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UAV Strikes Raise Serious Questions
By Harold Hutchison

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or drones have played a big role in the Global War on Terror. Since 11 September, 2001, they have become an almost indispensable tool in America’s counter-terrorism arsenal. But there have been major questions surrounding them. Where are the limits?

The Obama Administration had been stonewalling requests for information on just where the limits were. This drove an epic old-school filibuster by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), which went for about 13 hours, of the nomination of John Brennan to head the CIA. The big question? Can UAVs be used to take out an American citizen in the United States. This is not an idle question – Anwar al-Awlaki was an American citizen killed in a UAV strike in Yemen on 30 September, 2011.

Attorney General Eric Holder admitted that the U.S. government did not have the authority to assassinate American citizens inside the United States.

Senator Paul has some valid reasons to be concerned about the Obama Administration unchecked unilateral actions. The Administration carried out Operation Fast and Furious – where it literally walked firearms to a Mexican drug cartel, and Customs and Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was killed by one of those guns.

Then there is the gun grab proposed by Senator Dianne Feinstein and supported by Obama. Obamacare, particularly the individual mandate, also has been seen by many as unconstitutional.

Over 350 UAV strikes have been carried out in Pakistan and elsewhere during the War on Terror. The Obama Administration has ordered nearly six times as many as the George W. Bush Administration did. The number of people killed is over 1,950 – if not closer to 4,000.

The fact is, in the 21st century, the weapons of war are no longer just a rifle, or a missile. A weapon could be a computer virus planted into a system. A hacker with a laptop computer sitting at a café anywhere in the world could do significant damage to the American power grid.

The question to answer is, “Is Rand Paul correct to assert that the battlefield is not global in nature?” Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) challenged Senator Paul on that point the day after his lengthy filibuster. McCain quoted a Wall Street Journal editorial critical of Senator Paul, which stated, “The U.S. Government cannot randomly target American citizens on U.S. soil or anywhere else. What it can do under the laws of war is target an ‘‘enemy combatant’’ anywhere at any time, including on U.S. soil.” While Senator Paul complained that the two Senators were asserting that the War on Terror was fought on a global battlefield, the fact is that McCain and Graham raised a valid point.

Besides 9/11, the attempted bombing of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on 25 December, 2009, and the 5 November, 2009 shooting at Fort Hood are examples of the global nature of the battlefield. Both times, the alleged perpetrators had ties to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and Nidal Hasan had not even left the United States, but was in communication via e-mails with al-Awlaki.

Even Rand Paul admitted, “What if we are being attacked on 9/11? What if there are planes flying at the Twin Towers? Obviously we repel them. We repel any attack on our country. If there is a gentleman or a woman with a grenade launcher attacking our buildings or our Capitol, we use lethal force. You don't get due process if you are involved with actively attacking us, our soldiers or our government. You don't get due process if you are overseas in a battle, shooting at our soldiers.”

The War on Terror is unlike any war in American history. The valid questions it has posed in the past and present, and which will come in the future will not be easy to answer. For having the courage of his convictions to bring one of those questions to the forefront, Senator Paul deserves praise – even if his concerns involve what is so far a hypothetical situation that is at the extreme limits of the possible scenarios posed by the War on Terror.