"It is horrible. As a Naval Officer in Vietnam, it is not what I fought for."
That's what Leonard Magazine, a HuffPost reader from Battle Ground, Wash., had to say when we asked our readers their thoughts on a recently leaked Justice Department memo that lays out the legal case for the Obama administration ordering drone strikes on American citizens as part of counterterrorism operations.
On Monday, NBC News published the 16-page memo, which presents the arguments used by the White House legal team to justify the killing of American citizens if those citizens are believed to hold leadership positions in terrorist organizations like al Qaeda and if they cannot be captured alive.
Notably, the Justice Department memo does not stipulate that the targeted Americans have to be engaged in an active plot against the United States.
We asked HuffPost readers how they feel about the memo, focusing especially on a few states -- like Oregon, Iowa, New Mexico and Utah -- whose senators wrote a letter to Obama this week asking that the White House explain in more detail the legal justifications it uses when authorizing drone strikes on Americans abroad.
The question stirred up some strong feelings.
"I voted for Obama and I absolutely do NOT feel safer knowing that the U.S. government can target U.S. citizens based upon evidence that has not been subjected to any form of judicial review," one reader from Utah told us. "We can be certain that it won't stop with 'leadership roles in al-Qaeda.'"
A clear majority of those who wrote back to us said they did not, on balance, feel safer knowing these legal arguments have been put forward to the president. Some readers told us that they did not trust Obama; others said that while they believed the current administration would use its authority wisely, they could foresee a time when a different president might not. At the same time, a substantial number of readers told us that they certainly felt safer knowing the government was doing everything in its power to neutralize threats to the country.
Many of those who wrote back to us expressed dismay over what they saw as an abandonment of bedrock American principles. Leonard Magazine, the Vietnam veteran in Battle Ground, told us:
I can only keep asking how do we justify not obeying the Constitution? Do we not have the rule of law? Certainly we have not abrogated the responsibility to a handful of people to be the accuser, judge and executioner all at the same time. It is not what this country stands for.
It is horrible. As a former Naval Officer in Vietnam, it is not what I fought for.
A number of readers worried about the slippery-slope effect. Said one:
This is government overreach at its worst. To justify killing Americans because the government "thinks" they are engaged in terrorist activities is the road to tyranny. What's next -- people being rounded up because they know the wrong person or the wrong person knows the wrong person?
And Roy Crockett, a reader from Grants Pass, Oregon, pointed out that there seems to be some room for error in the Justice Department's calculations:
This provision must be reversed! As we know, this will lead to opening a "Pandora's Box" of multitude mistakes, errors, tragedies, inaccurate assumptions, etc. Why? Because humans are variable and vulnerable.
Could a reporter honestly write a story based on "assumptions"? That would be gossip, pure and simple. And not in the least professional.
Many readers said they were generally fans of President Obama, but felt squeamish about the whole idea of drone strikes. A reader from Eugene, Oregon wrote:
As a liberal, I am greatly disappointed in the Obama Administration for expanding drone strikes. I am disappointed in their continuance of a policy that requires little evidence of guilt to seek put and kill American citizens. Drones kill indiscriminately, and the civilian death toll is terrible.
Of greater concern is the threat that the power to kill citizens on little evidence will be expanded by administrations to come. We have the opportunity right now to stop this madness. I can only hope that the voices of reason, like that of Sen. [Ron] Wyden, will prevail. [Ed. note: Wyden was among the 11 senators who signed the recent letter asking the White House to disclose further information about how it authorizes drone strikes.]
Another New Mexico reader raised the issue of blowback.
Using drones to kill anyone is criminal, un-evolved, creates enemies, and, in the big picture, is self-destructive. Can our money-controlled government even see the big picture?
And more than a few readers pointed out that the relevant issue isn't whether Obama should be able to authorize these drone strikes, but whether the president should be able to do it.
I have been following this story, and I believe that President Obama needs to clarify a few things legally -- i.e., what exactly does "imminent strikes" mean, and when exactly do "informed, high-level officials" have the power to kill their own citizens? This needs to be done with crystal-clear transparency. A case can be made that we are fighting a different kind of battle with terrorism, but this must be done within a law we can live with even if someone like Dick Cheney were President.
On the other hand, a substantial number of readers told us they supported the use of drone strikes -- and by no means did all of these readers identify as conservatives. A West Coast reader named Frank wrote to say:
The world community is a relatively small tree. If you are going to cause trouble for the rest of us in the tree, you have to leave the tree.
On drone warfare: Just as the machine gun changed the way wars were waged in WWI, so has the drone changed the ways of war in the 21st century. The genie is out of the bottle. Get used to it.
This is a life-long liberal Democrat speaking.
And a reader from Oregon told us:
I'm generally liberally minded and an advocate for human rights. However, in this instance, Americans have to understand that if they associate with known al Qaeda [members], they put themselves at risk. If there is verifiable intelligence -- and verifiable is key, since much of our intelligence is simply hearsay -- I think the military must take the action they deem necessary.
A reader from Las Cruces, New Mexico wrote to say:
When I think about the Iraq disaster in terms of blood, treasure and tragic outcome, i.e. a less stable Iraq dominated by Iran, I believe this policy of targeted termination is warranted.
And an Iowa reader told us:
I have no problem with drones. War is war whether you kill with muskets or drones. Different era, different weapons.
Perhaps there needs to be a little clarification as to the use and stipulations, but I definitely feel safer, and also feel I would rather a drone be used than one of our brave and patriotic men and women.