Absolute Perversion of the Law in US Drone Killings

by | Mar 13, 2014

Drone Strike

We see in the United States government’s “targeted killings” program carried out by drones and other means a perversion of the law so extreme that it brings to mind the introductory paragraph of Frederic Bastiat’s classic book The Law:

The law perverted! The law — and, in its wake, all the collective forces of the nation — the law, I say, not only diverted from its proper direction, but made to pursue one entirely contrary! The law become the tool of every kind of avarice, instead of being its check! The law guilty of that very iniquity which it was its mission to punish! Truly, this is a serious fact, if it exists, and one to which I feel bound to call the attention of my fellow citizens.

As individuals we possess the, hopefully, rarely exercisable right to use lethal force to defend ourselves and others against people who threaten us with death or serious injury. Even then, in a court case regarding such a killing we are further called upon to prove that the killing is justified and rebut the presumption that the killing is wrongful.

Governments may rely on this individual defensive right as a justification for their exercise of killing power, terming the government’s right to kill as an extension of individuals’ right to kill in defense of themselves or others. In the targeted killings program, the Obama administration has perverted this reasoning beyond recognition so that in Bastiat’s phrasing an “entirely contrary” direction — unjustified homicides — is pursued.

The legal perversion of the US government’s targeted killings program is explained with dramatic details in a speech by Future of Freedom Foundation Policy Advisor James Bovard and a discussion of RPI Chairman and Founder Ron Paul with The Intercept writer Jeremy Scahill. The revelations in the speech and discussion give ample support for RPI Advisory Board Member Andrew Napolitano’s declaration that the targeted killings are both illegal and unconstitutional.

Bovard answers two questions in his speech at the New Hampshire Liberty Forum last month to explain the legal perversion of the US government’s targeted killings:

How much evidence should the US government be obliged to show before it kills an American citizen? None, according to the Obama administration. And how much evidence should the government be obliged to possess of an American’s wrongdoing before it officially targets him for killing? That’s a secret according to Obama.

Bovard proceeds to explain that Obama’s targeted killings program is both more active and more flagrant in lawlessness than the program Obama inherited from President George W. Bush:

The Obama administration is pioneering these pretexts for presidential killings. The drone assassinations have increased more than 500 percent since Obama took office, and Obama is claiming openly and publicly rights that George W. Bush only claimed secretly.

The program’s secretive application is illustrated by Bovard in the context of the judiciary supporting the Obama administration’s refusal to tell the father of Anwar al-Awlaki the legal standards for including al-Awlaki on the targeted killings list, claiming protection from disclosure as state secrets. The US government later used a drone to kill al-Awlaki in Yemen.

As Bovard goes on to suggest, Obama may want to keep the reasoning behind targeted killings so secret because the reasoning is flimsy, based on conjectures such as that people present in a known terrorist area or carrying guns must be terrorists or up to no good.

Watch here Bovard’s speech in which he also addresses the US government’s violations of individual rights through the Transportation Security Administration and the National Security Agency.

Paul and Scahill’s Ron Paul Channel discussion delves into the Obama administration’s unaccountable use of drones to kill overseas. Scahill elaborates with one example how, in addition to covering up the reasoning behind drone killings, the US government can also cover up who is killed and even the fact that the US government is behind the killings:

So, what happened very early on when Obama came to power is that he embraced some of the most dark forces within the US national security apparatus and began to give them wide-ranging authorities to wage war in countries where Congress had not actually declared war. And one of the places where he really started striking heavily was in Yemen.

And, so, this scene that we saw relates to the first time that President Obama authorized a missile attack against Yemen. It was in December of 2009. They said that they were taking out an al-Qaeda training facility. It turns out that it was a village of Bedouins and 14 women were killed, 21 children. We have the names of all of them. And they have not been able to produce any actual al-Qaeda figures that were killed in that attack.

And you’ll of course remember, Ron, that, when this bombing happened, the Yemeni government took responsibility for it publicly, and the Obama administration allowed them to do it and in fact sent them a note of congratulations saying, “Wow, great job on striking against the terrorists.” At the end of the day, this was General David Patraeus, President Obama, and the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command conspiring to start a secret bombing campaign against Yemen.

Watch the complete interview here where Scahill explains in more detail the growth of this executive branch power through the Bush and Obama administrations, and even back to the end of World War II. In particular, Scahill notes how Obama embraced “the life’s work of Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney … essentially to enact a coup d’etat in the United States where one branch of government — the executive branch — would essentially operate a dictatorship over what they broadly termed national security policy or counter-terrorism policy.” Scahill elaborates:

Under Bush and Cheney we had Murder Incorporated. There were no morals whatsoever. They waged war on the world. They sent thousands of young Americans to their deaths in these unnecessary wars. But, under Obama, he’s actually trying to make an argument that the US not only has a right to do these assassination operations — though they call them targeted killing — but that the US is right to do it, and that it’s lawful to do it, and that it’s constitutional to do it.

I don’t understand how Mr. Nobel Peace Prize Winner, a constitutional lawyer, can actually with a straight face say that he can observe as the prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner of an American citizen who has not been charged with a crime and is not on an active battlefield fighting against US forces or attacking US individuals. I don’t understand how he, with a straight face, can say that to the American people.

Despite Obama’s statement in his January State of the Union speech that he would follow “prudent limits” on the use of drones, the targeted killings program remains in full force. As the killings — directed by people thousands of miles away using secret reasoning — continue, it seems appropriate for people to consider Bastiat’s explanation in The Law of the proper limits on government:

What is law? What ought it to be? What is its domain? What are its limits? Where, in fact, does the prerogative of the legislator stop?

I have no hesitation in answering, Law is common force organized to prevent injustice; — in short, Law is Justice.

It is not true that the legislator has absolute power over our persons and property, since they pre-exist, and his work is only to secure them from injury.



  • Adam Dick

    Adam worked from 2003 through 2013 as a legislative aide for Rep. Ron Paul. Previously, he was a member of the Wisconsin State Board of Elections, a co-manager of Ed Thompson's 2002 Wisconsin governor campaign, and a lawyer in New York and Connecticut.

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