Drones

Does Obama Think He Can Order Hits on Americans Inside the U.S.?

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Yesterday I noted that President Obama has not acknowledged any geographic limit on his purported power to kill people he believes to be members or allies of Al Qaeda, although in practice his administration has treated suspected terrorists within the United States as criminal defendants rather than enemy combatants. At yesterday's confirmation hearing for John O. Brennan, the counterterrorism adviser Obama has picked to run the CIA, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) had the following exchange with Brennan:

Wyden: I'm also convinced there are parts of drone policy that can be declassified consistent with national security, and I hope that you will work with me on that if you are confirmed.

Let me ask you several other questions with regard to the president's authority to kill Americans. I've asked you how much evidence the president needs to decide that a particular American can be lawfully killed and whether the administration believes that the president can use this authority inside the United States. In my judgment, both the Congress and the public need to understand the answers to these kind of fundamental questions.

What do you think needs to be done to make sure that members of the public understand more about when the government thinks it's allowed to kill them, particularly with respect to those two issues, the question of evidence and the authority to use this power within the United States?

Brennan: I have been a strong proponent of trying to be as open as possible with these programs as far as our explaining what we're doing. What we need to do is optimize transparency on these issues but at the same time optimize secrecy and the protection of our national security. I don't think that it's one or the other. It's trying to optimize both of them. And so what we need to do is make sure we explain to the American people what are the thresholds for action, what are the procedures, the practices, the processes, the approvals, the reviews?

The Office of Legal Counsel advice establishes the legal boundaries within which we can operate. It doesn't mean that we operate at those…boundaries. And in fact, I think the American people would be quite pleased to know that we've been very disciplined, very judicious and we only use these authorities and these capabilities as a last resort.

It is striking that Brennan, who just before this exchange complained that people "are reacting to a lot of falsehoods" about Obama's "targeted killing" program, did not take this opportunity to declare that the president does not think he has the authority to order the summary execution of suspected terrorists within the United States. Is that a secret too?

You might surmise from the scenario described in the Justice Department white paper that was leaked this week—a senior, operational leader of Al Qaeda or an allied group who poses an "imminent threat" and whose capture is "infeasible"—that targeted killings within the United States are out of bounds. But the white paper itself makes it clear that there may be other circumstances where killing an American citizen is OK. There clearly are other circumstances where killing foreigners is OK.

Brennan's idea of open and transparent government boils down to this: Trust us. That is what he means when he talks about explaining "the procedures, the practices, the processes, the approvals, [and] the reviews" that precede one of the president's death warrants. Once people understand the "extensive process" that's involved—behind closed doors and entirely within the executive branch—they will stop worrying about the Fifth Amendment and go back to their reality shows. The one thing Brennan and his boss adamantly refuse to discuss is the evidence that leads them to convict someone of a crime punishable by death. You just have to take their word that in any given case they have plenty. 

The New York Times reports that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (which held yesterday' s hearing), "said she would review proposals to create a court to oversee targeted killings." Yet Feinstein herself does not seem to think any sort of judicial review is necessary:

She defended the agency's record on the strikes, saying the number of civilians killed each year has been "in the single digits." A reporter pointed out that she has accused the agency of lying for years about its interrogation program and asked how she could have such confidence in its claims on casualties in the drone program. "I am confident of those figures until I am not confident of them," she said.

That's not terribly reassuring, especially coming from a legislator who is still confident that banning barrel shrouds will stop mass shootings. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism counts hundreds of civilians killed by U.S. strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia during the last decade, which casts doubt on Feinstein's claim that the annual toll is "in the single digits." More to the point, Feinstein simply assumes that the people who are deliberately killed by drones had it coming—the very claim that due process is supposed to establish.

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83 responses to “Does Obama Think He Can Order Hits on Americans Inside the U.S.?

  1. What about posse comitatus?

    1. Does that old thing still exist? I thought BOOOOOSSH shot it in the head.

    2. They will call it an act of war. DOD still holds the lead for defense of the country.

      1. I suppose they could do that if they were attacking al Qaeda operatives. But what if it’s something else?

        This is troubling, because there are situations where military force might makes sense. But it shouldn’t be a first resort, which is where I think this is all heading.

        1. They are just dying to call Mexican drug gangs a terrorism/national defense problem. We need an all hazards approach to defending the homeland.

