The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

February 5, 2013

Robots that roam the skies

Daily Item

---- — In 1600 Penn, a relatively new TV sitcoms on ABC about a quirky first family, Bill Pullman playing the president tells one of his daughter's boyfriend, "One disrespectful word to my daughter, I will find you…I have robots that roam the skies."

In this case, art is imitating life. In May 2010 at the annual White House Correspondents' dinner, President Barack Obama delivered this line, "Jonas Brothers are here, they're out there somewhere. Sasha and Malia are huge fans, but boys, don't get any ideas. Two words for you: predator drones. You will never see it coming. You think I'm joking?"

This week, Americans, through their elected representatives in the U.S. Senate, may get their first chance to examine the legal basis for one of the more troubling developments to emerge from the war against terrorism -- targeted killings using unmanned predator aircraft ordered by the president, including the execution of an American citizen on foreign soil.

A closely held secret memo justifying this program, as reported by The New York Times, has been obtained by Michael Isikoff of NBC News showing a three-step justification for drone strikes: Against individuals who seem likely to be engaged in an active plot to attack Americans, when there are undo risks for attempted capture and when the strikes are within bounds of the principles of warfare.

How the underpinnings of those threshold tests are decided goes to the legal justification for raining death from the sky. The advisor most closely associated with this and other secret tactics, John Brennan, appears this Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee for confirmation hearing to become head of the CIA.

When the president nominated Brennan, the ACLU in Washington called on senators to get to the bottom of Brennan's involvement with Bush-era torture policies as well as learn more about the Obama administration's expanded "targeted killing" program.

We all know that the past decade of warfare has taken this nation to the brink of unwarranted detention, torture and assassination. No matter where Americans stand on the political spectrum, we should be united in dedication to the principle that this is a nation of laws and that no individual operates above the law.

Senators interviewing John Brennan are conducting, not the most celebrated, but the most important confirmation hearing so far for the Obama second term. That is a fact, not a punch line.