The soul of the United States of America is our freedoms and liberties, and our soul is now under attack by our own government. I understand that the pressure on any president to keep us safe during his watch must be crushing. So for that reason, I don't get upset with a president who attempts to increase his power to keep us secure, frequently at the cost of our precious civil liberties and freedoms. Instead I get upset with Congress and the courts for allowing this to happen.
One of the examples of this attack on our freedoms is the increasing use by our government of drones or unmanned airplanes in the skies over our country to surveil our people. In fact, the Saturday before the Republican National Convention in Tampa, the local newspaper contained a front-page story saying that the Obama administration had announced that it would not fly drones over that city during the convention.
In other words, it is safe to assume that this has become a standard practice, which is another large step toward us becoming a police state. Yes, if someone is in public that implies that person's consent to be seen and even to be surveilled, but to have this done on a programmed and regular basis by the government is simply inconsistent with our freedoms of travel and association. As such, no one should be surveilled by a drone without a judicial warrant.
Similarly, for several years, our government has been increasing the use of drones in the skies of Afghanistan, Yemen and Pakistan to shoot at and kill "enemy combatants," even including American citizens. There is certainly a strong argument that, since there is no indictment against them, much less a trial and jury, we are depriving those citizens of their lives without the due process of law under the Fifth Amendment.
Regardless of how our actions are affecting our citizens, let's also conduct a practical analysis of the effects our actions have had worldwide. The estimates are that our drone-strike assassinations have already killed more than 2,000 people in those three countries.
Without a doubt, some of those killed were at least planning in some fashion to attack America and Americans. But many were also people who simply happened to be close by. Our government refers to those deaths as "collateral damage."
Please stop for a moment and try to identify with the people in one of those countries. How would you feel if someone you held dear were to be killed while driving home on a local road by a missile fired from a Pakistani airplane? Most people would rightfully feel a blinding rage – I know I would.
Of course, rage frequently transfers into action against its source, which in this case is Americans. Thus, we are probably recruiting far more people actively to fight against us than we are actually killing. So from a practical standpoint, what we are doing is counterproductive, and even stupid!
The Obama administration argues that this use of drones to kill what it calls "enemy combatants" is authorized by the "Use of Military Force Act," which was passed by the Congress right after 9/11. This is the same act that has been used to justify using torture against some people in our custody. This act of Congress should be repealed as fundamentally inconsistent with American values.
Ronald Reagan once said that "Freedom is never more than one generation from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children's children what it was once like in the United States when men were free."
A large majority of people around the world still love America and Americans, although many of them are not particularly wild about our government. What causes that love? Once again, it is our freedoms and liberties. But most people who have chosen to come to America and become citizens here have become deeply concerned about our loss of liberties, because they have seen in their former countries how governments act when liberties are not protected.
It is beyond time for those of us who were so fortunate to have been born in this country to wake up to this clear and present danger, heed the warning of President Reagan, and rally to safeguard our freedoms. The temporary security we might obtain through our loss of freedoms is simply not worth the cost.
JAMES P. GRAY is a retired Orange County Superior Court judge. He lives in Newport Beach.