          1. I think it’s exceedingly important that we not stand for such things. It’s bad enough that the federal government has anything more than a coordinator role in law enforcement.

          2. Well, as I commented in the other posting (Obamam gives himself permission to kikk” I might as well repeat it:

            “How long will it be before we see drone assassinations on American soil?”

            Well, if you include the “Americans” I imagine it will start by taking out a “narcoterrorist” because anybody who doesn’t want to blow a commie fascist pedophile iran loving drug dealing scum into a billion bits hates ‘Merica.

            Than its a pretty simple matter to get the drug guys who actually have crossed the border.

            Than the SPLC will point out a few klu klux klanners, and what right thinking person would prevent them from being taken out?

            And viola – government extra judicial killing santioned by the US gubermint, and endorsed by the NYT.

            Limited government – we hardly knew ye…

            1. Limited government, we never knew ye

              there, FTFY

          3. If I may:

            They are just dying to call Mexican drug gangs whatever they don’t like a terrorism/national defense problem.

            1. Speeding in a school zone? That’s a droning.

            2. Obama isn’t going to send his flying death robots after people for cross-posting, is he?

              1. Probably not, but he reserves the right to do so if national security demands that he act to protect the American people.

              2. I might be OK if he started targeting people who confuse “then” and “than”. Death is too good for those people.

          4. After selling guns to one or more of the Cartels through Fast & Furious (and other programs), they don’t want to open the can of worms that declaring the Cartels a “national defense issue” would raise.
            People within this administration would then be exposed as “trading with the enemy” in a time of war.
            Last time I looked, that was a Capital Offense.

        2. Since planes and drones over Libya was not considered boots on the ground I suppose Obama could say Drones over America is not boots on the ground therefore not in violation of the Posse Comitatus act. With that any Tea party member who is clearly against the government is now open for target practice.

          1. It is not a war. It is a kinetic military action

            1. It’s kinetic!

              You can’t see it,
              It’s kinetic!
              You gotta feel it,
              It’s kinetic!
              Ooh, it’s shakin’,
              It’s kinetic!

    3. Comitatus comitatus
      Comitatus
      Comitatus comitatus
      Comitatus
      Comitatus comitatus
      P-Posse Comitatus

      1. A cowboy was taken prisoner by a bunch of Indians. The Indians were all prepared to kill him when the chief announced that due to the celebration of the Great Spirit, they would grant the cowboy three wishes before he would die. “What do you want for your first wish?” asks the chief.

        “I wanna talk to mah horse!” says the cowboy. He goes over to his horse and whispers in its ear. The horse neighs, rears back, and takes off at full speed. About an hour later, the horse comes back with a naked lady on its back. Well, the Indians are very impressed, so they let the cowboy use one of their teepees. A little while later, the cowboy stumbles out of the teepee, tucking in his shirt. “What do you want for your second wish?” says the chief.

        “I wanna talk to mah horse!” says the cowboy. Again, the cowboy whispers in the horses ear. The horse neighs, rears back, and takes off at full speed. About an hour later, the horse comes back with another naked lady on its back. Well, the Indians are very impressed indeed. So, once again, they let the cowboy use one of their teepees. The cowboy stumbles out a little while later, and the chief asks the cowboy “What do you want for your last wish?”

        “I wanna talk to mah horse!” says the cowboy. He grabs the horse by the ears and yells,

        “You stupid animal, I said POSSE, POSSE!!!!”

        1. Wow, that’s absolutely terrible. I hate you.

          1. I remember that joke every time I hear the word “posse.”

        2. I wish I had a horse like that…

  2. I have been a strong proponent of trying to be as open as possible with these programs as far as our explaining what we’re doing. What we need to do is optimize transparency on these issues but at the same time optimize secrecy and the protection of our national security. I don’t think that it’s one or the other. It’s trying to optimize both of them. And so what we need to do is make sure we explain to the American people what are the thresholds for action, what are the procedures, the practices, the processes, the approvals, the reviews?

    Okay, so we need to optimize transparency about these procedures that I am not going to explain.

    Brennen makes even my flesh crawl. I don’t think they would have let him in the Nixon Administration.

    1. seems transparent to me – we kill whoever we want….cause of national security.

      Whirring at the computers at NSA, finding the addresses of Reason commenters.
      Headlines: unusual outbreak of unexplained natural gas explosions at homes of constitutional nutcase absolutists…

  3. isn’t the answer to this question “fuck you, that’s why”?

