The Problem With the CIA and Drones

Thanks to a recent Wall Street Journal article, I’ve been hearing from Democratic partisans that President Trump has done something brand new, and that it amounts to tearing up the War Powers Resolution by giving the CIA the power to make war.

Now, I am seeking to build support for abolishing the CIA, and for impeaching Donald Trump, and for banning weaponized drones. So I’m not exactly a fan of murder by robot or a partisan Republican. And I’m all in favor of any new reasons (fact-based or otherwise) people might find to try to put an end to government killings. But I think there’s some confusion we’d be better off without.

The Constitution gives Congress the power to make war, a power it has relinquished since 1941. President George W. Bush went through certain vestigial formalities of lying to Congress and obtaining vague authorizations. President Barack Obama, in launching a war on Libya, intentionally avoided any appearance of Congress having any role whatsoever. He also radically expanded drone wars in several countries (and “special” operations in numerous countries) — in the case of Yemen predictably escalating it into a wider air and ground war, again without Congress. In Syria and Iraq he used foreign troops, then U.S. “advisors” combined with bombings to inch his way into new wars.

Obama oversaw the creation of the CIA’s drone war operations. And while he advertised in the New York Times his role in picking whom to murder, he did not actually give the order each time. He delegated that power to subordinates. The Wall Street Journal’s article suggests that Obama never gave the CIA the role of deciding whom to murder. This is contradicted by numerous reports over the years suggesting otherwise, including those claiming that, late in his presidency, Obama took that power away. But even those reports admit that very little is known and nothing officially stated about the CIA’s role, and that the CIA has remained closely involved. We also know from a former drone pilot turned whistleblower that the CIA’s drone pilots have always actually been Air Force pilots anyway:

“The CIA might be the customer but the air force has always flown it. A CIA label is just an excuse to not have to give up any information. That is all it has ever been.”

The one partial transcript we have of a drone murder, out of all the hundreds of transcripts and videos that likely exist, depicts blood thirsty sadists eager to kill. The many thousands of reports we have on specific drone murders have not identified a single one in which any of the criteria that President Obama established for them was met. We know of no victims who could not have been arrested instead, or who were “an imminent and continuing threat to the United States of America,” or whose killing involved zero risk of killing civilians.

Supposedly, the greater the role of the military, and the lesser the role of the CIA, the greater the capacity of Congress for oversight. That’s a great argument for abolishing the CIA. But, in reality, we have yet to see the vaguest hint of Congressional oversight. Congress has not informed the public of the nature of the drone wars. We’ve seen no additional transcripts and no videos. Congress has not made use of the Constitution or even the War Powers Resolution to halt or even limit the drone murders in any way. Congress has not objected to the failure of Presidents Obama or Trump to meet Obama’s self-imposed criteria. Nor has it created its own criteria.

Trump and his subordinates are using drone missiles at a faster pace even than Obama did. Trump has moved weaponized drones to the border of North Korea. And the story that Trump is giving the CIA freer rein to murder people with drones could possibly be true and is as likely as not a story Trump intentionally promoted. But this is at most a return to a policy that Obama created and then claimed to have ended. And it is at most a fine distinction of roles in operations that involved and still involve both the CIA and the military, as well as the NSA. The question of which of those entities is making a key decision should end the pretense that the president is making all of the decisions. And not a single bit of it is in any way in compliance with the U.S. Constitution, the United Nations Charter, the War Powers Resolution, the Kellogg Briand Pact, the Hague Convention of 1899, or the laws against murder that are on the books in each nation where the U.S. government is murdering people.

 

 

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