Steven Spielberg’s futuristic Minority Report explores the benefits and in the end, the fallacy, of systems that predict future crimes in order to prevent them. In the 2002 movie, a Pre-Crime Bureau utilizes the powers of the 3 humanoid Pre-Cogs to read the thoughts of those preparing to commit murder or other violent offenses. Their predictive powers work pretty well, and Pre-Crime is wildly popular with the public. The general populace happily forgoes any privacy concerns in exchange for physical security. In the end, the hero (Tom Cruise) is targeted by a power hungry bureaucrat who exploits a flaw in the system to masks his own guilt by shifting the blame for a murder onto Cruise. The lesson is learned. Pre-Crime isn’t foolproof after all. When humans design systems, there are always vulnerabilities.
Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that his perfect Pre-Crime task force sees no legal issue with terminating suspected terrorists who may commit a crime in the future. The Obama administration has ramped up the Predator drone program in the hills of Afghanistan and Pakistan over the last 3 years with great operational success (except for that one rogue drone on involuntary loan to Iran). The program’s increasingly deadly success has caused some bleeding hearts obsessed with “justice” and “collateral damage” to question the legal underpinnings of assassinating people, including U.S. citizens, based solely on reasonable and classified suspicion. Last week, Holder performed his best kabuki dance for the public.
He borrowed a page from the standard issue GOP presidential candidate playbook, and pretended that the Constitution was clear, and open to a single interpretation - his. The Founding Fathers acquiesced to the killing of U.S. citizens abroad under the “we can do whatever the hell we want – we’re Exceptional” clause. It’s right there in black and white.
George W. Bush started this program and first debuted the legal dance moves that gave Holder some cover. The Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive war was the Pre-Crime philosophy on a global scale, and it was brilliantly marketed to a public taught to fear a “giant mushroom cloud” in the imminent future.
While the rationale behind Pre-Crime may be bipartisan, it was Obama who campaigned to end this nonsense. Instead, he has escalated it and instructed his AG to continue the pretzel logic.
The liberal silence is deafening. Had the Attorney General for George Bush stood at a podium and explained that placing terror suspects on a so-called kill list is subject to “robust oversight” but should not and need not involve the courts, the Left would be apoplectic. They might even invoke Hitler.
The secrecy behind the proceedings that precede an attack or assassination decision should give anyone committed to “robust oversight” some pause. Holder has not revealed who participates in the process for approving the use of deadly force. He has not disclosed the role of the CIA in running drone operations. He has not said whether Congress would be notified in advance prior to an effort to kill an American.
Today, Holder’s defense of the administration’s policy is a Page 4 story, below the fold. Why? Let’s look beyond the Right wing knee jerk “It’s the Elite Media” excuse.
There is no denying that victory in November 2012 is paramount to liberals and victory takes priority over the lives of some folks in a faraway place who, let’s face it, even if not guilty are probably bad actors anyway. No sense in weakening the fall prospects of Obama over a few dead people that will never make the 6 PM news. We need to protect the Affordable Care Act, they rationalize.
The outcry is only a whimper in the public square because the Wild Terrorism Fears strategy (the WTF strategy) of the last 10 years has worked. Even since 9/11, we’ve been told that we are in danger through color coded alerts, tales of exploding underwear, and protests over suspicious mosques in suburban neighborhoods. Remember when shoes were going to be telephones, a la Maxwell Smart? Now shoes are weapons of mass destruction, and we all don slip on footwear for air travel.
Part of the silence and its unspoken assent from the public for killing without accountability comes from legitimate fears. I am sure that I am not the only American a little more skittish after September 11th. It did happen, and it shook us to our core. “Never Again” is not just a slogan to us on the East Coast. It’s a solemn vow, moral high ground be damned.
The most compelling reason for the lack of protest over the use of drones to kill those suspected of committing murder in the future is desensitization. Our kids see autopsies being conducted on prime time shows every day. If we stop them from watching the program, they see the corpses in a commercial preview. If we turn off the TV, they can play Modern Warfare III online with their friends, and kill from their keyboard while drinking Mountain Dew and piping in Black Sabbath for atmosphere. Killing in the abstract is a learned skill in our culture.
Layered on top of our desensitization to military mayhem is the safe distance provided to us from the results of our government’s actions. The drones are unmanned, so none of our troops in directly in harm’s way. The attacks occur on the other side of the planet, and we never see the result of the attacks up close in 1080i HD on TV. We read about assassinations, we read that the victims were U.S. citizens, but we believe implicitly that the government must have known something we don’t know. They could tell us, but then they’d have to kill us.
Post 9/11, we have certainly ramped up our trust in the military and national security branches of government while simultaneously ramping up our distrust of every other part of government. Given U.S. history, I think it is fair to aggressively question these kinds of programs that operate under dubious authority and under the cover of secrecy.
Then again, maybe we really don’t want to know.