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Holder argues Congressional authorization is unnecessary to kill Americans, Executive Branch can do what it wants

President Barack Obama's (D) Attorney General, Eric Holder, dropped a bombshell this week, revealing [PDF] that he did consider it acceptable to kill Americans with drone deathstrikes on U.S. soil, but only under "extraordinary" circumstances.  

I. A Time to Kill?

He says that such plots had never been performed in the homeland to date.  But several Americans have reportedly been killed with drone strikes in the Middle East during the Obama regime was elected into power in 2008.

AG Holder's comments came in response to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Tenn.).   Sen. Paul had promised to stall the nomination of John Brennan to become director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.  Mr. Brennan is a controversial figure who helped mastermind the program of drone deathstrikes and "enhanced interrogation" (torture) programs in the Middle East.

Eric Holder
AG Eric Holder told Sen. Rand Paul that "hypothetically" drone strikes could be used on U.S. soil to kill Americans. [Image Source: AP]

In his letter to Sen. Paul, seeking to clarify when drone strikes would be allowed, AG Holder writes:

The question you posed is.... entirely hypothetical, unlikely to occur, and one we hope no President will ever have to confront.  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 goes on to point to Pearl Harbor and the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001 as examples of the kinds of threats that might require Americans to be ordered killed by the President.

II. Armed and Ready, Flying Over Your Backyard

Since the middle of the last decade, military-grade drones have been flying over U.S. states, ostensibly for use in countering drug trafficking and other forms of crime.  Of late, some of these drones have been reportedly armed.

Reaper drones
Reaper drones are currently being used over U.S. airspace. [Image Source: The Real Revo]

There are currently no formal laws passed by Congress governing whom and be killed and when – if the President's premise that death strikes on Americans does not violate Constitutional due process holds true.  Further, such strikes appear entirely at the discretion of the President, the military, and the national intelligence agencies -- Congress is not in the loop.

That seems rather curious.  The Constitution is unequivocal in that Congress alone has the power to authorize the use of deadly military force.  Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, the foundation of the U.S. government, clearly grants Congress the power:

U.S. Constitution
[Image Source: EL Civics]

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

To raise and support armies, but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years;

To provide and maintain a navy;

To make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces;

To provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions;

However, according to President Obama and his staff's logic, that power has now been transferred to the executive branch, and what's more, it can be used to kill Americans without a trial on U.S. soil.

Obama upset
The Obama administration argues sometimes American citizens may need to be killed without due process, both abroad and at home. [Image Source: Matt Ortega/Flickr]

The Obama adminstration executed a similar privilege overseas at least once -- ordering a drone strike that killed suspected al-Qaeda terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki, who happened to also be a New Mexico-born U.S. citizen.  Other Americans were also killed in other drone strikes, but it is unclear whether those killings were ordered or mere inadvertent attrition.

III. Some Upset About Obama's New Power to Kill Americans

Sen. Paul was not happy with the Obama administration's plan to grant itself the power to kill, and to cut Congress out of the loop.  He comments, "The U.S. attorney general's refusal to rule out the possibility of drone strikes on American citizens and on American soil is more than frightening. It is an affront to the constitutional due process rights of all Americans."

Predator missile
Some in the Senate feel the President shouldn't have the power to order the killings of Americans on U.S. soil. [Image Source: Drone Wars UK]

But some of his colleagues weren't so harsh.  Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) praised the President's decision to hand over memos detailing when drone strikes were allowable.

The Obama administration had previously asked its press secretaries to lie about the existence of the memos, claiming they didn't exist.  In light of the disclosure, the Senators say in a joint statement, "We are pleased that we now have the access that we have long sought and need to conduct the vigilant oversight with which the committee has been charged. We believe that this sets an important precedent for applying our American system of checks and balances to the challenges of 21st century warfare. We look forward to reviewing and discussing these documents in the days ahead."

