Tag Archives: President Barack Obama

An Executive Order or New Legislation?

AP News

AP News

For months President Obama warned Congress that it had to take steps to “fix the nation’s broken immigration system.” He never said specifically what he wanted Congress to do, besides to pass a bill. Whenever the opportunity presented itself the President publicly declared his intention to fix the problem on his own if the Congress failed to act. He never shied away from mentioning that he was ready to use an executive order to deal, what he claimed, were serious defects in the nation’s immigration laws and policy. He reminded his detractors that he had already used his powers to help the “Dreamers.” The defeats suffered by Democrats in the mid-term elections served as a signal to the President that his time to act had come.

The President informed the press that he would address the nation during prime time to announce his action on immigration. Always looking for free political publicity the President hoped that the big three television networks would have carried his speech but they all declined the invitation. The networks did not want to in be interrupted their scheduled shows. Regardless, the President’s show went on. President Obama announced that he would sign an order that would allow about 5 million undocumented aliens who were parents of children born in the United State or were parents of dreamers to avoid deportation and be eligible for work permits. His executive order remains in effect for only three years. You can listen to the entire address here.

Leading up to the speech the White House and some immigration advocates leaked details of the President’s contemplated executive order. Consequently, even before the President’s appearance on T.V. Democrats and Republicans had already begun arguing over the legality of the President’s order and it political ramifications. Some legal commentators have gone so far as to suggest that centuries of expanding presidential power coupled with congressional ineptitude has resulted in change in the balance of power. It seems that by either habit or default the Executive Branch has become more powerful than the Founding Fathers could have imagined.

Did President Obama overstep his legal authority in issuing his immigration executive order? I think he did. It is imperative that Congress act to restore the balance between the branches of government if America is going continue to have a healthy  democracy.

The constitution does not contain any specific clause on the issuance of executive orders. Regardless of the specific absence of any constitutional language it is universally agreed that a president may issue executive orders to help officers and agencies of the Executive Branch manage their operations. Over the years Presidents have increased their usage of executive orders and expanded their reach. I think that this increase corresponds to the growing complexity of American society. These orders almost always related to the enforcement of an existing law. President Obama in the issuance of his executive order reasoned that he had the power not to enforce the laws of the land and to fundamentally alter existing law. Some constitutional experts argue that President Obama enacted new law under the guise of an executive order. I agree with these experts’ point of view.

We should not forget that when the President Obama was running for office he stated that a president should not invent powers that the he did not have. He campaigned on platform that criticized then President George Bush’s use of executive orders. The then candidate Obama believed that the office of the president should respect Congress’ purview. He was a true champion of the doctrine of separation of powers. He even rejected early calls to use his executive powers to bring about changes in the immigration laws. Was all of this just political double talk that should be excused? It has to be noted when issuing his recent executive order on immigration President Obama abandoned all pretense that he was ardent supporter of the separation of powers. He did not even try to hide the fact that he had done his best to bypass congress. It is this clear hypocrisy that has caused so much political consternation over the President’s initiative.

Two days before the President officially announced his executive order his right to issue the contemplated order was vigorously debated in the New York Times, Opinion Pages, under the Room to Debate Section. Six well know legal scholars split on the question of the President’s legal authority issue the order. The legal debate was spirited and supported by recognized legal authority. Each expert had their own particular legal reason for advocating their point of view.

Drone Attacks Will Continue With Less U.S. Public Comment

AP File Picture

AP File Picture

The U.S. military’s and CIA’s increase use of Unarmed Aerial Vehicles, commonly called “drones,” has been at the center of a growing contentious public debate. In order to intelligently weigh in on the discussion one must have a rudimentary understanding of drone technology, the different classes of drones in the U.S. inventory and their military or political uses. We can ignore the fact that drones are often used to make a political statement.

In their most basic configuration drones are remotely controlled aerial surveillance platforms. They are normally equipment with high-resolution cameras and other detection and imagining equipment. As a tool for covert or secretive surveillance the drones are the top in their class. For engaging specific individuals and small hardened targets the drones can be armed with a variety of weapons. Drones are remotely flown to their areas of operations by a pilot-controller who might be located hundreds or even thousands of miles away. Often a ground controller (intelligence officer) is on the ground in the area of operation providing real-time intelligence. Some times the person on the ground paints the target with a laser designator. It is not unusually for more than one drone to be assigned to the same area of operation. In the war on terror drones are used to find valuable targets of opportunity and either directly engage them or pass the engagement off to other assets.

In the last ten years drone technology has leaped forward. The public is most familiar with the Predator (w/o hellfire missiles) and the Reaper Hunter drones. Depending on their configuration these drones can fly over 40, 000 feet and loiter over an area for hours without being detected. Because they are propeller driven they produce no vapor trail or detectable heat signature. They are extremely cost-effective to use in comparison to  manned vehicles. The drones can easily be deployed to any staging area and withdrawn on a moments notice. The cost to manufacture a drone is a faction of the price to produce a manned aircraft. Most importantly the drones are flown remotely with the pilot(s) seating safely out of the theatre of operation. If the drone is lost due to mechanical failure or a hostile act, no American pilot will be killed or capture.

What makes drones so effective in fighting the war on terror is also its Achilles Heel in a more robust military environment. The drones are easy targets for radar guided surface to air missiles. The slow prodding drones make easy targets for even antiquated propeller driven fighter plans.

Drones are piloted via a scrambled and encrypted satellite link. Anything or person that interferes with the signal adversely effects a drone’s performance. It is theoretically possible for a drone to be hijacked by the very same forces that are within its crosshairs. Unlike the flying terminator machines in “Salvation Terminator” America’s drones are not self-aware and controlled by their own artificial intelligence. U.S. drones are told what to do and can, only to a very limited extend, act on their own.

It should be obvious why America successfully uses drones over Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan. In the areas of operation in (over) these countries America is unchallenged in the air. When the drones fly around unchallenged they make highly effective and efficient  killing machines.

Human rights groups object to America’s use of drones to target individuals. Amnesty International, the London Based human rights advocacy group, believes that America’s use of drones in this way is tantamount to extrajudicial executions, and thus illegal and immoral. I tend to agree that in general the act of using a drone to target and kill an individual is illegal. Yet, I do not believe that it is immoral or violates the target’s “human rights.”

Are the U.S. drone attacks legal under international law? The legality of the strikes would depend on a number of factors which need not be addressed in any detail for purposes of this post. The governments of Somalia, Yemen and Afghanistan have consented to the U.S.’s operating drones within their airspace and to the targeting of high-value individuals. Also, the U.S. is involved in armed conflict in Afghanistan. I believe that the use of drones in these countries would be legal under both local and international law. Besides, the human target rarely if ever has a proper forum where he or his family can seek redress for a U.S. drone strike.