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Noam Chomsky: 'The Foundations of Liberty Are Ripped to Shreds'

The U.S. openly brags about boom times for its drone wars, while casually abandoning our 800 year-old system of due process.
 
 
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This article first appeared at Satellite Magazine, whose author Steven Garbas met with Chomsky in Cambridge, Massachusetts earlier this year to discuss the development of the drone era under president Obama.

Noam Chomsky: Just driving in this morning I was listening to NPR news. The program opened by announcing, very excitedly, that the drone industry is exploding so fast that colleges are trying to catch up and opening new programs in the engineering schools and so on, and teaching drone technology because that’s what students are dying to study because of the fantastic number of jobs going on.

And it’s true. If you look at the public reports, you can imagine what the secret reports are. It’s been known for a couple of years, but we learn more and more that drones, for one thing, are already being given to police departments for surveillance. And they are being designed for every possible purpose. I mean, theoretically, maybe practically, you could have a drone the size of a fly which could be buzzing around over there [points to window] listening to what we’re talking about. And I’d suspect that it won’t be too long before that becomes realistic.

And of course they are being used to assassinate. There’s a global assassination campaign going on which is pretty interesting when you look into how it’s done. I presume everyone’s read [a May 29]  New York Times story, which is more or less a leak from the White House, because they are apparently proud of how the global assassination campaign works. Basically President Obama and his national security advisor, John Brennan, now head of the CIA, get together in the morning. And Brennan’s apparently a former priest. They talk about St. Augustine and his theory of just war, and then they decide who is going to be killed today.

And the criteria are quite interesting. For example, if, say, in Yemen a group of men are spotted by a drone assembling near a truck, it’s possible that they might be planning to do something that would harm us, so why don’t we make sure and kill them? And there’s other things like that.

And questions did come up about what happened to due process, which is supposedly the foundation of American law—it actually goes back to Magna Carta, 800 years ago—what about that? And the justice department responded. Attorney General Holder said that they are receiving due process because it’s “discussed in the executive branch.” King John in the 13th century, who was compelled to sign Magna Carta, would have loved that answer. But that’s where we’re moving. The foundations of civil law are simply being torn to shreds. This is not the only case, but it’s the most striking one.

And the reactions are pretty interesting. It tells you a lot about the mentality of the country. So one column, I think it was Joe Klein, a bit of a liberal columnist for one of the journals, was asked about a case in which four little girls were killed by a drone strike. And his answer was something like, “Well,  better that their little girls should be killed than ours.” So in other words, maybe this stopped something that would ultimately harm us.

There is a reservation in the United Nations Charter that allows the use of force without Security Council authorization,  a narrow exception in Article 51. But it specifically refers to “imminent attack” that’s either underway or imminent so clearly that there is no time for reflection. It’s a doctrine that goes back to Daniel Webster,  the Caroline Doctrine, which specifies these conditions. That’s been torn to shreds. Not just the drone attacks, but for a long time.

 
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