The Senate now moves on to debate Mr. Brennan's confirmation, following his confirmation by the Senate Intelligence Committee.  There will likely be lively debate from Sen. Paul, et al., during Mr. Brennan's confirmation hearing before the full Senate.

The debate brings to mind the words of George Orwell in an essay on wartime Britain, who wrote, "As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me."

Sources: Sen. Rand Paul [PDF], [Press Release], Sen. Wyden, et al.

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RE: Can Someone Explain?
By JasonMick on 3/6/2013 1:27:40 PM , Rating: 5
I'm not an American, so I'm not that well-versed in US law. Can someone explain exactly what the issue is, as this article makes it sound like some Orwellian Big Brother nightmare! All the talk over Obama's "regime" and killing Americans without a trial sounds like sensationalism to make this sound worse than it is. An American pointing a gun at a cop is likely to get killed without a trial, for example.
Fair enough. Let me explain to you.

In your analogy you pose an imminent threat to the cop and he responds with deadly force.

Note, not once in his explanation did AG Holder make any mention explicitly that imminent danger would be required to justify a drone killing.

That leaves the door open to preemptive assassinations on U.S. soil (read the letter for yourself if you don't believe me).

To modify your analogy, that's like you're sitting in your home, but the cop decides that you're a menace to society and now takes matters into his own hands, busts down your door and sprays you with cold lead, leaving you bleeding and dead.

See the difference?

The CIA has a database called the "disposition matrix", which is thought to control when preemptive assassinations against U.S. born terrorists are authorized. Such strikes are generally preeemptive, and without imminent threat, as in the case of the Yemen killing of Anwar al-Awlaki.

Clearly you see the difference now between self-defense to an imminent danger, and preemptive killings of Americans you think may be planning an attack/part of a terrorist group.

RE: Can Someone Explain?
By Helbore on 3/6/2013 1:51:09 PM , Rating: 2
I can see the difference in what you describe there. That wasn't what I got from the article, though.

Continuing with the analogies, the article read like Holder had said that he didn't rule out the possibility of a cop being allowed to shoot an American citizen in certain extreme circumstances. Obviously, he would be right in such a claim and it happens all the time.

Without reading all the source material (and I shouldn't really have to in order to understand the article), its not clear that we are discussing pre-emptive military assassinations of potential terrorists.I'll explain why;

The article spends time concentrating on who has the authority to use force against the US population. It talks about how the constitution states that congress should have that authority, but Obama's administration is suggesting it belongs to the Executive. If this information is relevant, it makes it sound like congress actually has the right to use military force against US citizens.

If the actual point is about assassinating possible terrorist suspects who are also American citizens, it now sounds like the implication is that congress has the right to give such an order. I would assume it actually doesn't.

Hence the reason this seemed to be more about who has the authority, rather than whether excessive force was being suggested.

As you said;

To modify your analogy, that's like you're sitting in your home, but the cop decides that you're a menace to society and now takes matters into his own hands, busts down your door and sprays you with cold lead, leaving you bleeding and dead.

The article comes across like someone making this claim in response to a politician saying that police should carry guns because they will occasionally have to use them. Most would accept that no-one was suggesting allowing the cops to shoot anyone they didn't like the look of, though.

RE: Can Someone Explain?
By ClownPuncher on 3/6/2013 2:36:01 PM , Rating: 2
The job of police officers is to apprehend and bring criminals to their fair trial by law. A drone strike would be the authorization of execution without trial.

RE: Can Someone Explain?
By ssnova703 on 3/6/2013 2:44:46 PM , Rating: 2
Where does one draw the line?

An American can peacefully cry out, "we need change". Then the next thing you know is their on this matrix and then taken out because they are scene as a potential threat... this is madness.

RE: Can Someone Explain?
By ClownPuncher on 3/6/2013 3:36:28 PM , Rating: 2
Unfortunately, individualism is bullied and rolled over by populists and collectivists the world around. We drew the line at the end of the 18th century, now people willfully ignore it due to "LOL those old wig wearing slave owners".

