On February 4, NBC News published the Justice Department's leaked "White Paper Memo," a document rationalizing the legal justification for drone strikes, assassinating American citizens, and other Executive powers that were once thought of as unconstitutional and unconscionable. Since unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have become a staple of US foreign policy in the Middle East, mainstream media reporting on them, on the whole, has been relatively restrained and tempered. But two weeks ago, the Washington Post and the New York Times published detailed stories on a secret US airbase in Saudi Arabia from which the military has managed its drone campaign for the past two years.
Since the white paper memo was leaked and the secret US airbase revealed, commentators and analysts from across the political spectrum have weighed in on the efficiency, legality, and ethics of modern drone warfare.
TomDispatch contributor John Feffer, of Foreign Policy in Focus, wrote about the growing animus against US drone policy in Pakistan and countries like it:
Obama didn't just continue [Bush's] programs; he amplified them. The result has been an unprecedented expansion of U.S. military power through unmanned drones in Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan as well as Somalia and Yemen. The use of drones, and the civilian casualties they've caused, has in turn enflamed public opinion around the world, with the favorability rating of the United States under Obama in majority Muslim countries falling to a new low of 15% in 2012, lower, that is, than the rock-bottom standard set by the Bush administration.
On a recent edition of MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry show, Nation Books author and Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel discussed whether or not a constant global war — what historian Charles Beard called perpetual war for perpetual peace — is the best way to combat terrorism.
Nation Institute Fellow and Harper's contributing editor Scott Horton weighed in on the white paper controversy. In a recent interview, he explained the contents of the Justice Department's white paper on drone policy, why the definition of imminence in the memo is crucial, what government officials have legal authority to order drone strikes according to the memo, how the memo reads as a retroactive justification of policy, and whether the John Brennan nomination hearings would bring to light more information about the policy.
Analysts say that though there has been widespread outrage over the white paper and its murky reasoning behind the president's kill list in the mainstream media, there's very little new information being revealed. Falguni Sheth, a professor of philosophy and political theory, writes that much of the news media and Congress has "known about targeted killings for years… Why then are they suddenly exercised over it now?" Sheth points out that US citizens stand to be much more vulnerable to the provisions of National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 — which authorizes President Obama to arrest and detain American citizens and foreign nationals anywhere for posing an imminent threat and which Institute Fellow Chris Hedges has sued the Obama administration over in Hedges v. Obama — than the targeted killing rationale of the white paper. "This is especially true of Muslim-American men," she writes, "who have been vulnerable to Sec. 1032 of NDAA 2012 since the endless, borderless, War on Terror was declared." Sheth concludes: