Opinion: Editorials

Editorial: White House drone strike policy evades detection

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Opinion,Editorial

Speaking with reporters Thursday, White House spokesman Jay Carney was asked whether the White House was going to allow a public discussion of its policy regarding its use of drone strikes to assassinate suspected terrorists.

Carney replied that this discussion is already under way. For example, he said, President Obama had discussed drone strikes on ... "The Daily Show." In October. More than three months before the recent release of a drone strike memo that has suddenly renewed interest in the subject.

"So he has talked about this publicly," Carney dissembled. "I'm sure he will talk about this in the future."

And when? "This is not an open-ended process," Carney said. Indeed.

Believe it or not, this was an improvement over Carney's performance in his Tuesday press conference, in which he could not think of anything in the Constitution that would prevent drone strikes on U.S. citizens on U.S. soil. Will somebody show the press secretary the Fifth Amendment?

The Obama administration must be more forthcoming about its policy, because a storm of protest is brewing. The Right is restless over the notion of Americans being subject to unannounced death by drone. Liberal lawmakers like Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., have questioned whether the White House and the CIA have withheld relevant documents from the Senate Intelligence Committee. And the anti-war Left is finally awakening from its four-year post-Bush slumber, if the protesters at CIA nominee John Brennan's Senate hearing Thursday serve as any indication.

Drones themselves are not the problem. They are just tools. If used in a way respectful of Americans' Fourth (and Fifth) Amendment rights, they have legitimate commercial and government uses at home and military uses abroad. (They would probably represent an improvement over the police surveillance helicopters that rattle homes in D.C. nearly every day.)

The real problem, rather, is with the Obama administration's "kill-don't-capture" policy for dealing with terrorists in countries where we are not at war -- specifically, in every country except Afghanistan. Drones are especially well-suited to this policy because you cannot surrender to a drone even if you want to.

In his sworn testimony, Brennan denied that such a policy even exists, but the facts unavoidably suggest he was not forthright. As Sens. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, pointed out, the Obama administration in its first two years killed several times as many terrorists as the Bush administration had killed in eight. Obama captures practically no one -- Chambliss, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, stated that Obama has captured and interrogated exactly one "high-value" terror target in the past four years. In contrast, the Bush administration chose to capture more often than it killed.

The evidence suggests that Obama prefers death from above as a substitute for politically inconvenient renditions or restocking the Guantanamo Bay prison. There appears to exist a fallacious assumption that it's somehow better to kill someone than to risk violating his civil rights.

The Obama administration's kill-don't-capture policy is both immoral and strategically unwise, to say nothing of how clearly it reveals his alleged concern over torture and human rights to be disingenuous. As Brennan himself said during his hearing, capturing terrorists is always better than killing them for the simple reason that dead terrorists don't spill secrets. "We want to detain as many terrorists as possible so we can elicit the intelligence from them ... so that we can disrupt follow-up terrorist attacks," he said.

It would be nice to hear Obama explain why we aren't doing that.

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