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July 6, 2015

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Drones play an important role in keeping us safe

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I believe in baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, the American dream, Jack Bauer, the U.S. Constitution and, yes, drones.

And I believe there is a place for all of those things, those people, those aspirations and the responsibilities that come with having all of them in the lives of decent, responsible, law-abiding Americans.

And therein lies the problem I believe this country is currently having in trying to understand and figure out whether there is a place for the latest weapons technology — drones. They are becoming more prevalent not only on the 21st century battlefield but, perhaps, in our daily lives in this country.

The place drones do or should have in our society is a discussion worth having. So, at the risk of being labeled a conservative — once again — let me weigh in. By the way, I am a conservative because I believe in conserving the concepts and promises of our Constitution. You know the ones: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

There is a fundamental issue to resolve when it comes to the growing use of drones. The discussion that has so many people hopped up about is whether the president, as the commander in chief of the armed forces, can order deadly force against the enemy — including U.S. citizens — without the due process that is afforded Americans.

There are people of good intentions on both sides of the argument when it comes to killing U.S. citizens abroad or even spying on them at home. That should be easily and transparently resolved within the dictates of the Constitution and the requirements of national security. We do it all the time.

So let’s tackle the tough question. What to do about U.S. citizens who wind up in the cross hairs of a drone while he is participating in that which he shouldn’t be or associating with those who would do us harm. For that I have to go back to my childhood.

For instance, when I was a boy, we learned that the policeman on the corner was our friend and that he would help us if we needed it. I also learned that, because he has a badge of authority and a gun on his hip, that when he tells us to “stop” and put our hands up that we better do just that or risk getting shot. That was not the kind of lesson we needed to get taught more than once.

Today, we hear all the time that people aren’t stopping, aren’t raising their hands and, consequently, are getting shot.

I am sure there may be some societal reasons that have created a sense of distrust that causes people to react differently to those commands, but the fact remains that not stopping, not putting your hands up and not doing what we are told by a police officer will still get us shot. And there is little room in society for any argument that starts out, “But…”

So, let’s take that lesson to the battlefield. There are some who want to argue that you can’t tell where the battlefield of the 21st century is and, therefore, we shouldn’t conduct drone strikes in what have been traditionally civilian environs. I think they have a point but not a very persuasive one.

Terrorists don’t wear uniforms, they don’t meet on traditional battlefields and they often are not state actors in the sense that a standing army would be. In short, they act apart from states and in ways that take maximum advantage of civilian populations.

I am glad that Congress is asking questions about the government’s use of drones and the policies surrounding the attacks on what could be U.S. citizens. The reason is simple. Whatever policy we settle on — and I hope it is to get bad guys wherever, whenever and with whomever they keep company — the notice to the population cannot be overdone.

In much the same way our parents warned us about how to act when confronted by a police officer with a gun, our fellow countrymen being warned that associating with or being part of al-Qaida could have deadly consequences is about as much lesson-learning as we can or should provide. If you are with or part of the bad guys, you will be treated like a bad guy. And bad guys get droned in today’s modern world of terrorism warfare.

Wars are different today than they were just a few decades ago. We no longer can tell the enemy by a uniform, and we can no longer easily hold a state responsible for the actions of its citizens which are not government condoned — although we should.

By the same token, we are not afforded the luxury of throwing our hands up in the air and doing nothing out of fear of doing the wrong thing. We owe it to our citizens to protect them — the best way we can.

And that brings us back to drones. They can be very accurate in choosing their targets. They don’t risk American lives because they don’t require boots on the ground. They do produce some collateral damage, but compared with a 1,000-pound bomb from 30,000 feet, they are very effective. And they can be manipulated in such a way that the damage they inflict can be justified against the hundreds and thousands of lives that could be lost if those bad guys continued to plot against us.

So, Congress, have your hearings and publish the guidelines that make it clear who can get popped for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And if anyone, citizen or not, decides to ignore the warnings or, worse, joins the forces of evil that yearn to make us dead, then what happens next is on them and not on those who are trying to keep Americans safe. Just like the warnings from the policeman to “stop,” the new warning must be to stay away from al-Qaida and other terrorists because to ignore it is to risk your life.

