Are drones legal or illegal? Right or wrong?

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The few times I’ve thought about the drone issue, I realized I wasn’t terribly upset by the idea of drones assassinating terrorists. It all seemed so far away. They’re the bad guys; if we don’t get them, they’ll try to get us.

If I had to pick the targets, that might be troubling. But the president and other military leaders were doing the job for me, so why get upset if, occasionally, an innocent person got killed? Don’t civilians die in war all the time?

But the more I learn about our drone force, the more questions arise. It isn’t as benign a program as it seems.

For one thing, drones are used domestically as well — not to kill people, of course, but to gather information. That information can be helpful in observing climate change or instrumental in finding marijuana grow houses, or tracking suspected drug terrorists. But clandestine surveillance threatens our civil rights. I spoke to a defense lawyer who said that when the Patriot Act was enacted, the idea was to get information about terrorists, but then the surveillance expanded to businesses and groups who might be financing Al Qaeda. The key word is “might.”

Do we really want drones overhead, recording the details of where we go and when and why? Where is the guarantee that the data discovered won’t wind up in the wrong hands? Where is the guarantee of privacy in our lives?

According to an NBC report, the administration makes a legal justification for the extrajudicial killings of Americans outside the U.S. In short, the administration claims it is “a lawful act of national defense” to kill Americans who pose “an imminent threat of a violent attack against the United States.” Of course, the killing of foreign terrorists is considered completely justified.

But some legal experts, military scholars included, suggest that the administration’s analysis is legally flawed. Some civil rights groups compare the argument to the memo written by the George W. Bush administration that provided the legal justification for torture.
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