Thursday, February 14, 2013

Constitution, waging 'war' and technology.

Can it be argued that government is not bound by consideration of morals and ethics? Aren't the laws of this country and other countries where democracy reigns based upon principles saturated with moral and ethical considerations? Should those laws be skirted and justified by legal obfuscation and disregard for those principles?

The US Constitution provides the explicit statement of the moral and ethical considerations that governs all law and rule making by our government. In the US this extends to all levels of government.

To insure that the guiding principles of the constitution are obeyed, the founders creatively established checks and balances ostensibly to prevent one branch of government from assuming powers not granted in the constitution.

But we the people have a substantial role to play:
"It is up to each generation to see that the integrity of the Constitutional structure for a free society is maintained by carefully preserving the system of checks and balances essential to limited and balanced government. "To preserve them (is) as necessary as to institute them," said George Washington."" [checks and balances].
It is the voting citizens that have a role in maintaining the checks and balances among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. It is we the people who elect the president, representatives, and senators and through that process influence the composition of the judiciary.

But the checks and balances only work if they are applied. And they haven't been in the waging of war since WWII. It is not too difficult to read the Constitution and understand that it is Congress that can declare war and it is the executive branch that implements that declaration.

"Article I, Section 8, Clause 11 of the U.S. Constitution grants Congress the power to declare war. The President, meanwhile, derives the power to direct the military after a Congressional declaration of war from Article II, Section 2, which names the President Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces." [War Powers | LII / Legal Information Institute]. But see how the cart has been placed before the horse fromExecutive military power:
"In the twentieth century several U.S. presidents have committed U.S. armed forces without a declaration of war. In 1903 and 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt took military action in Panama and the Dominican Republic without consulting Congress. President Woodrow Wilson sent troops into Mexico without congressional approval. But, the most serious infractions began in 1951, when President Harry S. Truman ordered troops to Korea as part of a United Nations "police action." This was followed, in the 1960s and 1970s, by the Vietnam War, which Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon prosecuted without a congressional declaration."
In the era immediately post-WWII, it was quite easy to define "war" and so too the battlefield. Even if war wasn't declared for the Korean War or even for the Vietnam War - it was clear that it was war and that war techniques were standard fare. It was sort of 'I know it when I see it."

Congress attempted to take back what was rightfully theirs and theirs alone - power to declare war - by passing the War Powers Act in 1973:
"After the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon Administrations had spent nearly a decade committing U.S. troops to Southeast Asia without Congressional approval, Congress responded by passing the War Powers Resolution in 1973. The War Powers Resolution requires that the President communicate to Congress the committal of troops within 48 hours. Further, the statute requires the President to remove all troops after 60 days if Congress has not granted an extension."
But, they are merely words on a page. The failure to follow the constitutional process for war engagement has lead to a usurpation by the executive branch of congressional power to declare war. The failure of the Congress' 1973 attempted retake of that power has led to the executive branch involving this nation in more hostile actions against sovereign nations and their citizens.

One still has their head where the sun doesn't shine if they believe that the invasion of Iraq had anything to do with weapons of mass destruction. And the long drawn out engagement against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan has had little connection to 9-11. Saudi Arabia has far more connection to 9-11 than either Iraq or Afghanistan.

After 9-11 it is clear that the decision to wage war rests primarily in the executive branch. The government rather than a policy of nothing to fear but fear itself has used terrorism fear to essentially rewrite the constitution watering down civil rights guaranteed under the constitutional. It has also used that fear to bullying its international allies and enemies (if you are not an ally you are an enemy).

Technology once thought to be liberation of the masses has become the tool by which the executive branch defines war and its prosecution. Congress is still in the early 1900s with its view of what constitutes the waging of war and where it can be fought.

But today, combat doesn't require the foreign placement of troops. Tanks are obsolete. Fighter airplanes are unlikely to have any real combat value except to demonstrate useless air superiority. Bomber type airplanes have little value except in the dollar sense. However, it can be argued that the Navy,even downsized, has significant potential because of its ability to reposition itself.

And the age of the Internet has brought enhanced commercial and military communication facilities to the world which the US has smartly recognized and capitalized on to its great military advantage. Much like the ability of the car driver to follow the digital map that accurately leads to the destination, so too the ability of the military to accurately strike individual targets, human too, from great distances.

Long range remote control wars is what constitutes waging war. Tactical nuclear weapons, cruise missiles, and now drones position the 'battlefield' anywhere desired. This battlefield can be as little as the space occupied by a human walking down the street. There is no risk to military personnel 'squeezing the trigger.'

There is no face to face confrontation. Thousand and thousand of miles can separate the combatants. The 'target' has no awareness of his or her impending destruction. Arguably too while facial recognition of the target is a likely technology, it isn't needed to justify the target's destruction. And that destruction can come from those sitting in what might be described as the comforts of playing a video game, except that there is less human emotion involved.

And now it is the executive branch -the president - who defines the enemy combatant. Who is the enemy combatant in many ways smacks of a crusade where "Christians" are battling "Muslims" for the "Holy Land," although the"Holy Land" is far less circumscribed.

Consequently, with terrorism as the base justification for military action, the executive branch has loosely defined the enemy as anyone belonging to Al Qaeda or any of their supporters. There is no 'capture and take prisoners' aspect to this new way of waging war. Certainly the experience of Gitmo has exposed to the world the federal government's inhuman treatment of POWs. It is barbaric.

With the new technology, especially that of drones, there is no need to take prisoners - just execute them on the newly defined battlefield. If that execution happens to destroy adjacent located family and friends . . . .

Can anyone doubt that American tactics act more to spawn more hatred among the nations where their citizens are being destroyed? Like or not, Afghanistan should have provided the lesson plan, and the citizens of the countries invaded from the air (drones) are Muslim and do not necessarily see Al Qaeda as their enemy. And most certainly these countries and their citizens had nothing to do with 9-11.

Of course. it shouldn't go without notice that these extraordinary killings often involve the invasion of another country's sovereignty in violation of international law. The mere fact that the country is incapable of preventing such invasions doesn't make it right. Wasn't that WWII?

How does the the executive branch defend the indefensible? Can its actions be justified with some self-defense and first strike theory? And can the drone killing of American citizens ever be justified?