In the meantime, make sure that those who vet this program and others like it give proper credit and thanks to the men and women in the drone program and the armed forces who do all they can to keep us safe.

One thing is very clear. The world is a very dangerous place because those who would kill us don’t play by our rules. So we need to meet them on their battlefield — wherever that is — and on the same terms.

Drone on.

Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.

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  1. Mr. Greenspun: I wholeheartedly agree that drone attacks keep us safe. But similarly, so does interrogation of enemies. President Obama and his Justice Department Secretary Eric Holder, and others in his Administration, were against the latter. But they support the former. You can't have it both ways unless you are a hypocrite.


  2. Terrorists attack those unable to defend themselves and deserve no consideration such as offered to combatants whose adversaries are armed. The sooner terrorists are neutralized the more innocent lives are saved and the means to such end must not be limited other than by not harming innocents.

  3. Using drones in countries we are not at war with is akin to being like mafia hit men of the world.

    Someday, someone will come up with a rationale for using the drones inside the US, with collateral damage effecting citizens.

    We already use them on the boarder, along with a good deal of other technology. We do everything to keep people out, which carries a reminder of tactics the Soviets used to keep people in.

    The drone program is immoral. It is insanity to have devolved to the point when we think killing is OK, at the order of the President, not matter who is in the Presidency, or who the target is.

  4. Any person, USA citizen or otherwise, who behaves against the USA and its People, are TRAITORS, and automatically LOSE any rights of "protection". I shed not one tear for those who violently, and treacherously do criminal acts against the USA or its Citizens. Terrorists are irrational, psychotic beings, whom you cannot reason with. Their aggression, must be be either prevented, or met with final aggression, as these sorts of people do not ever change, and they will live out their lives convinced they are in the right, in all they do. As a consequence, innocent people become casualties.

    Although I am not a great fan of using drones for everything that can invade a person's privacy, it has unfortunately become a necessary evil (for the use and purpose of good).

    Face the facts that we are already open to being tracked: cars (OnStar), cellphones (GPS), even the very things you purchase non-cash. Massive data bases exist on every home on the block: how many bedrooms, baths, fireplaces, garbage disposals, A/C units, porches, garages, trash pickup days, water days, where your kids go to school; the list goes on forever, my friends!

    Let us pray that drones will be always used for the good of all, and prevent any and all acts of terrorism directed at law-abiding Citizens.

    Blessings and Peace,

  5. "I believe in baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, the American dream, Jack Bauer, the U.S. Constitution and, yes, drones."

    Greenspun -- you conveniently neglected the bedrock of what America is, inconvenient bits like 1) "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness"; 2) our pledge's "with liberty and justice for all"; and 3) no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.

    "Terrorists attack those unable to defend themselves and deserve no consideration such as offered to combatants whose adversaries are armed."

    dsteele -- look up the Contras and its spawn. Our own country is arguably this planet's lead exporter of the terrorism you condemn.

    "The drone program is immoral. It is insanity to have devolved to the point when we think killing is OK, at the order of the President, not matter who is in the Presidency, or who the target is."

    peacelily -- I agree with you completely. Drones are already being used domestically for surveillance. Seattle recently gave their drones back. They were bought in 2010 with a Homeland Security grant. One of the Seattlites' concerns was how short a step it is from surveillance to weapons platforms.

    "Any person, USA citizen or otherwise, who behaves against the USA and its People, are TRAITORS, and automatically LOSE any rights of "protection"

    Star -- the flaw in your logic is who gets decide, and how. Currently it's behind law enforcement's closed doors. What about due process??

    to be continued...

  6. ...continued

    That Americans are actually on a secret assassination list without the check and balance of judicial approval is not only outrageous, it's treasonous. It takes us back to the days of star chambers and a rogue government without a shred of Constitutional authority.

    We now have the planet's war machine roaming the globe looking for missions. That, and drone war is essentially as real as a video game, should be the real topics here.

