During the Tea Party response to the State of the Union address, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) mentioned the drones issue that has recently been the subject of deserved controversy. In a list of grievances against the Obama Administration, Sen. Paul said, “We will not tolerate secret lists of American citizens who can be killed without trial.”
The reference was a response to a recent memo from the Department Justice outlining the legal case for drone strikes against American citizens. There hasn’t been any attempt from the Obama Administration to sell the program to Americans, though it has certainly made neo-conservatives quite happy.
Sen. Paul, who is a strict constitutionalist, is doing more than talking about the issue, even though his concern over the drones program is being dismissed by some in the media. He wants answers from the Obama Administration. In a recent letter to John Brennan, who is President Obama’s nominee to lead the CIA, Sen. Paul asked a series of questions about the drones program — ranging from the use of drones against both American and non-American targets to the CIA and Posse Comitatus to the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old, American-born son to the issue of privacy.
You can read the letter in full here, but here are some of the questions that Sen. Paul asked Brennan:
- Do you believe that the president has the power to authorize lethal force, such as a drone strike, against a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil? What about the use of lethal force against a non-U.S. person on U.S. soil?
- Do you believe that the prohibition on CIA participation in domestic law enforcement, first established by the National Security Act of 1947, would apply to the use of lethal force, especially lethal force directed at an individual on a targeting list, if a U.S. citizen on a targeting list was found to be operating on U.S. soil? What if the individual on the targeting list was a non-U.S. person but found to be operating on U.S. soil? Do you consider such an operation to be domestic law enforcement, or would it only be subject to the president’s wartime powers?
- Do you believe that the Posse Comitatus Act, or any other prohibition on the use of the military in domestic law enforcement, would prohibit the use of military hardware and/or personnel in pursuing terrorism suspects—especially those on a targeting list—found to be operating on U.S. soil? If not, would you support the use of such assets in pursuit of either U.S. citizen or non-U.S. persons on U.S. soil suspected of terrorist activity?
- One of the criteria outlined by the DOJ white paper as necessary before the use of lethal force would be authorized is that capture must be “infeasible.” Therefore, are there any circumstances under which it might be considered “infeasible” to capture a terrorism suspect operating on U.S. soil? Would it matter if it was deemed infeasible to capture a suspect operating on U.S. soil who is also a U.S. citizen?
- What role did you play in approving the drone strike that led to the death of the underage, U.S. citizen son of Anwar al-Awlaki? Unlike his father, he had not renounced his U.S. citizenship. Was the younger al-Awlaki the intended target of the U.S. drone strike which took his life? Further, do you reject the subsequent claim, apparently originating from anonymous U.S. government sources, that the young man had actually been a “military age male” of 20 years or more of age, something that was later proven false by the release of his birth certificate?
These are important questions and they need to be answered. President Obama has said that his administration has “whole bunch of safeguards” in place dealing with how they “conduct counter-terrorism operations outside of the United States.” He also explained the rules will be different on how they deal with a suspected terrorist inside our nation’s border than outside. Obama gave no other answers. He simply said that his administration would eventually provide “mechanisms to make sure the public understands” the drones program.
Brennan essentially said the same thing during his confirmation hearing. “What we need to do is optimize transparency in these issues but at the same time optimize secrecy and the protection of national security. I don’t think that it’s one or the other,” Brennan told Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR). “It’s trying to optimize both of them. And so what we need to do is explain to the American people what are the thresholds for actions, what are the procedures, the practices, the processes, the approvals, the reviews.”
It seems like the whole argument of the Obama Administration is “trust us.” President Obama even explained that he is “not somebody who believes that the president has the authority to do whatever he wants…just under the guise of counter-terrorism.”
Yet, that’s exactly what his administration is doing. The program is already in place and two Americans have already been denied due process thanks to a drone strike that killed them well over a year ago.
We’re still waiting for answers and an explanation of the so-called “mechanisms” from the Obama Administration, and Sen. Paul is one of the few seeking them — even if it means stalling Brennan’s nomination in the process.