Obama's Death Drone Dodge

The evasiveness that provoked Rand Paul's filibuster


Last month the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence gave John Brennan, the new CIA director, another opportunity to answer a question he had dodged at his confirmation hearing: "Could the Administration carry out drone strikes inside the United States?" Brennan's written response: "This Administration has not carried out drone strikes inside the United States and has no intention of doing so." 

When asked how far President Obama is legally allowed to go in marking suspected terrorists for death, his administration has responded, again and again, with a description of what he so far has chosen to do. It is this kind of maddening evasiveness that provoked the inspiring, attention-grabbing filibuster that Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) staged last week, refusing to let Brennan's confirmation proceed until the Obama administration deigned to address his questions about the president's license to kill. 

Although Paul declared "victory" and pronounced himself "quite happy" with the response he got from Attorney General Eric Holder last Thursday, very little was clarified. Here is the question that Holder chose to address in his March 7 letter to Paul: "Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?" Holder said "the answer to that question is no." 

That sounds straightforward, unless you realize that, according to the Obama administration, the people it identifies as members or allies of Al Qaeda (including "financiers") are engaged in combat even when they are driving down the street or sitting in their homes, far from any active battlefield. The administration does not acknowledge any geographic limits on the president's purported authority to issue death warrants. 

Although the Justice Department's leaked white paper about targeted killings focuses on people who pose an "imminent threat," it defines that term so broadly that pretty much any alleged terrorist would qualify. In any case, the white paper emphasizes that the criteria it discusses are sufficient to order someone's death but may not be necessary. 

Hence all the questions about killing suspected terrorists inside the United States even when they do not pose an immediate threat of violence. The administration's slippery responses to those questions have only reinforced the suspicion that Obama is trying to keep all his options open. 

Asked if "drone strikes" are "allowed with citizens within the United States" during an online Q&A session on February 14, Obama said "there has never been a drone used on an American citizen on American soil." In a March 4 letter to Paul, Holder likewise declared that "the U.S. government has not carried out drone strikes in the United States and has no intention of doing so." 

But Holder added that "in the circumstances of a catastrophic attack" such as 9/11, he would "examine the particular facts and circumstances before advising the President on the scope of his authority" to order domestic military action. That phrasing suggests Holder was not talking about using deadly force to defend against an attack, which clearly would be justified. 

If an airplane were about to crash into the Capitol, there would be neither the need nor the time to prepare a legal memo. So it's a mystery what Holder was imagining when he raised this possibility. 

The administration's evasiveness reached comical heights at a March 6 hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Responding to questions from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Holder repeatedly refused to say whether it would be constitutional to use lethal force against a suspected terrorist in the U.S. who is not carrying out an attack but merely "sitting in a café" or "walking down a pathway." Holder conceded only that it would not be "appropriate." 

Finally, after Cruz had given up on getting a straight answer, Holder said, "Translate my 'appropriate' to no. I thought I was saying no." I'm not sure what that means, but it still counts as the administration's clearest response to date.

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  1. “This Administration has not carried out drone strikes inside the United States and has no intention of doing so.”

    Come on, don’t you want your head spook to have the ability to deploy weasel words when necessary?

    1. Ahhh haha. Kinda of a weaselly use of the word spook, eh.

  2. Bill Clinton had no intention of having sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky. But that depends upon what the meaning of the word “is” is.

    1. It had more to do with the meaning of “sexual relations”. Blow jobs don’t count; look it up.

      1. Sexual relations: any sexual activity between individuals.

        Look it up.

  3. Now thats what I am talking about dude. Way cool indeed.


    1. Just to claify Annonbot, do you think murder by drone is cool, the filibuster is cool, or this article is cool? Your posts, at times, are hard to interpret.

      1. The machines are speaking up for one another. Scary.

      2. It’s not really his fault. It’s what we get for declaring “Antecedent-free Wednesday.”

    2. Neato.

  4. so simple to kill one person in the United States is commonly used hair kind?with re- bao duong dieu hoa simple? terrible if your hair is dead blog

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      1. I’m not sure what that means, but it still counts as the administration’s clearest response to date.

