U.S. Government Debates Plan to Assassinate a Fifth American Citizen by Drone Attack for Alleged Terrorist Activity

Posted Feb. 19, 2014

MP3 Interview with Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Code Pink Women for Peace, conducted by Scott Harris


According to recent press reports the Obama administration is considering assassinating a U.S. citizen living abroad, by drone strike for his alleged involvement in terrorist activity with al Qaeda. An associated Press article quoted U.S. officials saying that the unidentified man was responsible for coordinating attacks against Americans overseas, and continues to plan new attacks using improvised explosive devices. If carried out, this would be the fifth known assassination of a U.S. citizen under the Obama presidency.

The report further stated that Administration officials say the suspected American terrorist is living in a country that bars U.S. military action on its territory and that the nation’s government has been unable or unwilling to detain this individual. Under President Obama’s new policies governing the use of drones overseas announced on May 23rd last year, lethal force must only be used "to prevent or stop attacks against U.S. persons, and even then, only when capture is not feasible and no other reasonable alternatives exist to address the threat effectively." The directive goes on to say that the target must also pose "a continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons" — the legal definition of catching someone in the act of plotting a lethal attack.

Although there has been growing criticism of the civilian casualties resulting from Washington’s use of drone strikes to attack suspected terrorists abroad, some conservative politicians oppose President Obama’s new guidelines. Republican Representative Mike Rogers of Michigan, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said, “Individuals who would have been previously removed from the battlefield by U.S. counter-terrorism operations for attacking or plotting to attack against U.S. interests remain free because of self-imposed red tape.” Between the Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Code Pink Women for Peace, and author of the book,“Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control.” Here, she talks about her moral and legal objections to the Obama administration’s drone program when it comes to killing U.S. citizens or anyone abroad.

MEDEA BENJAMIN: I think it’s horrible that the U.S. even contemplates killing U.S. citizens with drone attacks. It means that people, like the individual they’re contemplating killing, have not even been charged, and the U.S. government says that it would be too difficult to capture this person, and yet it’s hard to know if that is really true, because so many people have been killed in these drone attacks, who could have been captured. And it is important to talk about individual U.S. citizens, but I think it’s important, Scott, that we put it in the context of this larger drone program — of killing people who are non-U.S. citizens, and I think that according to international law, they all deserve the right to be able to surrender. You can’t surrender to a drone. They should be charged, if it's feasible to be captured. And there is supposed to be some public acknowledgment of efforts that have been made, or why it is impossible to capture somebody. And the U.S. has not been doing that at all with this drones program.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Medea, does the public’s attention to the possibility the U.S. government may be on the verge of assassinating U.S. citizens, that somehow presents an opening to challenge these policies, not just for the U.S. citizens as we said, but for all the other innocent victims who are killed in these drone strikes?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: I think it’s a time for us to try to get dialogue going in the American public about what drone assassinations are all about, and how it is such a distortion of the rule of law. If you look at the rule of law, Scott, it says that there has to be an “imminent danger” which means that there is an attack about to happen. I don’t think that the U.S. government should say that this American citizen is about to do something to kill other Americans; it’s more that they might, and we don’t know when, we don’t know how they might be involved; and that’s not what an imminent attack is all about. And I think it is important to try to keep finding these ways that we can get the discussion going among the American public about what if another country were doing this to us; what if the Russians were using a drone to kill, perhaps, a very evil Russian citizen who was living in the United States?

Would we allow that to happen? No, we wouldn’t allow it, and so why should other countries allow that to happen? Pakistanis, whether it is a U.S. citizen or not, have been saying that they are against the drone program, from the prime minister, to the legislature, to the Pakistani people, in every single poll that’s been taken, and yet the U.S. ignores the wishes and the sovereignty of other nations.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Medea, in terms of the drone strikes, one thing that’s disturbing to you and many opponents of the U.S. drone warfare program is the fact that the inner circle of the White House, the president in particular, turns out to be judge, jury and executioner in terms of who lives and who dies under the rain of these drones, missiles and bombs. That means any future president will obviously have this same power. How important is it that this whole program is reformed and the power — the concentrated power — be challenged before another president takes office?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: I think one of the scariest things, to me, in researching the drone program has been the lack of oversight from Congress. We’re supposed to have checks and balances in this country, and the legislative branch is an important check on executive power. That’s why the founding fathers made the legislative branch the one that’s charged with the power to declare war, because it is so much easier for a single individual to get angry and say, “OK, I’m going to go to war!”

And yet, because Obama is a Democrat, the Democratic Party, and especially the progressives in the Democratic Party who would normally play the role of our allies in this, have been incredibly silent, with the exception of just a few of them, and so it means that the executive has been able to usurp the power of the legislature; the legislature has gone along with this.

We have people, like Diane Feinstein in the Intelligence Committee, who think this program is just fine. And so it is very scary. And those people who continue to put their faith in President Obama and say, well he’s a good guy, I trust what he’s doing, as you implied Scott, what happens when this amazing power of life and death is now given into the hands of the next president — and the next president.

And what happens when there are drones that have been okayed to be flying in U.S. airspace, which is going to be coming by next year, and those drones start to be weaponized, and they have the ability to kill people right here in the United States with the press of a button? I think we better be very concerned about it now, because this is otherwise our future.

Learn more about Code Pink's opposition to the U.S. drone warfare program by visiting CodePink.org.

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