Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the Obama administration’s assassination program is the fact that they simply refuse to address if they claim the authority to kill Americans on US soil without charge or trial.
While they clearly claim the authority to kill Americans abroad without requiring any clear evidence based on secret meetings and a classified legal justification, they dodge any and all questions around assassinations on US soil.
Individuals in the Obama administration – including Obama himself – have chosen to simply answer a question that was never asked when they are confronted with the issue.
This recently came up in a series of written questions and answers (original without notes here) from Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to John Brennan, Obama’s nominee for the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
“Could the Administration carry out drone strikes inside the United States?” asked the Committee.
“This Administration has not carried out drone strikes inside the United States and has no intention of doing so,” Brennan responded.
No one asked Brennan if the Obama administration has carried out drone strikes in the United States or if they have the intention to do so. The question was if they could carry out such a strike. This was not answered.
When asked, “Could you describe the geographical limits on the Administration’s conduct drone strikes?”
Brennan responded that the Obama administration does not “view our authority to use military force against al-Qa’ida and associated forces as being limited to ‘hot’ battlefields like Afghanistan.”
“Al-Qa’ida and its associates have in the recent past directed several attacks against us from countries other than Afghanistan. The Government has a responsibility to protect its citizens from these attacks, and, thus, as the Attorney General has noted, ‘neither Congress nor our federal courts has limited the geographic scope of our ability to use force to the current conflict in Afghanistan,’” Brennan wrote.
“This does not mean, however, that we use military force whenever or wherever we want,” he continued. “International legal principles, such as respect for another nation’s sovereignty, constrain our ability to act unilaterally. Using force in another country is consistent with these international legal principles if conducted, for example, with the consent of the relevant nation – or if or when other governments are unwilling or unable to deal effectively with a threat to the United States.”
Unfortunately, this answer does not rule out assassinations on US soil in any way.
“A lot of people are very concerned that your administration now believes it is legal to have drone strikes on Americans and whether or not that’s specifically allowed with citizens within the United States,” said Lee Doren during the hangout.
“And if that’s not true what will you do to create a legal framework to make American citizens within the United States know that drone strikes cannot be used against American citizens?” Doren asked.
“First of all, I think there’s never been a drone used on an American citizen on American soil and we respect and have a whole bunch of safeguards in terms of how we conduct counterterrorism operations outside the United States,” Obama replied.
“The rules outside the United States are going to be different than the rules inside the United States in part because our capacity to – for example – capture terrorists in the United States are very different in the foothills or mountains of Afghanistan or Pakistan,” he said.
Obama, like Brennan, simply answered a question that was not asked. No one asked him if a drone strike has been used on an American on American soil.
Obama did not answer the question as it was posed in any meaningful way.
Obama went on to concede that “it is not sufficient for citizens to just take my word for it that we are doing the right thing.”
Unfortunately, that’s precisely what we have to do.
“I am the head of the executive branch. And what we’ve done so far is to try to work with Congress on oversight issues,” Obama said.
The evidence of that is nonexistent. While some have promoted some kind of oversight of the drone assassin program, they essentially recommend another secret court to oversee the program.
Some, like Senator Lindsey Graham, see even that little oversight as “the worst thing in the world.”
The anger surrounding the lack of transparency is shared by Senator Rand Paul.
Paul asked Brennan, “Do you believe that the President has the power to authorize lethal force, such as a drone strike, against a US citizen on US soil, and without trial?”
“Until you directly and clearly answer, I plan to use every procedural option at my disposal to delay your confirmation and bring added scrutiny to this issue,” Paul wrote in a letter.
Greenwald writes that Senator Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat, said that he shares the concerns outlined in Paul’s letter but is not yet ready to threaten a filibuster.
“Congress needs a better understanding of how the Executive Branch interprets the limits of its authorities,” Udall said, according to Greenwald.
Udall also pointed Greenwald to the recent New York Times article outlining the growing anger among several other Democrat senators over this highly secretive assassination program.
“Not only does the Obama administration refuse to make these legal memoranda public – senators have been repeatedly demanding for more than full year to see them – but they only two weeks ago permitted members to look at two of those memos, but ‘were available to be viewed only for a limited time and only by senators themselves, not their lawyers and experts,’” Greenwald notes.
In his article, Greenwald goes on to explore the issue in much greater detail and thus the article is highly recommended for those who want to learn more.
Suffice it to say, at this point it is impossible to say if the Obama administration claims the authority to kill Americans on US soil without charge or trial. It might be wonderful to pretend otherwise but it would be unwarranted since neither Brennan nor Obama will outright say so.