        1. *Stands and vigorously applauds*

      2. They’re not going to stay in business very long if they keep giving away all their A/C maintenance secrets like that.

        1. But they left a chilling threat behind for those that would use the forbidden knowledge…

          “terrible if your hair is dead blog”

          1. Radley Balko might not agree with that.

            1. Where is Radley, by the way. Rumor on the street is he’s working for Huffington now.

              1. Where you been? He’s been at HuffPo for about a year.

                1. I was in hospital.

  5. How hard would it be for a President to get up and say:

    “Let us be clear. The founding of our great nation was accomplished at a time when the whim of kings was enough to doom a person to lifelong prison or death. Our government, in principle, is based on the idea that its powers are limited and granted by the consent of those who live under it, and that the rules under which it operates are written down for the reference of all. In this way we may know what the government is allowed to do with the power we have granted it. It is unseemly for a government founded under such circumstances to keep secret, and to prevaricate about, the rules under which it claims autgority to end a citizen’s life.

    Therefore, I present to you, in its entirety, the written justification for these actions, and I quote:


    Good night and God bless.”

    1. It shouldn’t be hard for a President in his second term.

  6. my best friend’s sister-in-law makes $87 an hour on the internet. She has been fired from work for five months but last month her check was $16574 just working on the internet for a few hours. Read more here

    1. If she tried just a little harder she would be able to gross exactly $200k a year. Tell her to quit slacking.

    2. They’re coming outta the walls. They’re coming outta the goddamn walls. Let’s book!

  7. It’s strange. When I argue that people have a right to own guns to use for their own defense, my Prog friends say that guns are too dangerous for anyone to have. I believe most people are reasonable, generally murder-averse, and can be trusted to responsibly handle dangerous tools capable of killing several people within a short amount of time. They disagree, unless that person is a federal employee, and the dangerous tool in question can launch a missile capable of destroying a city block at the touch of a button, in which case it’s totally reasonable to simply assume that nothing could go wrong.

    When I go further and say that people have a right to the same personal armaments that the military and police possess (small arms such as rifles, pistols, and shotguns), so as to keep anyone from getting any funny ideas, they tell me I’m paranoid or naive or both, because a.) the government is too powerful to resist (sort of an odd rebuttal), b.) the government would never do anything wrong, and c.) anyone arming themselves for the purposes of resisting a tyrannical government or rogue elements of same could only be doing so as a precursor to a homicidal spree of pillage and rapine. However, when I point out that our President has effectively given himself the power to kill Americans with drones “just in case”, I’m told that worrying about that is paranoid, because he would probably never really need to do it. And there’s almost no trace whatsoever of cognitive dissonance.

  8. I saw a drone flying over my neighborhood three days ago. The Nearest military base is MacDill AFB about 50 miles to the South. I have no idea what it was doing over my neighborhood. I also don’t know exactly what kind of drone it was, but it looked a lot like this.

  9. Ever send a buck or a bitcoin to WikiLeaks? Reason Foundation?

    You may be an active terrorist. Or, maybe not. WTFK?

  10. my roomate’s ex-wife makes $80 an hour on the laptop. She has been fired for 7 months but last month her payment was $18225 just working on the laptop for a few hours. Read more here http://www.fly38.com

  11. I just realized this was written in 2002. I wonder what the gun crime rate is now. Any government that tells you that you have no right to self defense is not looking after your best interest. Self defense is the most basic right anyone has. No government or police can protect you. I can’t believe you all allow this to continue. I keep a gun at home for self defense and have a license to carry it concealed any where I go. And I do. If I am attacked then at least I have a chance to stay alive. By the time the police arrive they can either arrange for my body to be picked up or take a statement from me. I choose the later. Britons let a right be taken from them and now it will be much harder to get it back. But you should try.
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