    "I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class thug for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902--1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents." -- Major General Smedley Butler, a Marine and one of only 19 people to be TWICE awarded the Medal of Honor, from a 1935 issue of the socialist magazine "Common Sense"

  7. I have little use for the guy with the Cheshire Cat grin and empty rhetoric, but in this instance, I'm behind him all the way. I don't care who drones kill if they are plotting against the USA. No one gets a free pass when plotting against the USA even if they hold citizenship. The Founders did not declare the Constitution a suicide pact; one in which we had to let the other guy strike first. No one says you have to wait until the criminal breaks into your home before you can take defensive measures. Just because fanatics of any nationality are at a long distance does not mean we have to wait to strike. We have the capability; let's use it. If countries that harbor fanatics are concerned about "collateral" damage or "violation" of their sovereignty - it's not complicated - let them step up efforts to eradicate our need for defensive action. No fanatics - no drones needed!

  8. Ref the comments by KillerB from 10:10 a.m. I have regularly disagreed with Killer's comments in past. I must do so again. But this time from the opposite direction. He is far too sanguine. This is a box of worms we should never have opened. As Pandora discovered, once such a box is opened it may well be impossible either to close it again, or to recapture the evils released into the world.

    Yes, the use of drones is immoral. When used by Americans against Americans, however, it is also illegal. Per the Fifth Amendment: "No deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law". Per the Sixth Amendment "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury ... and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence."

    As Anwar Al-Awlaki discovered not long ago, those rights have been eliminated by secret Presidential fiat. We are assured that Al-Awlaki's assassination was approved at a high federal level - perhaps by the President but who knows - it's secret? We are also told that "we can trust our government."

    Can we? Maybe, Maybe, just maybe we can, right now, today. After all there haven't been THAT many other signs of abuse. But in the future? With this fiat now being a precedent? Congressman Paul Broun (R-Ga.) was quoted as saying "All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the big bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell". I believe "all that stuff." I can quite easily visualize Broun, or someone else who holds similar radical views, declaring me to be pure evil and placing my name at the top of a list for future assassinations - whether I may be on foreign or American soil. Are you quite sure, Mr Greenspun, that you can't say the same about yourself? Am I paranoid? I don't know - is it paranoid to be leery about crossing someone with views such as those so publicly expressed by Broun?

    There is also a practical aspect to our use of drones. For many years the US has been seen, rightly or wrongly, to be a bellwether for judging the propriety of international actions. Drones are cheap and are proliferating. How long will it take Iran to decide to use one to target a US citizen walking on the streets of New York? For that matter, it need not even be done by a government. Perhaps al-Qaeda?

    Yes, we need to be alert for terrorism and to act against terrorists as opportunities presents themselves. The use of drones, either as initiated by the Bush administration or as expanded by the Obama administration, while cheap and expedient, is not the way to go. We are simply selling our souls to (possibly) save our skins - for a time. Are we really safer as a result?

  9. "He is far too sanguine."

    renorobert -- I thought terms like "treasonous" would get a rise out of someone here. I find little to change in that post except "the planet's war machine" should have been "the planet's biggest and baddest war machine."

    Your point about Congressman Paul Broun (R-Ga.) was excellent. Another bible belt Republican (Arkansas) has actually advocated the death penalty for disobedient children.

    Your "cheap and expedient" point is also a good one. I've seen it in the court for years.

    "We have long since made clear that a state of war is not a blank check . . . when it comes to the rights of th[is] Nation's citizens" -- Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, 542 U. S. 507, 536 (2004)

  10. My gut reaction is that the policy we heard recently goes against the very fabric of what it means to be an American, and that we should be not just concerned, but downright scared of what "our" government says it is doing for our own good.

    The Patriot Act, FISA courts, and now drones: can we *really* trust the government that much?

  11. We unleashed the power of the atomic bomb, and we have also had the costly responsibility of trying to deal with the increasing number of countries gaining such a horrendous weapon. I don't refer to financial cost alone, but the human toll that has also been created.

    How much effort is expended in trying to keep some country from using it on us?

    Now, enter the drones. Can they, or how long before they are carrying atomic bombs, whether ours or theirs?

    How will one sided loss of life inspire love and respect for the US, or be seen as just?

    There was a reference to video war games earlier, and I think that describes a conditioning that has entered into the psyche of far too many. There is a detachment from reality, and a willingness to discount the value of human life expressed for the unfortunate victims of collateral damage, including children. Bring in the street sweepers! Quickly leave the scene to forget what was done. Maybe there are points to be scored no matter who is killed.

