killing American citizens abroad using drones…several writers here on Blogging Blue have been vocal in opposition following the execution of Anwar al-Awlaki, a US citizen and alleged al Qaeada member – in Yemen in September 2011. It’s time to reign in the use of drones to murder and define their use in war…and it certainly is time to prohibit any idea of similar uses of drones here at home in the United States.

This is probably the only time I will ever say this…but well played Senator Paul!