Handing Killer Drones to Donald Trump

When President Obama expanded use of lethal drones, many Americans trusted him to act judiciously, but now those exceptional powers have passed to the hot-headed Donald Trump, notes Jesselyn Radack.

By Jesselyn Radack

The news is rife with President Trump’s threatened and actual military misadventures: in Syria, Yemen, and North Korea. But these military actions take on a new gravity considering the vast and secret powers Trump inherited.

A Predator drone firing a missile.

Former President Obama escalated the use of drone strikes — including in non-battlefield arenas such as Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen — so it is no surprise that President Trump has continued with abandon. While Obama put some constraints on drones, Trump gave the secretive, unaccountable CIA new authority to conduct drone strikes against “suspected militants.”

Specifically, President Obama’s constraints on drones included that targets pose an “imminent threat,” that their capture is “not feasible,” and that there be “near certainty” civilians will not be injured or killed. However, Obama didn’t always hew closely to his own policy, which evolved throughout his Presidency as legitimate criticism of drone strikes increased.

One of the most famous Americans targeted and killed by a drone, al Qaeda propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki, met none of the early purported criteria. Still, the Justice Department under Obama maintained that the President had the unilateral authority to target and kill American citizens like al-Awlaki. That power now rests with President Trump who has undertaken aggressive and messy military actions in the early days of his presidency.

Trump has pushed for a $54 billion increase in defense spending. Americans can expect Trump will use their money for expensive military actions like the botched raid in Yemen that killed innocent women and children and an American soldier and resulted in destruction of a $75 million military helicopter. Or, for decisions that upend years of international relations policy, such as launching 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Syria. (Replacing them will probably cost at least $1 million per missile).

Fearing the Buzzing Drone

This does not bode well for the millions of people living under the daily buzz of U.S. military drones. The power to target and kill using drone strikes went too unchecked in the Obama administration because we “trusted” him.

Done “pilots” launch an MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle for a raid in the Middle East. (U.S. military photo)

Although small pockets of national security, civil liberties, and peace groups complained about the Trust Doctrine, which seemed to apply to the most controversial conduct in which our country was engaged — from torture to surveillance to drone operations – people in positions of power were generally unwilling or unable to imagine what this power would look like in the hands of someone unpredictable, petty, and vengeful.

The Obama administration exalted the drone program’s “surgical precision,” the internal checks and balances built in, and the careful calculations before taking strikes. Because many saw Obama as a reasonable, intelligent President and capable leader who won the Nobel Peace Prize, Americans too calmly and too quietly accepted the secret killing practices being waged halfway around the world from U.S. Air Force bases in our backyards in Nevada and California.

The drone program is plagued by secrecy and unaccountability. That was true even before Trump put strike authority with the CIA and possibly relaxed civilian kill standards. Several whistleblowers have come forward to point out abusive practices and high turnover within the program, misleading government statements on the accuracy of strikes and targeting capabilities, and an overall pressure to launch strikes while falsely presenting the propagandist narrative that drone warfare allows precision targeting with no harmful effects at home in the U.S. This false narrative persists because politicians want us to believe it — and so do we.

We opened Pandora’s box and unleashed drones upon humankind. But in this case, the damage was entirely foreseeable.

Jesselyn Radack is a national security and human rights attorney who heads the “Whistleblower & Source Protection” project at ExposeFacts. Twitter: @jesselynradack . [This article originally appeared at https://exposefacts.org/what-have-we-done-executive-power-drones-and-trump/ ]


20 comments for “Handing Killer Drones to Donald Trump

  1. Bill Goldman
    April 16, 2017 at 13:17

    Naive, gullible Americans who trust the military and civilian leaders for any offensive policy are “asking for trouble”. When they vote for one of these clowns, they are abandoning the rules set down in the US Constitution and encouraging world hegemony. Obama and Trump were notorious in their deceit.

  2. R Davis
    April 16, 2017 at 05:45

    It won’t be long now.

  3. Joe_the_Socialist
    April 15, 2017 at 20:24


    Drones are so tidy they’re completely off the public radar. Point, click and our enemies, both real and imagined, disappear.





  4. Gary Hare
    April 15, 2017 at 17:28

    The day will come when drones will be used to wreak havoc throughout the US. Only then will they become murderous weapons to be banned.
    Their use today brings shame on us all who sit back and accept their use.

  5. mike k
    April 15, 2017 at 17:26

    The people gathered around this blog who are commenting give me hope. This is the kind of sharing we need to begin dealing with this mess our human world has become. My wish is that this kind of talking about our common problems could expand into many small groups in the US and beyond. Small groups are ideal for this kind of learning. A passage from a poem by Holderln (don’t be put off by the “spiritual’ reference – just read it as ‘much of the truth’) –

    Many of the holy ones
    Have we named
    Since our life has
    Become a conversation

  6. delia ruhe
    April 15, 2017 at 16:51

    Whatever way you might want to look at it, without due process, execution by drone-delivered hellfire missile outside of a legitimate theatre of war is just plain murder. But Washington and its media sycophants are far too interested in counting up everyone else’s crimes to bother much about America’s.