  4. Or if they’re driving the same type of vehicle, arm the drone.

  5. I’ll bet there at least 3 or 4 democrats out there who can’t wait to get a republican in the white house so they can resume their bitching about the president violating people’s rights.

    1. You just wait until a Republican gets in office. It will happen. If not in 16 then in 20. They will immediately discover the need to be skeptical of the government again.

      1. Too late!

        Our Sulla will most certainly be a conservative. Leftists are absolutely stupid not to see that unlimited government should be the last thing they want. I guess when they’re living in camps with libertarians, maybe they’ll get it.

        1. No. Obmaa proves that our Sulla will be a liberal from the media/political class. The media just can’t help but love one of their own. Really, our Sulla will look and act just like Obama. Obama just got here a bit early. But there will be another.

          1. You’d know this better than I, but I get the distinct impression that the military doesn’t lean that direction. Certainly not enough to support a coup.

            1. The current military would not. But they are working to fix that.

          2. John is correct, Sulla will have the full endorsement of the media parasites, and so will have to be TEAM BLUE. TEAM RED will put up a near-Sulla who will pave the way for the TEAM BLUE Sulla. It’s exactly Bush and Obama, but up another few notches. Basically, in the next few presidential cycles. Oh, I can’t wait for dictatorship! It’ll be so fun and oppressive!

            1. I hope you’re in my concentration camp. I think it would be fun, like Hogan’s Heroes. I call Hogan!

              1. Tulpa will be the camp snitch and Warty will running the prostitution ring with the newbies.

                  1. I know NOTHINK!

              2. I think it would be fun, like Hogan’s Heroes.

                I’ve always wanted to do an different version of “Hogan’s Heroes” featuring Japanese Americans in internment camps.

                Ichiro’s Heroes?

                1. Sulu’s Heroes. Takei was in an internment camp when he was a kid.

                  1. And here’s Penn interviewing him about it.

                    Also, I would be the inmate that brutally enforces the guards’ rules in exchange for an extra crust of moldy bread, not just a pimp. Get it straight, John.

                    1. I am sure you would keep the zekes in line Warty.

                  2. Fucking Trekkies gotta ruin everything!

        2. Nobody can live with libertarians.

      2. I’ve always said if you want the constitution defended, vote republican (which is irony inside of a conundrum wrapped in an enigma, slathered in inconsistency….)

        you can’t support the constitution directly, cause that means you like sucking teabags (not that there is anything wrong with that…) and not that you want the governments right to extrajudicially kill anyone they want to.

        1. arrrgh!
          Thats “that you DON’T want the governments right to extrajudicially kill anyone they want to.

  6. Is there any doubt in anyone’s mind right now that even if the President DID claim the right to assiassinate US citizens inside the US, that many liberals would jump to come up with rationalizations for why this power is legitimate?

    1. Just like, for example, if someone didn’t like their neighbors being armed, they’d be happy to construct an elaborate, mandatory insurance scheme and then insist that it’s a free-market solution?

      1. I don’t mind my neighbors being armed. I just think they should assume the costs of the risks create for me by having weapons around.

        1. Or the risks they mitigate by being able to save your ass if your home gets invaded. Always have a good “armed” friend at the very least.

        2. So if they somehow cause something bad to happen to you, sue them.

          1. My guns have created less problems than Teddy’s Oldsmobile.

        3. that’s calls for a big FU. You can’t quantify any risk created by a gun owner. That is why there are civil courts.

    2. “It’s legal, ethical, and wise to kill people who don’t agree with me!”

    3. First, you’d have to get them to admit that it was happening. We’re talking about weapons-grade willful ignorance.

      1. Drome denialism?

  7. Let me ask you several other questions with regard to the president’s authority to kill Americans

    The fact that this was an actual line said by an actual politician about actual, real policy today shows you that we’re fully through the looking glass, Alice. Can you imagine these words uttered even ten years ago?

    1. And in fact, I think the American people would be quite pleased to know that we’ve been very disciplined, very judicious and we only use these authorities and these capabilities as a last resort.

      I wish someone would have asked him to explain exactly how killing Al Awaki’s son was a last resort effort.

