That buzz above your head


I wrote on May 22 that Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell should be praised, not excoriated, for signing legislation opting Virginia out of supporting the most noxious elements of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). My post received some criticism from fellow conservatives — most notably because they claimed the Supreme Court case Hamdi v. Rumsfeld grants the administration power to treat the United States like the battlefield.

Perhaps McDonnell has been browbeaten into changing his tune? Here’s WTOP, a local Beltway media outlet, reporting on recent comments from McDonnell on the use of drones in law enforcement:

Police drones flying over Virginia would be “great” and “the right thing to do” for the same reasons they are so effective in a battlefield environment, the state’s chief executive said Tuesday.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, says he is open to any technology that makes law enforcement more productive. The use of drones, which was recently endorsed by the police chiefs of Fairfax County and D.C., would make better use of valuable police resources.

Increased safety and reduced manpower are among the reasons the U.S. military and intelligence community use drones on the battlefield, which is why it should be considered in Virginia, he says.

(Emphasis mine.)

Steven Taylor at Outside the Beltway is less than thrilled by this news. He takes great pains to emphasize the distinctions between law enforcement and the battlefield, saying: “On the battlefield the goal is the break the enemy by use of overwhelming violence and often the innocents die in the process. [L]aw enforcement is about maintaining public order by apprehending persons suspected of crimes and holding them so that their guilt of innocence can be determined in a court of law.”

Smart people can disagree. But drones monitoring U.S. citizens seems to be the natural extension of a philosophy which believes the War on Terror has made the entire planet a war zone. That attitude is frequently stated with confidence in Washington, DC, but it’s hardly the unanimous consensus. Here’s Justices Scalia‘s dissent to Hamdi v Rumsfeld, arguing that when the administration wishes to ignore basic rights, the president must either utilize the Suspension Clause, or treat American citizens with the liberties to which they are entitled:

Where the Government accuses a citizen of waging war against it, our constitutional tradition has been to prosecute him in federal court for treason or some other crime. Where the exigencies of war prevent that, the Constitution’s Suspension Clause, Art. I, §9, cl. 2, allows Congress to relax the usual protections temporarily. Absent suspension, however, the Executive’s assertion of military exigency has not been thought sufficient to permit detention without charge. No one contends that the congressional Authorization for Use of Military Force, on which the Government relies to justify its actions here, is an implementation of the Suspension Clause. Accordingly, I would reverse the decision below.

There might not be a clear leap from indefinite detention to drones — or for that matter, the black helicopters fringe militia groups used to fear — but as politicians redefine the basic rights of American citizens, such stories are sure to continue. Conservatives are wary of government power. That shouldn’t cease simply because they’re told by their leaders to play along.

Clearly, this is a debate that’s not going away any time soon. In the mean time, don’t mind the buzzing above your head.

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