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Opinions mixed on strikes against Americans abroad linked to terrorism

February 07, 2013|By CALEB CALHOUN | caleb.calhoun@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN — John Dreisch said that he would have no problem with President Obama using drone strikes on suspected al-Qaida terrorists if only the United States would declare war on the organization.

“Without it, where do they get the authority to convict an individual without due process?” said Dreisch, 74, of Fayetteville, Pa.

A U.S. Department of Justice document that was leaked Monday concluded that the Federal Government can legally kill U.S. citizens abroad without evidence that they are involved in an active plot to attack the U.S. if they are believed to be “senior operational leaders” in al-Qaida or “an associated force,” according to published reports.

The memo details the legality behind the administration’s use of drone strikes against al-Qaida suspects abroad, including American citizens, which may be conducted if the suspect is an imminent threat, capturing the target is not feasible and the strike is consistent with “law of war principles.”

Dreisch said that if the country declares war, whether or not the victims were American citizens would not matter because “if an American citizen becomes a traitor and fights against his own country, he loses his rights as a citizen.”

Dick Shoemaker, 65, of Hagerstown, said that it should not make any difference whether they were American citizens but expressed his opposition to the policy unless the people targeted are confirmed terrorists.

“Everybody is entitled to a trial, but if they’re a known terrorist, maybe it’s OK,” he said. “We’ve got American citizens that are still terrorists.”

Lorraine Halpin, of Hagerstown, said that as long as the administration is sure that the target was involved with al-Qaida, she has no problem with the use of drone strikes.

“I think war is war,” she said. “Al-Qaida has done a lot of damage to us, so we need to break them up as much as possible.”

University of Maryland School of Law Associate Dean and Professor Mark Graber, in a phone conversation Thursday, discussed the constitutional arguments both sides are making.

Graber, who specializes in constitutional law, said the administration will cite war powers granted to the president in Article II of the Constitution to make the attacks.

“The president will say that these people are unlawful combatants and enemies, so just as when the president orders the Army to launch an attack, he has the right to order these attacks,” he said. “The other side will say that there has been no official declaration of war, and Congress has not authorized the president to commit these actions, therefore, he’s doing it illegally.”

Graber said opponents of such actions will claim the president has no legal proof that the suspected terrorists are imminent threats while the president will say that in modern warfare he needs to act if he has reasonable evidence.

James Griffin, of Waynesboro, Pa., said he is a strong supporter of President Obama but rejected the notion that being at war with al-Qaida should make any difference in the use of drone strikes.

“It’s not like a state declaring war against us,” Griffin, 66, said. “They are our enemy, but if we go too far using their tactics we’re becoming like them.”

Graber said that he believes the administration will claim that because al-Qaida declared war on the U.S., their operatives have “no rights to certain procedures” by getting involved with them.

Charlotte Eichelberger, 84, of Hagerstown said that everybody who is suspected of terrorism should receive a trial unless capturing them is not feasible and there is overwhelming evidence that they are an imminent threat.

“Everybody deserves a chance, but if you know that they are a terrorist, then it’s better to kill them than have them kill you,” she said.

Randy Harbaugh said that everybody deserves a trial, though, regardless of the circumstances.

“The government seems to do a lot of just what they want to do,” said Harbaugh, 48, of Hagerstown. “[Suspected terrorists] should have the chance to be captured and arrested instead of just killed.”

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