The Richmond Register

February 14, 2013

A State of the Union that didn’t drone on

By Roger Simon
Columnist

— State of the Union speeches are usually dull. But not this year. This year, people were on the edge of their seats.

They were listening very carefully. Not just to what the president was saying, but for the distant whine of a four-cylinder, 101-horsepower engine – an engine similar to the one used on snowmobiles.

But it wasn’t a lumbering snowmobile they had to worry about, but a sleek, 27-foot-long Predator drone traveling at 135 miles per hour.

Meet the president’s little friends.

I don’t suggest the president would use drones on his critics. I think a near miss would be good enough.

Last week, Michael Isikoff of NBC News got his hands on a confidential Justice Department memo stating that the White House can use drones against U.S. citizens as long as they are an “imminent threat” to the United States.

In my book, most politicians come under that category.

Further, the memo redefines the word “imminent.” Most people think that means something is going to happen real soon. But not the Justice Department.

It says “imminent” does not require evidence that an event “will take place in the immediate future.” Instead, an “informed, high-level” U.S. official merely has to determine that a bad guy has been planning violent activities against the United States and “there is no evidence suggesting that he has renounced or abandoned such activities.”

In which case we can grease him, croak him, take him out, cash in his chips, put him in concrete overshoes and send him to sleep with the fishes.

“A lawful killing in self-defense is not an assassination,” the Justice Department asserts.

In the past, such drone attacks have been limited to doing away with evil people in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bosnia, Serbia, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Somalia.

Although approximately 2,000 people have been killed by American drones over the years, only four of them have been American citizens. Only one was well-known: Anwar al-Awlaki, born in Las Cruces, N.M., and killed by a drone in Yemen in 2011 that fired a Hellfire missile at him.

“His death takes a committed terrorist, intent on attacking the United States, off the battlefield,” an administration source said at the time.

The “battlefield” was now anyplace in the world where terrorists could plot against us. And no trial was necessary for us to go out and kill them as long as they were hiding overseas.

After NBC broke the drone story, there was a notable lack of public outrage, though the usual suspects did weigh in. The New York Times editorial page said that in the future President Obama should submit drone strike decisions against U.S. citizens “to review by Congress and the courts.”

Which means we could target a guy on a Monday and get permission to take him out just four or five years later. Unless there was an appeal. In which case 10 or 12 years might be more realistic. And I sure hope the target doesn’t move in the meantime.

There is always the possibility of abuse. And we do have drones in the United States, patrolling the Mexican border.

Could they be used for evil intent? Could a president use them for political purposes? Could a Justice Department decide Americans could be targeted not just abroad but at home?

Anything is possible.

If Richard Nixon had drones, he probably still would be holed up in the White House, talking to the pictures on the walls.

To find out more about Roger Simon, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.



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