Part of President Obama’s daily briefing must include the report of the number of “suspected militants” killed by his drones. That is, it would be part of the briefing but he reportedly doesn’t count the casualties.
In the pre-dawn hours Thursday Hellfire missiles fired from a U.S. drone turned a farmhouse in rural Yemen into a smoldering heap of charred wood that served as a bier for at least eight of those “suspected militants.”
For President Obama and those pulling the triggers on the joysticks guiding the missiles toward their human targets, “suspected militant” means (presumably) “all military-age males in a strike zone.” For those of us more concerned with the Constitution and with the rule of law than the president, “suspected militant” means nothing other than a person not charged with any crime, not afforded even the most perfunctory due process protections, but summarily executed upon order of the president anyway.
The president’s lexicon is apparently shared by some of his functionaries, as well. Harold Koh was sent by the president to make a pitch to the United Nations for the United States to maintain its seat on the UN’s Human Rights Council (HRC). During a brief question and answer period after Koh’s presentation, a reporter from Inner City Press asked Koh if the United States would use its position on the HRC to investigate the use of drones in executions. Koh’s answer was faithful to the party line:
He said that killings by drone "in the course of armed conflict or in self defense is consistent with international law." He cited Al Qaeda, the Taliban and "associated forces" — presumably including Al Shabab in Somalia and forces in norther Mali or Azawad — and said it is "not illegal to target an individual who is leader of an opposing force."
Was Abdulrahman al-Awlaki a “leader of an opposing force”? No. He was a 16-year-old American citizen searching for his father in Yemen. He and some relatives with whom he was eating supper were killed nonetheless by a U.S. drone. Presumably that’s because his cousins were old enough to be considered by the president terrorists by default.
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Photo: AP Images