The question of the role played by due process in pursuit of American- born terrorists is widely debated. While some support the targeting of domestic terrorists inside and outside the US, others claim that killing American terrorists without a fair trial is an infringement of the right to due process provided by the 5th Amendment of the US Constitution.
While due process is a guaranteed right, there are times when this individual right is outweighed by the interest of the common good.
The US should continue its policy of using targeted drone killing as a last resort only when the terrorist poses an imminent threat. This procedure is supported by the US Government’s current drone policy as well as the Authorization for Use of Military Force and the United States Constitution.
Firstly, in order to understand the interplay between due process and individual rights regarding drone strikes, one must first understand the current government policy. Many opponents to the killing of terrorists by drones do not understand the government’s reasoning for doing so.
President Barack Obama addresses this at the National Defense University when he states, “despite our strong preference for the detention and prosecution of terrorists, sometimes this approach is foreclosed… Al Qaeda and its affiliates try to gain foothold in some of the most distant and unforgiving places on Earth.”
This shows that the US has deep respect for the Due Process Clause of the Constitution, but sometimes this is just not possible. In the same speech, he states, “it’s also not possible for America to simply deploy a team of Special Forces to capture every terrorist… there are places where it would pose profound risks to our troops and local civilians”.
This is a response to those who think drone killing is unwarranted and unnecessary, and instead favor a traditional manned approach. Many do not realize the severe safety and political risks this poses. Sending hundreds of troops into foreign territory is expensive, unsafe, and not always effective, sometimes resulting in unnecessary deaths of US soldiers.
Additionally, while the official policy guidelines for drone use overseas are classified, the basic requirements for a targeted drone strike maintain that the target must pose an imminent threat to national security, and cannot be feasibly captured (Baker). The United States supports and upholds the concept of due process as written in the 5th and 14th constitutional amendments, but is willing to act quickly to protect the security of our nation.
The truth is, it doesn’t matter if a terrorist was born inside or outside the United States, the procedure is the same because birthplace does not change the fact that they are a terrorist. Knowing that the US has a logical and reasonable basis for using drones to target terrorists, we must continue to support this concept regarding individual rights versus the common good as it holds our best interest in mind as Americans.
Next, while all individuals are said to be guaranteed the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness by the Declaration of Independence, there are cases when these “unalienable rights” can be taken away in the interest of the common good. For example, those convicted of murder can, in some states, receive the death penalty, effectively taking away their right to life.
In the same way, terrorists who commit violent attacks against the United States are subject to the consequence of the law, whether or not they reside in the nation at the time of the threat. The US Military is charged with the duty of protecting the safety of our nation from terrorist attacks, and they must act quickly in many cases.
Under the post-9/11 Authorization for Use of Military Force passed by Congress, the US has the right to defend itself against terrorist attacks, both domestic and abroad. This law states that “the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force… in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States.”
The law does not specifically reference drones, because they were not utilized by the military at the time, but the US Government uses this public law to support its use of drone strikes because drones fall into the scope of “necessary and appropriate force.” Whether or not everyone agrees with this statement, it is the current policy and justification for the use of drones in the United States, and it should be upheld in order to protect our national security.
A common argument against drone use is that it kills more civilians than terrorist groups, which is false. The risk for civilian death plays an important role in the drone strike operation, but the truth is that most casualties occur within non-civilian grounds. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the most confirmed drone strikes occur in Pakistan, with an estimated 2,497-3,999 total deaths. Out of these, only 423-965 were civilians. That’s between 17-24% of the total deaths. For some, this number may seem too high, and it is clearly not the intent of the US military to kill civilians as a byproduct of anti-terrorist attacks.
However, President Obama made it clear that he plans to reduce drone strikes as much as possible in his speech at the National Defense University. He stated that future drone use will be reduced as much as possible as he does not want the United States to continue perpetrating an unnecessary war. In short, the US does not target civilians in its drone program, and they make up only a minority of those killed by drone strikes. This number will continue to dwindle as drone killings are reduced under Obama’s legislature.
In conclusion, due process is an important right given by the US Constitution. However, there are instances when this individual right is outweighed by the interest of the common good, such as the use of drones to target terrorists who pose imminent threat to the United States. Whether or not these terrorists originate from America, the US must do everything in its power to protect the US from terrorist attacks, including drone strikes when necessary. The US should uphold its current policy regarding drones and continue to use them only as a last resort in defending our nation’s safety and security.