If Palin Lived in Pakistan, Could She Face a Drone Strike?

Suppose that Sarah Palin lived in Pakistan. Suppose that Jared
Loughner, the alleged killer of federal Judge John Roll and Rep.
Gabrielle Giffords' staffer Gabe Zimmerman, had once traveled to
Pakistan. Suppose that a "credible source" told a U.S. intelligence
official that Loughner, while he was in Pakistan, had met with Sarah
Palin. And suppose that Sarah Palin had published a map showing
Gabrielle Giffords' congressional district under the cross hairs of a
gun sight (of course, as the world
- including, presumably, people in Pakistan - this last
statement is not a supposition, but an established

Under his constitutional authority as Commander-In-Chief, under the
authority granted by the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military
Force, under any other provision of U.S. law, could the President of
the United States order a drone strike on Sarah Palin's house?

This is exactly the sort of hypothetical question that courts consider
all the time in judging whether government actions are legal and
constitutional. If the government has the legal authority to do X,
does it also have the legal authority to do similar thing Y? If not,
why are the two situations legally different? We claim, in the United
States, that we live according to the rule of law. A fundamental
premise of the rule of law is that you cannot have one law for Fred on
Monday and another law for Suzie on Tuesday. If you have one law for
Fred and another for Suzie, then you have laws, but you do not have
the rule of law.

But despite the efforts of the American Civil Liberties Union and the
Center for Constitutional Rights, this particular question has never
been tested in a U.S. court. The lawsuit the ACLU and CCR brought
seeking to force the government to establish legal standards for
assassination by drone strikes was dismissed
last month
on other grounds without testing the merits of the
underlying argument.

CCR wrote
at the time

Judge Bates asked but did not answer the troubling
question, "How is it that judicial approval is required when the
United States decides to target a U.S. citizen overseas for electronic
surveillance, but that, according to defendants [that is, according to
the US government - RN], judicial scrutiny is prohibited when the
United States decides to target a U.S. citizen overseas for

This question is highly relevant to U.S. policy in Pakistan today.
Because, according to Bob Woodward's book Obama's Wars, there
is a plan
in place
for massive U.S. retaliation in Pakistan for a terrorist
attack in the United States that can be "traced to Pakistan." And the
threshold for "traced to Pakistan" will be determined by the President
and his advisors, without any outside legal scrutiny; and the target
list for retaliation has been determined in advance by the President
and his advisors, without any outside legal scrutiny.

If last Saturday's terrorist attack in Arizona had been "traced to
Pakistan," and the President were now poised to execute the plan for
massive retaliation, how confident could we be that every person on
the U.S. target list - not to mention every other human being who
might be killed or wounded in such a retaliation - would bear a
stronger connection to the attack than the chain of causation that now
links Sarah Palin to the terrorist attack in Arizona, especially given
that the target list for retaliation in Pakistan has been drawn up in
advance of the event for which the retaliation will be carried out?

Neither the public, nor any court, have been given evidence to
establish such confidence. And if we are not confident, you can bet
your bottom dollar that millions of Pakistanis and others around the
world will not be confident that the chain of evidence that links
people on the U.S. target list in Pakistan to any future terrorist
provocation will be stronger than the chain that links Sarah Palin to
the terrorist attack in Arizona.

Imagine the reaction in Pakistani and world media to such a massive
retaliation. Isn't it likely that many editorials denouncing such
retaliation would mention Sarah Palin, and accuse the U.S. of having a
double standard on incitement of terror? "The U.S. policy on
incitement is, 'If you're white, you're all right,'" the editorialists
are likely to charge.

Isn't the perception of a double standard creating a major liability
for U.S. foreign policy?

Isn't it long past time for us to bring our efforts against terrorism
within the four corners of U.S. and international law?

Isn't it long past time for us to establish one set of legal standards
that apply universally to our efforts against terrorism, regardless of
whether the terrorists or those who incite them are white or black,
Christian, Muslim, or Jewish, domestic or foreign?

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.