REVEALED: HOLDER SAYS PRESIDENT COULD AUTHORIZE MILITARY DRONE STRIKES INSIDE U.S.
March 5, 2013
This morning, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) told Glenn Beck’s radio team that he had some new information about the U.S. government’s drone program — information that some individuals might find troubling. Later in the day, TheBlaze obtained letters that were sent to the senator by Attorney General Eric Holder and President Barack Obama’s chief counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan.
It is select contents in Holder’s letter that citizens and political experts, alike, might find most problematic. After Paul sent an inquiry to learn more about the government’s drone program and to ask whether “the President has the power to authorize lethal force, such as a drone strike, against a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil, and without trial,” he received a response that is sure to be scrutinized.
The senator’s inquiry was certainly specific, however the government’s response was not so concise — or at least not pointed enough to put critics like Paul at ease.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., testifies before a state legislative committee on the legalization of growing hemp at the Capitol Annex in Frankfort, Ky., Monday, Feb. 11, 2013. Credit: AP
In a response dated March 4, 2013, Holder wrote that the U.S. government “has not carried out drone strikes in the United States and has no intention of doing so.” The attorney general went on to note that federal officials believe that in areas where there is “well-established law enforcement,” these officials serve as the preferred mode of handling terrorist threats; military options inside U.S. borders are, thus, “rejected.”
“We have a long history of using the criminal justice system to incapacitate individuals located in our country who pose a threat to the United States and its interests abroad,” the letter reads. “Hundreds of individuals have been arrested and convicted of terrorism-related offenses in our federal courts.”
While this would likely set at ease anyone worried about the potential use of drones on U.S. land, Holder doesn’t conclude there. It is the next section of the letter that is the most contentious, as it leaves the door open for potential action in the event of large-scale terror attacks or other monumental disturbances.
“The question you have posed is therefore entirely hypothetical, unlikely to occur, and one we hope no President will ever have to confront,” the letter continues. “It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States.”
Holder said that the president could be faced with such a situation (“to authorize the military to use such force”) if the need to protect the nation arose during an attack similar to Pearl Harbor or 9/11.
“Were such an emergency to arise, I would examine the particular facts and circumstances before advising the President on the scope of his authority,” he concludes.
View the document, below:
In a separate letter dated March 5, 2013, Brennan responded to Paul’s request for the same information, taking a more conclusive stance — one that affirmed that the CIA would not have the power to conduct attacks on American soil.
In his note, Brennan wrote that the Justice Department would respond to legal questions surrounding the president’s authority, but he made it clear that the agency he has been nominated to lead does not have the authority to conduct these drone attacks (the Senate Intelligence Committee voted this afternoon to approve Brennan’s nomination).
“I can, however, state unequivocally that the agency I have been nominated to lead, the CIA, does not conduct lethal operations inside the United States — not does it have any authority to do so,” he wrote. “Thus, if I am fortunate enough to be confirmed as CIA Director, I would have no ‘power’ to authorize such operations.”
Read Brennan’s letter to Paul in its entirety, below:
In the past, Brennan has been a staunch defender of drone strikes, as highlighted earlier today by TheBlaze. While he noted that they are used only as a “last resort,” he also said during his confirmation hearing that he had no qualms with the administration’s decision to use the tactic against U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan. Both of these men, killed in Yemen in Sept. 2011, were U.S. citizens.
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March 6, 2013
From the Dirksen Senate Office Building where the Judiciary Committee is holding a Department of Justice oversight hearing with Attorney General Eric Holder: A major story coming into this hearing is Senator Rand Paul’s (R-KY) epistolary exchange with Holder regarding the government’s possible legal authority to target U.S. citizens on U.S. soil with military force, without trial. Other key issues include the proposed assault weapons ban, which goes to markup in the Judiciary Committee tomorrow morning, prevention of financial fraud, the fines against BP related to the Gulf oil spill, and the effects of the sequester on the Department of Justice’s various activities.
Holder’s opening statement touched on these issues, dwelling on the administration’s call for an assault weapons ban and other expanded gun regulations, including limits on armor-piercing ammunition. However, there was one exception. Holder’s statement included minimal, general discussion of national security issues. No references were made to targeted killings or the legal justifications for drone warfare.
After talking around Chairman Leahy’s (D-VT) question on the matter — “Can you agree there is no scenario in which it would be appropriate for the government to use an armed drone on U.S. soil to strike at an American citizen target citizens on U.S. soil?” — and seeming to shake his head to indicate his endorsement of Senator Feinstein’s (D-CA) assertion that she did not think that such a strike would be legal, he was driven to give a simple, one-word answer by Texas Senator Ted Cruz (R).
Cruz asked whether a strike on an American citizen with known involvement in terrorist plots against the United States sitting in a cafe and not posing an imminent threat to any U.S. citizen would be constitutional on American soil, as apparently it is overseas. Holder demurred, indicating that the use of deadly force, but after the two went back and forth a couple of times, Cruz lost his patience and explained, “My question isn’t about propriety: Do you think it’s constitutional?” Holder dodged again, and Cruz responded that he would simply move on, but Holder interjected, “I thought I was saying no — no.” Feinstein nodded her head and Holder looked over, seeming to acknowledge their earlier exchange.
Without ruling out further developments, it would appear that the Attorney General of United States of America has indicated that the federal government lacks constitutional authority to target an American citizen with deadly force on American soil without trial.