Eric Holder: The President Can Conduct Drone Strikes Inside the U.S.


The Justice Department has already laid out a questionable legal case asserting that a president can use drone strikes to take out anyone merely accused of being a terrorist. For the last several weeks, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has been seeking answers from the White House about the program, including whether or not the a president can use drones inside the United States’ borders to kill an American citizen.

When asked about the drones program during a Google+ Hangout, Obama deflected, merely stating that “[t]here has never been a drone used on an American citizen, on American soil.” He also explained that the rules for the program abroad would be different than inside the United States. Of course, he never explained that those rules were. He simply said he’d work with Congress to provide “mechanisms to make sure the public understands.”

After wrangling with the White House and threatening to hold up John Brennan confirmation as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Sen. Paul finally got an answer, and it confirms the worst.

“As members of this administration have previously indicated, the US government has not carried out drone strikes in the United States and has no intention of doing so,” wrote Attorney General Eric Holder in a letter to Sen. Paul. “As a policy matter moreover, we reject the use of military force where well-established law enforcement authorities in this country provide the best means for incapacitating a terrorist threat.”

He added, “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. Hundreds of individuals have been arrested and convicted of terrorism-related offenses in our federal courts.”

“The question you have posed is therefore entirely hypothetical, unlikely to occur, and one we hope no president will ever have to confront,” Holder wrote. “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 used the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001 at examples of a “catastrophic attack” where a president “could conceivably have no choice but to authorize the military to use such force if necessary to protect the homeland.”

Sen. Paul responded to the letter yesterday afternoon via a short statement from his office. Sen. Paul said, “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 the Constitutional due process rights of all Americans.”

The Fifth Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment, both of which have a history in English common law, make it clear that American citizens are entitled to due process. Additionally, the Posse Comitatus Act and the National Security Act of 1947, as Sen. Paul has pointed out before, prohibit use of military force or CIA operations inside the borders of the United States.

While a president does need to do what he can to protect the nation, there are guidelines set in the Constitution to which he must adhere. There is no getting around that. That document, which is the supposed to be the “law of the land,” either matters or it doesn’t. And it has become abundantly clear that the constitutional restraints place on the office of the executive, simply don’t matter to President Obama.

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