RE: Can Someone Explain?
By JasonMick on 3/6/2013 2:46:21 PM , Rating: 5
A drone strike would be the authorization of execution without trial.

Judge Dredd:
"I am your judge, jury, jailer, and if necessary, your executioner."

RE: Can Someone Explain?
By ClownPuncher on 3/6/2013 3:38:35 PM , Rating: 2
Yep. It doesn't matter whether you're an armed "combatant" or someone fed up with their government. If you're a citizen of the US, you're afforded the same rights as everyone else until a court can prove otherwise.

RE: Can Someone Explain?
By DT_Reader on 3/6/2013 4:19:54 PM , Rating: 2
Not anymore. If you live within 100 miles of our border (which I and about 175 million of my fellow Americans do) the DHS has stated the 4th Amendment does not apply to you. So far the courts have backed them, or at least haven't stopped them. We have border patrol agents driving around the Olympic peninsula - why? They won't say. Must be to catch those Mexicans swimming across the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

RE: Can Someone Explain?
By ClownPuncher on 3/6/2013 4:22:33 PM , Rating: 2
Can you hit me with a link? I had no idea we had border patrol agents stalking the peninsula.

RE: Can Someone Explain?
By Solandri on 3/6/2013 4:43:40 PM , Rating: 2

Also, it's not 100 miles of the border. It's 100 miles from a port of entry. So in addition to the borders, draw a 100 mile radius around every airport in the U.S. accepting international flights.

RE: Can Someone Explain?
By GulWestfale on 3/6/13, Rating: -1
RE: Can Someone Explain?
By ClownPuncher on 3/6/2013 5:38:40 PM , Rating: 2
What are you on about? I ragged on Bush all the time. That guy was scum. I'm not a dirty Conservative, I'm a shiny and glorious Libertarian!

In other news, you're a bit of a jerk.

RE: Can Someone Explain?
By Reclaimer77 on 3/6/2013 5:47:04 PM , Rating: 2
It doesn't matter clown. 5 years later "Bush" is still the go-to rebuke of any criticism of Obama. Either these people are THAT full of hate for the man still, or it's a pathetic defensive diversion.

RE: Can Someone Explain?
By ClownPuncher on 3/6/2013 5:52:24 PM , Rating: 2
There is definitely a trend of avoiding the issue at hand by saying "But the last guy did it too!".

These progressives are just going to have to face the fact that Obama and his crew suck.

RE: Can Someone Explain?
By KCjoker on 3/6/2013 6:39:55 PM , Rating: 2
1 Ok, so long as they go for Chris Matthews first since he's far worse.

2 If you're talking about the Patriot Act Obama voted FOR it when he was a Senator at the time. More importantly as the President he RENEWED it.

3 Nobody complained because he WAS a terrorist.

Bottom line bush sucked as our President and unbelievably obama is worse.

RE: Can Someone Explain?
By Reclaimer77 on 3/6/2013 7:36:45 PM , Rating: 2
Believe it or not Chris Matthews isn't even the worst anymore. Piers Morgan is absolutely the biggest douchebag in all of media.

Agree with your other points as well.

RE: Can Someone Explain?
By MadMan007 on 3/7/2013 6:56:16 AM , Rating: 2
To put it another way...

"Guy I disagree with is worse than the guy you disagree with."

RE: Can Someone Explain?
By thurston2 on 3/7/2013 9:42:45 PM , Rating: 2
One thing you are missing is that the article is supposed to be sensationalist to draw more views. Dailytech posts sensationalist articles that pander to a group of right-wingers that like to frequent the site posting all day about how much Obama and the left suck.

RE: Can Someone Explain?
By Samus on 3/6/2013 5:47:16 PM , Rating: 2
Oh Jason, you would have made a great Journalist for Fox News.

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