    From our perspective we are right, from the other side, they are right. Who is truly right is a matter of vantage point. I am quite sure both can justify their actions. So, it boils down to a battle between two rights. And, in the current case, a religious war...another crusade.

    The problem with all of this is that it all comes from acts that become a threat to the other. They start small, and grow as the threat grows. Nobody can say the US doesn't threaten in many ways, unless they are living in an alternate reality. Threats don't come from the other only, especially since we ratcheted up the annihilation scale with our atomic bomb.

    Our power following that was to create a deterrent, fear of what we would do. We carried it further into the political areana, and dictating, establishing those in power whom we wanted, and much more. The evolution of that is people are be willing to sacrifice themselves to fight such power which they see as evil.

    Eventually, they will achieve the same power and create the same fear in us. When does the insanity stop? Who is "right" enough to stop the insanity. Who really defends our Constitution?

  12. I know from reading Brian Greenspun's comments since I moved to Las Vegas and the Sun was an actual newspaper instead of an afterthought in that house organ of the John Birch Society, the LVRJ, that he is an intelligent, well read and learned man. This screed of hypocrisy and rationalistic drivel does not do justice to his intellect. It dismisses over two hundred years of American jurisprudence and lays waste the notion that one should be able to face his accusers in open court, not be subject to cruel or unusual punishment; to be judged by a jury of his peers; that he should not be deprived of life liberty or property without due process of law, nor denied the equal protection of the laws. Ceding to our president the right to murder any American citizen he so chooses, anywhere in the world without charges, without conviction or without access to counsel goes contrary to the very nature of our existence as a nation. A president who exhibits the unmitigated hubris to claim such a right reduces himself and his office to that of a La Cosa Nostra Capo regime, presiding over his hit list, assisted by his Consigliore, the attorney general and dispatching his flying, electronic, remote controlled Luca Brasi to whack out a suspected enemy at a whim. Is this the low to which our society has devolved? I don't care who began the systematic shredding of our Constitution and our Bill of Rights; Barack Obama, George Bush or George Washington, this is immoral and it is wrong.

  13. Why have all the conservatives in this thread forgotten about the 4th amendment? I mean i know the last guy essentially got rid of it but it still exists on paper. I believe it was Ben Franklin who said "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. " Perhaps we need to remember what the word freedom actually means.

    As for the statement "I don't care who drones kill if they are plotting against the USA. No one gets a free pass when plotting against the USA even if they hold citizenship." Clearly someone doesn't understand how our system works. If you want that stipulated in our founding document it, amend it. Otherwise that is the law of the land and last i checked we are a nation of laws.

  14. The Middle East, and now North Africa are the focus of so much of the demise of what was once the good we represented.

    How many trillions has the US spent in the Middle East to try to maintain the right of Israel to exist, as well as to successfully and unsuccessfully secure oil or minerals rights for our use from other Middle East countries?

    We have a rising deficit and charges that "entitlements" must be cut or eliminated. Our standard of living has decreased. Our healthcare costs are out of control. Our sense of security is decreased. When will be stop policing and fighting the world's battles, building up more hatred for the US?

    Israel has the nuclear bomb, so far the only country in the Middle East to have one. They have an army and modern weaponry, they have very advanced security and technology, and more. They have a very good universal healthcare system.

    Israel expresses their competency and will to defend their own country, and to act aggressively, unilaterally. We should respect that and allow Israel to take their role and stand on behalf of their country, assuming responsibility for the outcomes.

    Palestine should have had statehood long ago. Instead, Israel has populated the West Bank, which is illegal under international law, while Israel disputes that. Decades have passed without resolve or action to implement a decision. It has become more complicated through the building of settlements.

    We should be doing everything to support Palestinian statehood and recognition of Israel's right to exist in peace, no matter what failures there have been in the past. It is just to be a mediator in the process, along with other countries. I think it would go along way in cooling down the fires of resentment, and certainly be supportive of a just solution.

    No solutions for us or the Middle East will be forthcoming until a sincere effort to assist in bringing justice and peace becomes the only concentrated effort of the US and the world together, toward the Middle East.

    It may be time, or near time, to let Israel stand on it's own two feet in it's fight for the right to exist, before the whole Middle East is riddled with nuclear technology to turn on each other and us.

