By Richard Gaines
A detailed description of President Obama's penchant for unilaterally deciding on drone strikes as the administration works its way down a "kill list" of terrorist suspects has been read with concern by the incumbent Democratic congressman from the 6th District, his Republican opponent and the leading candidates in the state's U.S. Senate race.
Congressman John Tierney described himself as having "serious questions" about whether targeted killing and drone use "comports with the relevant international and domestic laws."
Meanwhile, Tierney's opponent, Republican Richard Tisei, said that "no president, of either party, should have a blank check when it comes to the use of American military power."
Tierney and Tisei, as well as Republican Sen. Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren, the leading Democratic challenger to Brown's re-election in November, provided the Times with their reactions to a nearly 7,000-word report in The New York Times. The report described how Obama, over the course of his three-plus years in office, has morphed from a candidate who promised to close the Guantanamo prison facility and end torture into the president who issues death sentences based on risk profiles, weekly debate between White House and various national security officials and unpublished legal memoranda.
Neither Brown, who in 2010 captured the seat vacated by the death in 2009 of Edward M. Kennedy, nor Warren, a Harvard Law School professor, expressed any disagreement with the president's policy of killing terrorist suspects or risks by drone attack, as described in the story that was published Tuesday.
The same story explained that the Obama presidency has effectively reduced the collateral civilian damage by counting all military-age males killed in the strike against the target to be "combatants."
Brown, a lawyer, former municipal official and former state senator who has cast himself as a nonideological unifier, and Warren, a political neophyte and self-proclaimed anti-Wall Street populist, have been locked in a virtual dead heat.
"I am generally supportive of the president taking strong action against terrorists and terrorist organizations," said Tisei, who was a colleague of Brown's in the state Senate and was the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor in 2010. "That said, except in extraordinary circumstances that require split-second decisions, the president should make these decisions only after full intelligence briefings are provided on a bipartisan basis with congressional leaders and Intelligence Committee members.
Tierney, who is locked in a tight race with Tisei according to polls, said "the growing demand for and reliance on unmanned systems has serious implications — legal, political and operational."
"That is why, as chairman of the Oversight Committee on National Security and Foreign Affairs," Tierney said, "I conducted hearings on the rise of unmanned systems and their implications for U.S. national security."
"Publication by the administration of its legal memorandum justifying its use would be important as the issue is examined," Tierney added. "Congress has a responsibility to ascertain the U.S. interpretation of legal standards and how these standards apply to the use of such systems.
"How we do so will set an example for other nations to follow," he added.
Tierney is a Salem attorney. Tisei is a real estate broker from Wakefield.
"Sen. Brown supports aggressive action against terrorists who are actively plotting to kill Americans and U.S. troops abroad," said Marcie Kinzel, Brown's communications director. "In cases where the terrorists are American citizens, as was the case with Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen, the standard should be extremely high and present an imminent threat to American lives."
Warren also stressed the need for vigilance.
"It has now been more than one year since the death of Osama bin Laden, and the president's aggressive operations have eliminated many of Al-Qaeda's senior leadership and weakened its affiliates," she said in her emailed statement. "But the threat of terrorism remains, and we must remain vigilant.
"We must continue our political, military, economic, and diplomatic efforts against Al Qaeda and its affiliates, and we need to continue to support the efforts of our intelligence, law enforcement, homeland security, and military professionals," she added. "As we pursue these operations, we must never forget that upholding the Constitution and our values is not only the right thing to do, but also a source of strength."
A Democratic challenger from Middleton, attorney Marisa DeFranco, is also running for the Democratic nomination, and on Saturday, will be trying to amass 15 percent of the votes of delegates at the state convention in Springfield and force Warren to compete in a September primary. DeFranco did not submit comments about the presidential policy of choosing on drone strike targets.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-238-7000, x3464, or at email@example.com.