    • mike k
      April 15, 2017 at 17:17

      Exactly delia. Thanks for your insight.

  7. Drew Hunkins
    April 15, 2017 at 16:02

    Obama act judiciously? He droned the hell out of wedding parties, soccer games, and family gatherings.

  8. D5-5
    April 15, 2017 at 12:44

    Jeffrey St. Clair has an amusing, long column here titled “Love at first strike” based on MSM editorials in favor of Donald’s bravery, then extending to the MOAB and other matters.

    He asks what happened to the people who lived in the vicinity of the tunnels.

    Re missile strike of US top 100 newspapers 47 ran editorials with 39 “fervently in favor” seven ambiguous, and one opposed.

    Via gallup however 51% of US public supported the strikes with 40% opposed

    “It’s now the role of the mainstream press to browbeat the 40% into submission.”


  9. mike k
    April 15, 2017 at 12:31

    I feel it is appropriate for some of us, to share a little about who we are, and what we bring to sharing here……..

    A Funeral For Everyone

    I woke up this morning and realized that I needed to have a funeral
    for humankind and its civilization story. Since I will probably not be around to witness the last human’s death, I need to mourn our losses and celebrate our victories before I leave. On reflection I realize also that the last human will have no way of knowing that she/he is truly the last of our species. But for me or anyone to know by science and understanding that our collective time on Earth is now short should be sufficient reason to have a funeral, before the fact.

    The funerals that I have attended that were deeply meaningful were those relatively small gatherings of friends where we recalled our loving relationship with the deceased and celebrated the good things we had shared together. Often people would share their feelings of grief and perplexity in the face of death, but also their more accepting and philosophical stances about the great mysteries of birth and death. There would be some humor and laughter about our departed friend to leaven the sadness we were also feeling. But the essence of these funeral sharings and remembrances would be that at their conclusion we all felt a sense of closure and were grateful to share our grief process within a supportive community of friends. Often afterward we would have a meal together at a really good restaurant in commemoration of our friend’s death and as a final tribute to the blessing of our friendship with him/her, and in gratitude to each other for giving her/him a proper and loving sendoff.

    But I have a problem. Even though I have tried to share my knowledge of the near certainty of our near term extinction with some close friends, none of them have really groked it at the level that I have. Often I get the feeling that they put up with my pronouncements in this regard out of friendship for me, but they don’t really buy into my “doomsday” thinking. I have finally had to accept from my side that they are not going to join me in my dark view of our common near future, and that my best course is to accept their puzzling attitudes, as they have been gracious enough to accept mine. So there is really no question of inviting them to civilization/humankind’s funeral.

    So I have decided to invite all you folks on this blog, who are gathered around a dying fire on the beach of doom, to join me in a funeral sharing dedicated to the dying of our species and many others we are taking with us. I will start off with my thoughts and feelings about the great dying we are witness to…..

    I have had a problematic relationship to my birth in this realm from the beginning. I am told that my mother’s milk “went sour” and I was weaned early. The philosophy I was subjected to as an infant was designed to make me “grow up” as quickly as possible with a minimum of mothering. I was often left to “cry myself out”. The idea being to make me strong and independent as early as possible, and prepare me for the arduous struggle my parents saw as my destiny in a harsh dog eat dog life ahead of me.

    I was intellectually precocious as a child and was bullied at school and at home constantly; my life was a nightmare. By the time I entered the seventh grade I had withdrawn from talking to anyone, and constantly wished for death. I was taken to a child psychologist who became the first in a long series of benefactors, and gradually drew me out of my withdrawal, and encouraged my intellectual pursuits. Nevertheless I had many problems ahead of me including alcoholism and other addictions. When I arrived on the doorstep of AA at the age of 28 my life was a total disaster. In addition I was a total atheist and did not really feel at home with what I took to be a bunch of ignorant believers.

    My route into recovery was facilitated by my intellectual curiosity, which had been a constant feature of my life since early childhood. I developed an interest in Zen Buddhism when I had been in AA for a while, and began to explore the vast field of spirituality with the same enthusiasm I had shown in discovering science, music, literature, psychology, and many other areas. I have read and studied thousands of books in my life, and reading is part of my daily routine still.

    What I have shared is in order to explain how deep is my love of the highest accomplishments of those best human products of civilization who have shared with us and enriched our lives immeasurably. This was the shrine I worshiped at. This gave me a meaning and a goal for my life. Of course I deeply wanted the best of our global culture to lead us to the highest possible realization of our potentials for knowledge, love, and mutually shared utopia….

    But again there was a problem: War, Auschwitz, Hiroshima, man’s inhumanity to man, capitalism, the destruction of nature, hubris, violence, lying, insanity…. And now the culmination in NTHE. I spent years getting deeper in touch with the dark side of our species. It drove me to despair again and again. Finally I have had to face our awful, total, tragic failure to create a mutual life based on love, truth, and beauty.

