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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: OK, now this is too far.
By RufusM on 3/6/2013 2:16:52 PM , Rating: 2
Yes, the definition of "extraordinary circumstance" has a lot of leeway with no real fences around it.

Does that mean they can only strike a citizen who has a WMD and is threatening to detonate it?

Does it mean they can strike a citizen who may be on the run from the government, whom they deem is an imminent threat?

Does it mean they can strike a citizen who has verbally threatened the government but hasn't taken any real action?

In all cases it leaves the definition as to what an extraordinary circumstance is to those that order the strikes. The definition can be made up as they go.


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