      1. It was the last thing said at the meeting: “Go kill Al Awaki’s son.”

        1. And the meeting was at a resort?

        2. And the meeting was at a resort?

          1. Squirrels haven’t gotten buried by the snow, apparently.

            1. Not at a resort. They were resorting all possible options, and that one came last.

        3. No, no, you’ve got it wrong. Obama was talking to Michelle, and she asked what was to happen to the kid, and Obama said “I’ve taklked to the Sec of HHS, and directed that Al Awaki be taken care of”. Unforutnately, in the middle of the sentence Patreus walked into the room, and thought that Obama must have ordered the Sec Def to kill Al Awaki and decided that in order to preserve his turf, he had better do it first…

          It was all a big misunderstanding, kind of like the time King Richard IV was trying to explain to the queen how Thomas Becket came to die, and his knights thought he was ordering the execution of his son Edmund the Unwilling, Archbishop of Cantebury.

          1. I was about to correct you when I saw “King Richard IV”, then I realized what you were talking about. Getting slow.

          2. +100 for the Black Adder reference.

      2. he was OBVIOUSLY an IMMINENT (look up imminent) threat….he grows up, gets a PhD in chemical engineering, recruits acolytes, secretly implants them in the US where they obtain engineering degrees in nuclear power, rise through the ranks, and when they gain the trust of everyone around them, than they engineer a program under the auspices of global warming and CO2 reduction, go on a vast nuclear reactor building program, and while running the nuclear reactors, rewrite all the computer code to turn the nuclear power plants into NUCLEAR BOMBS!!!

        Really, I don’t see how it could be any more obvious… no way to stop that train but to take him out NOW

        1. It’s the Roman Solution.

    1. Before I clicked your link, I assumed you were referring to the Reveillon Riots in revolution-era France.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R?veillon_Riots

  8. Why even ask this question? He’s the President! He is the nation’s daddy, and if he wants to he can have your head cut off and stuck on a pike outside the White House as a caution to others who might consider dissent.

    Really, I thought this whole antiquated notion that there should be limits on the power of the state went out the window in the Great Depression.

    1. Really, they manage to scrape the little bits of that notion that they can manage to find and throw them out the window everytime a new president is elected.

      The fact that they keep finding a little more freedom to throw out is just a demonstration that they tend to lose focus on some of the areas they previously tamped down and haven’t been giving them enough attention.

  9. “The Office of Legal Counsel advice establishes the legal boundaries within which we can operate.”

    You see, this is the root sickness the Executive Branch has become afflicted with, most strikingly since That Yoo person, in a development that even Yoo is deploring.
    http://online.wsj.com/article/…..lenews_wsj

    1. “The Office of Legal Counsel advice establishes the legal boundaries within which we can operate.”

      The sad part is that no one questions this premise. The boundaries are set by the laws and the courts, which are (supposedly) guided by the constitution.

      If I get my lawyer to write a memo saying it’s OK to steal or kill, does that mean it’s true?

  10. As the nation’s daddy, he brought us into the world, and he can damn sure take us out. He just wants us to remember that. And to be home by 9:30.

  11. Next thing you know Obama’s going to be giving the state of the union address in his Comic-Con Dr. Dredd cosplay costume.

    1. That is no costume!

  12. They won’t need to use drones on American soil. That’s what the FBI is for. I’m sure the part about Top Men reviewing assassination flashcards will be the same, though.

  13. IIRC, the “imminent threat” requiring “emergency powers” happened just over 11 years ago.

    It’s past the tipping point and on the long slide.

    Who plays Marius and who plays Sulla is irrelevant.

    There’s a Ceasar in your future.

  14. The Executive has to go to the FISA Court for wireless wiretaps, but DiFi doesn’t think its necessary for a court to have eversight of extra-judicial killings in the name of National Security.

    Her mania for gun-control indicated she was a couple bricks short, this just confirms it.

  15. I would not be at all surprised, within the next 20 years, someone gets drone striked in the US. Probably some militia that the FBI or ATF sets up (like that Hutaree one).

  16. It’s really simple guys. The Obama dictatorship isn’t bound by the limits of the constitution, congress, or the judiciary. Heck, with the fawning press in his pocket deciding what stories see the light of day, he can do anything he wants. Besides, nothing he says has ever matched up with what he actually does.

  17. It’s the behavior that stands out. If an American tries to blow up a plane is he as bad as any terrorist? They are in my eyes. If I go to a foreign country and participate in criminal activities am I innocent because I’m an American? Hardly.

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