    So what can I say to this culture, these fellow humans who have succumbed to the worst possibilities within ourselves, and have doomed this beautiful planet to a barren and perhaps lifeless destiny in the near future? I have run the full gamut of dark emotions and dashed hopes about this unhappy affair of our planetary story. Now that it seems nearly over, I simply want to celebrate what was good and forgive what was not….rest in peace all my sisters and brothers….

    • Susan Sunflower
      April 15, 2017 at 16:22

      May I recommend the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and the work of Joanna Macy if you are not already familiar with either or both. It’s very difficult to not get overwhelmed by despair. I particularly found Macy’s book “Despair and Personal Power in the Nuclear Age” helpful in reframing and legitmizing both the despair and grief … without apology. She’s spoken at Bioneers a number of time, number of videos on youtube, having moved somewhat (since 1983) from war to catastrophic climate change and environmental issues more recently. It’s difficult. Sitting around discussing how bad things are and appear to be doomed to get the in future is genuinely enervating (if one can avoid sobs). Namaste.

      • mike k
        April 15, 2017 at 17:09

        A small study group I belong to has just concluded reading Macy’s book Active Hope, her recent summary of her workshops and ideas to awaken groups of activists, and those still asleep. Excellent.

    • Chloe
      April 15, 2017 at 18:23

      I hope you are getting to enough AA meetings, because I know that for me, if I don’t go regularly, I can, and do, become very despairing. Though I share many of your concerns, AA has taught me how to live in the present as much, and as imperfectly, as possible, and to focus on what I can do to help others. Fear is corrosive, and though it’s human to experience it, it can become crippling if I do not take care of my spiritual life. You are an eloquent writer, and you have a sensitive soul. Please take care of yourself. I must do the same.

    • Marko
      April 16, 2017 at 13:48

      I know now I should have been paying a lot more attention to these things when I was younger. I spent 30 years after I came of voting age mostly just trying to have fun and make a living , with a priority on the former. I know scads of other Boomers who’d tell the same story.

      My perception is that over the last 15 years there’s been an acceleration in the growth of evilness in this country , from a period when the year-to-year change wasn’t even noticeable , to now when it seems like a tsunami is bearing down on us. I think it’s a process sort of like that of lily pads growing across a pond , where a pond can be full of life with a limited cover of pads , but dies if the pads crowd out all the light. If WWII cleared the lily pads ( nasty , evil black ones ) , save for one or two hardy survivors , and the pads doubled once per year , it took ~70 years to one quarter fill the pond – in , say , 2016. Now it’s 2017 , so the pond will be half full , and we don’t have a clue how to stop these damn lily pads before the pond is dead in 2018.

      One thing’s for sure , I’m making up for not paying enough attention when I was younger. Now , I do little else.

  10. mike k
    April 15, 2017 at 12:11

    Where have all the flowers gone?

  11. Susan Sunflower
    April 15, 2017 at 11:50

    The efficacy of “killing for peace” goes unchallenged as does the mythology of the “head of the snake” or “great man” theory that if-only we could kill the leader the movement will fall into disarray and dissipate. After 16 years, very few are left who challenge the “necessity of war” even if this war more resembles some not-very-interesting soap opera visited intermittently when it intrudes into our living rooms, there being “nothing else on.” ‘

    People are more concerned about the cost (tax dollars, priority of expenditures) than the killing, maiming, the turning of cities into wastelands and their populations into refugee camp dwellers and migrants.

    The United States does not even support those who would negotiate … in Syria, in Aghanistan, even Iraq … if they do not put our positions and priorities first and foremost…

    Where are the international bodies and the religious leadership … as drones and targeted assassination are both illegal and immoral … We “abhor” chemical weapons and deploy the MOAB that turns the air to fire and incinerates its victims lungs causing a quick if suffocating and painful death (actual wounds unnecessary). Where has the UN been as Korea threatens a nuclear test and the US threatened preemptive strike?

    A generation has grown up with no vision of an alternative, taught that anti-war and pacifism are appeasement, likely to have eventual deadly consequence and allow that theoretical future threat to control (and grant permission) for silence and escalation.

    • mike k
      April 15, 2017 at 12:10

      Beautiful. We really need more Sunflowers….

  12. Sally Snyder
    April 15, 2017 at 11:45

    Here is an interesting look at the connection between American spending on drone warfare and lobbying:


    The payoff for defense lobbying is massive and is largely why the United States is constantly on a war-footing.

  13. mike k
    April 15, 2017 at 10:24

    Violence corrupts, ultimate violence corrupts ultimately.

  14. mike k
    April 15, 2017 at 10:21

    Give someone with the mentality of a rowdy five year old a box of loaded guns and hand grenades, and what do you think will happen? We are finding out. More to come….

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