    If the world believes that it needs to come to the defense of Israel, or any other country, then the people together need to be willing to lay down their lives in the fight for justice.

    We should not separate ourselves from the reality of killing or being killed. That reality is a true deterrent. We must keep that reality before our eyes.

    Whether terrorists or governments, innocent human lives are the collateral damage, no matter where they are located.

    The US needs to return to it's Constitution and reason for being, reversing it's Dart Vader persona in the world.

    Instead, we are doubling down on that persona with drones, both foreign and domestic. I expect to hear a new rap song any day now..."Who let the drones out!"

  15. By the way, the answer to 'Who let the drones out?' is the US Congress, both House and Senate, and signed by President Obama, under H.R. 658 (112th): FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.

    It had both Democratic and Republican support for the accelerated deployment of up to 30,000 surveillance drones in the US.

    Furthermore, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, passed by Congress, authorizes the military to pick up and detain indefinitely, without charges, people anywhere in the world specified as "enemy combatants", including US citizen's, even far from any battlefield, without due process.

    The decision maker in this process is any sitting President who determines someone is and "enemy combatant".

    We are treading on dangerous territory here.

    Here is an interesting article on the issue at

  16. "And Obama sits at the top of the top. Get over it." @ Jeff

    And now that he does, President Obama agrees and follows George Bush more often than not. Drones are an excellent example to name just one.


  17. I love how folks not in the line of fire or personally threatened (yet) theorize. Let one bomb explode at, say, Meadows Mall and kill or maim one of theirs and they will be the ones screaming the loudest as to why the USA didn't do something before it happened. It's nice to theorize when sitting safe and sound in your cozy little den but when the $#** actually hits the fan - well, then, it's a wholly different matter. Preventative measures taken are fine with me.

  18. At 5:24 killerB quoted me as saying "He is far too sanguine." and then added "renorobert -- I thought terms like "treasonous" would get a rise out of someone here."

    You misunderstand, Killer. One definition of "sanguine" is "Confident, optimistic." I was disagreeing only in that you didn't go far enough.

    Per sounddude (Clinton Hermann)at 9:49 p.m. "Why have all the conservatives in this thread forgotten about the 4th amendment?"

    That's old news, Dude. Now they're after the 5th and the 14th.

    Per peacelily writing at 12:29 a.m.: "By the way, the answer to 'Who let the drones out?' is the US Congress, both House and Senate, and signed by President Obama, under H.R. 658 (112th): FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012."

    Incorrect. Per NYT article of Feb 6, drone strikes began as part of a C.I.A. covert program begun in 2004 and aimed at militants in Pakistan. That's the W. BUSH CIA. Obama simply added American citizens worldwide to the kill list.

    Lvfacts101 (Jerry Fink) adds, at 7:53 a.m. "It's nice to theorize when sitting safe and sound in your cozy little den but when the $#** actually hits the fan - well, then, it's a wholly different matter."

    I agree, Jerry. But not as you might expect. It's nice to sit safe and sound and theorize about the meanings of the Constitution and trade "What if" scenarios. It's when "...the $#** actually hits the fan..." that it's time to stop debating and recognize that the Constitution means what it says, that it protects the minorities, the unpopular viewpoints, the basic rights of people accused by the powers-that-be of unpopular, even possibly criminal, actions. True, al-Awlaki was accused of specific crimes. Most people can recite the allegations. Some can cite the evidence used to support them. Can you, or any one, outline the evidence AGAINST the accusation? We've heard one side. What's the other side?

  19. renorobert,

    "Incorrect. Per NYT article of Feb 6, drone strikes began as part of a C.I.A. covert program begun in 2004 and aimed at militants in Pakistan. That's the W. BUSH CIA. Obama simply added American citizens worldwide to the kill list."

    Yes, Bush led the charge, but the Congress made it official under the two different pieces of legislation that I previously documented. Obama signed what Congress passed.

    Makes no difference what party or President is involved because all are culpable, including any future Presidents with the sole right to declare who an "enemy combatant" is.

    "Military" detention is the key to overriding the US Constitution on citizen's rights to due process, I believe.

    Those tricky lawyer politician's know how to do end runs.

  20. Democrats and progressives are hypocrites on this issue. They are totally fine with assasinations when they are in power but flip a lid when Bush water boards terrorists....