Saturday, February 9, 2013

Ethics: Right versus Right


John Brennan, President Obama’s choice for CIA chief, faced questioning this week from the Senate Intelligence Committee on the administration’s drone program.  This coming soon after the release of the Department of Justice’s memo establishing the legality of drone strikes against American citizens linked to terror organizations like al-Qaeda, has raised a great deal of awareness about the administration’s anti-terror program.  The debate has stirred a lot emotion, confliction, and conversation; a national dialogue that is important and necessary.  I have seen liberal vs. liberal arguments in the media, social and otherwise, and there seems to be some debate, to a lesser extent, amongst those on the right.

Yes the debate is good.  When people question the legality, effectiveness, and ethics of a policy, we are better off.  This week I have seen multiple versions of the following opinions:

·         Drones keep our soldiers out of harm’s way

·         If you’re an American and join al-Qaeda you give up your rights to due process

·         Drones strikes are OK under President Obama because he can be trusted

·         We need to have checks and balances and Congress should have oversight

·         Why does the CIA have its own opaque drone program apart from the DoD?

·         Americans support the use of drones

·         Sure we may have killed a few civilians, but that is the cost of war, and things would be worse if we had to send in troops

The courts can decide the legality of the administration’s position.  But when it comes to the effectiveness, I believe we will soon go beyond the point of diminishing returns to the point of negative impacts.  If we thought that Gitmo and Abu Ghraib were recruiting tools for al-Qaeda, what do you think will be the result of the hundreds of drone strikes and the constant threat of Hellfire missiles?  While we may be decimating al-Qaeda leadership in Pakistan and Afghanistan, we are now in the middle of a dangerous game of Whac-A-Mole as terror organizations pop up across North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Central Africa, and Southeast Asia. 

The DoJ memo does create some serious questions and provides insight how an executive branch may rationalize its powers.  The definitions of ‘associate’ and ‘imminent’ are awfully loose in the DoJ memo:

We are finding increasing recognition in the international community that a more flexible understanding of "imminence" may be appropriate when dealing with terrorist groups, in part because threats posed by non-state actors do not present themselves in the ways that evidenced imminence in more traditional conflicts.

We could play hypotheticals and ask questions all day long:

·         What if there is a US-based al-Qaeda organization and it fits the category?

·         Is this any different than launching cruise missiles at the Sudan in the 1990’s?

·         Would US citizens accept a foreign nation firing missiles at its citizens?

We are talking about some very evil men here and yes innocents have been killed in our war against terror.  And often ethical decisions come down to right vs right, and not right vs wrong.  Is it wrong to want to save US citizens?  How do you choose between liberty and security?  Is one American life worth more than a Pakistani life?  Is it unethical to not take extreme action if lives of Americans are at stake? 

At the end of the day, an expansive executive branch with increasing powers is not in our nation’s best interests.  On the other hand, I have seen very little from the legislative branch to instill any confidence that those on Capitol Hill have with ability to get anything done.  That leaves the judicial branch to determine the legality of the executive’s actions and that is critical to the survival of the Republic. 

At the end of the day, it is never easy to  choose between undesirable options, but that’s what our leaders are required to do.  And it is up to us to question those decisions if we are to call ourselves free.  I do support the drone program, and I do so after serious assessment.  Further, I do not vilify or resent those that may have a different opinion, after all, that’s what Democracy looks like.

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