Revealed: Holder Says President Could Authorize MilitaryDrone Strikes Inside U.S.
By: Billy Hallowell
This morning, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) told Glenn Beck’s radioteam that he had some new information about the U.S. government’s drone program— information that some individuals might find troubling. Later in the day,TheBlaze obtained letters that were sent to the senator by Attorney GeneralEric Holder and President Barack Obama’s chief counter-terrorism adviser JohnBrennan.
It is select contents in Holder’s letter that citizens andpolitical experts, alike, might find most problematic. After Paul sent aninquiry to learn more about the government’s drone program and to ask whether“the President has the power to authorize lethal force, such as a drone strike,against a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil, and without trial,” he received a responsethat is sure to be scrutinized.
The senator’s inquiry was certainly specific, however thegovernment’s response was not so concise — or at least not pointed enough toput critics like Paul at ease.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., testifies before a state legislativecommittee on the legalization of growing hemp at the Capitol Annex inFrankfort, Ky., Monday, Feb. 11, 2013. Credit: AP
In a response dated March 4, 2013, Holder wrote that theU.S. government “has not carried out drone strikes in the United States and hasno intention of doing so.” The attorney general went on to note that federalofficials believe that in areas where there is “well-established lawenforcement,” these officials serve as the preferred mode of handling terroristthreats; military options inside U.S. borders are, thus, “rejected.”
“We have a long history of using the criminal justice systemto incapacitate individuals located in our country who pose a threat to theUnited States and its interests abroad,” the letter reads. “Hundreds ofindividuals have been arrested and convicted of terrorism-related offenses inour federal courts.”
While this would likely set at ease anyone worried about thepotential use of drones on U.S. land, Holder doesn’t conclude there. It is thenext section of the letter that is the most contentious, as it leaves the dooropen for potential action in the event of large-scale terror attacks or othermonumental disturbances.
“The question you have posed is therefore entirelyhypothetical, unlikely to occur, and one we hope no President will ever have toconfront,” the letter continues. “It is possible, I suppose, to imagine anextraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate underthe Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President toauthorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States.”
Holder said that the president could be faced with such asituation (“to authorize the military to use such force”) if the need toprotect the nation arose during an attack similar to Pearl Harbor or 9/11.
“Were such an emergency to arise, I would examine theparticular facts and circumstances before advising the President on the scopeof his authority,” he concludes.
View the document, below:
In a separate letter dated March 5, 2013, Brennan respondedto Paul’s request for the same information, taking a more conclusive stance —one that affirmed that the CIA would not have the power to conduct attacks onAmerican soil.
In his note, Brennan wrote that the Justice Department wouldrespond to legal questions surrounding the president’s authority, but he madeit clear that the agency he has been nominated to lead does not have theauthority to conduct these drone attacks (the Senate Intelligence Committeevoted this afternoon to approve Brennan’s nomination).
“I can, however, state unequivocally that the agency I havebeen nominated to lead, the CIA, does not conduct lethal operations inside theUnited States — not does it have any authority to do so,” he wrote. “Thus, if Iam fortunate enough to be confirmed as CIA Director, I would have no ‘power’ toauthorize such operations.”
Read Brennan’s letter to Paul in its entirety, below:
In the past, Brennan has been a staunch defender of dronestrikes, as highlighted earlier today by TheBlaze. While he noted that they areused only as a “last resort,” he also said during his confirmation hearing thathe had no qualms with the administration’s decision to use the tactic againstU.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan. Both of these men, killed inYemen in Sept. 2011, were U.S. citizens.
Paul appeared this afternoon on Sean Hannity’s radio show,where the congressman discussed the letters. The two spoke candidly aboutHolder’s and Brennan’s responses to his questions. He characterized theattorney general’s answer as a “maybe” when asked about whether drone strikeswould be acceptable on U.S. land.
“In that letter, he refuses to rule out using drone stikeson Americans, on American soil,” Paul told Hannity. “The reason this istroubling is that we’re not talking about someone holding a weapon, we’re nottaking about someone with a grenade launcher. Many of these drone strikes areagainst people who are walking and talking, sitting and eating or sleeping intheir house.”
Rather than attacking citizens who are suspected ofterrorism or terror ties, Paul said that Americans ”need to be charged withsomething and get our day in court.” Holders & Brennans Letters