Judge, Jury, and Executioner: Drone Warfare and the Expansion of American Executive Authority (2001-2020)
Date of Award
Undergraduate Honors Thesis
Bachelor of Arts (BA)
Michitake Aso, Ph.D.
Ryan Irwin, Ph.D.
This paper examines how the United States’ proliferation of unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs), or drones, have allowed the executive branch to concentrate its power to wage the post-9/11 War on Terror. This paper will examine the proliferation of drone warfare during the George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump presidential administrations and how they have expanded executive authority. Although historians have emphasized the moral and legal consequences of drone warfare such as its civilian casualties and potential violations of U.S. and international law, they have paid little attention to its impact on the distribution of power among the three branches of American government. Drones’ contribution to the expansion of executive authority is significant because they have allowed the president to unilaterally act as judge, jury, and executioner. Drawing on legal documents, Justice Department memos, transcripts of congressional hearings, statements made by politicians, the National Security Archive’s digital collection on Anwar al-Awlaki, newspaper articles, and scholarly accounts, this paper will argue that America’s transition to drone warfare has expanded the war powers of the executive branch. When we rethink America's expansion of the targeted killings of suspected terrorists through the use of drones, it encourages us to think about how the War on Terror has given the executive branch the power to wage war almost unchecked. The executive branch as the sole arbiter of targeted killings has spawned problems in the American democratic system of checks and balances, and drones have been an influential tool in allowing this to occur.
Pignataro, Joseph, "Judge, Jury, and Executioner: Drone Warfare and the Expansion of American Executive Authority (2001-2020)" (2021). History Honors Program. 26.