Photo: Predator drone by Marc Buehler/Flickr

Why Trump is unlikely to keep his finger off the trigger with drones.

President Trump stated when he addressed the CIA in Langley that: “We haven’t used the abilities we’ve got. We’ve been restrained.” The self-congratulatory rant came after months of casting aspersions, but now Trump needs the CIA’s drones, so he is playing ball.

Just over eight years ago, President Obama met with CIA director Michael Hayden. Obama, a constitutional lawyer, was about to be briefed on the existence of ‘signature’ strikes.

A Bush-era secret, ‘signature’ strikes or “crowd killings” target ‘military-aged males’ who share a ‘signature’ or ‘pattern of life’ with terrorist suspects. Newsweek journalist Daniel Klaidman (Kill or Capture) claims Obama reacted poorly to the news. “That’s not good enough for me,” he said, following a blunt explanation from Hayden’s deputy.

“[Obama] would squirm,” said Klaidman’s source; yet in the months following he authorised the largest increase in drone strikes in the history of the programme. According to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London, by the end of his term he had authorised a total of 563 drone strikes across Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen, almost ten times as many as Bush.

Obama was enigmatic. The Onion captured this in their satire of his “loyal,” hound like drones following him out of the White House. It’s hard to reconcile a ‘squirming’ Nobel Peace laureate with the US drone master who authorised the killing of estimated 380-801 civilians. Trump is not though; he wears his comfort with violence on his sleeve. He said his counterterrorism approach would be to “Take out their families”.

Talking to Democracy Now, Jameel Jaffer (The Drone Memos), formerly legal counsel for ACLU said, “[Obama] had to build a legal and bureaucratic infrastructure for the use of targeted killing,” adding, “that infrastructure now exists for the next president, for President Trump, to use.”

“[T]he real concern,” he continued, “is that the lines that the Obama administration drew are lines that can be swept aside by the next administration. These are rules that the Obama administration adopted for itself, and it fought very hard to keep the courts from enforcing those rules or even asking whether the rules were the right ones, whether they reflected international law or reflected constitutional law.”

I would argue that the mind that brought you “bigly” inheriting the most extensive executive powers is scary; doubly so when he vows to eradicate the nebulous “radical Islamic terrorism.” A ‘liberal’ White House tried, and all they have to show are a string of war crime indictments and failed states. Civilians in Yemen and Syria should prepare for more of the same.

Furthermore, the eagle-eyed among you may have noticed the border authority’s recent purchase of several Predator drones. That’s the same model of drone used in the 2011 extrajudicial killings of three American citizens including Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son Abdulrahman. His wall doesn’t seem so scary now, does it?

I might be wrong, but last time I checked it’s a lot easier to strap a couple Hellfire anti-tank missiles to an aircraft the size of a Cessna than it is to build a wall across a continent. I’ll admit it’s unlikely that Trump would authorise kinetic strikes in sight of El Paso, but the Predator’s surveillance capabilities should lift eyebrows.

With Trump, it isn’t the populist campaign lunacy or the twitter tantrums that scare me; it’s the very real legacy of power Obama leaves the new President. The buffoonery of a pension aged sex pest with too much money may seem funny; but the terrifying truth is, Donald Trump now has the authority to assassinate thousands of people globally, absent due process. He has the ability to play god, and as with his predecessors, we will likely let him.

Originally published in the opine section of The Gaudie Student Newspaper: 01 February 2017, p. 12.

This version contains minor typographic corrections. The featured image used in print is not reproduced. I would like to thank the Opine editor Jamie Smith for the opportunity to contribute to his section and for his help in editing the piece.

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