WASHINGTON—Attorney General Eric Holder said on March 6 that more transparency is needed in the administration’s controversial drone program and hinted that President Barack Obama agreed.
Holder was responding to a plea from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and other members of the Senate Judiciary Committee for more information on the legal arguments underpinning the administration’s targeting and killing of American citizens abroad using unarmed aerial vehicles or drones.
More information would provide “a greater degree of comfort that this government does these things reluctantly, but also in conformity with international law, with domestic law, and with our values,” Holder said.
Obama referred to the need for greater transparency in the drones program in his State of the Union address, and Holder hinted that it was likely the president would raise the issue in the near future.
“We have talked about a need for greater transparency in what we share, what we talk about,” he said and added, “You will hear the president speak about this.”
Rand Paul Strident
For Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), support for the drone program will require a lot of convincing. Paul delayed the nomination of John O. Brennan as head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) over drone strikes.
“I will speak until I can no longer speak,” Paul said, in an unusual filibuster that involved speaking for as long as possible without conceding the floor so that no resolution can be reached. “I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court.” No Americans have been reported killed by a drone on American soil.
Brennan, Obama’s principal adviser on counter-terrorism, is a chief architect of the administration’s drone program, which came under scrutiny after American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki was killed by a drone in Yemen in 2011.
Paul, a libertarian, had earlier sent a letter to Holder asking about the constitutionality of drone strikes and whether they could be used against U.S. citizens in America.
In a letter released Tuesday, Holder conceded that a drone strike was possible on U.S. soil.
“It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution … for the president to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States,” Holder wrote.
In the Senate hearing March 6, Holder was pressed further on the issue.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) described the scenario of a suspected terrorist “sitting in a cafe” in the United States and asked whether they would be considered a possible target.
Speaking against the backdrop of anti-drone activists holding placards “Drone Murder is not Legal” and “Stop the Killing,’ Holder initially hedged against giving a definitive answer, saying that it “would not be appropriate.”
After Cruz pushed further, Holder conceded saying, “Ok. Translate inappropriate as no.”
Running counter to his Republican colleagues, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) applauded the drone program.
“I think it is a tactical tool that the president has been using and I think he has been using it responsibly,” Graham said at the Senate hearing.
Drawing parallels with the 9/11 terrorist attack, Graham said if an American citizen sided with Al- Qaeda and became an enemy of the state, they should suffer the full weight of military and law enforcement efforts.
“I want to stand by you and the president to make sure we don’t criminalize the war support and that the commander in chief continues to have the authority to protect us all,” he said.
Concern over America’s use of drones has drawn some unusual alliances. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), an advocate of civil rights, and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) have joined forces with Sen. Paul, a tea party stalwart, and conservative Mike Lee (R-Utah). The four are united in their concern about the infringement of rights under the Obama’s administration’s anti-terrorism policies.
The four were instrumental in delaying a Senate vote on Brennan’s nomination when they demanded more information from the administration on the drone program. Following the delivery of relevant documents on March 5, Wyden and Udall said in a statement that they now “anticipated supporting Brennan’s nomination.”
However in a show of support for Rand Paul, Wyden and Lee, along with Cruz and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), joined his filibuster Wednesday.
“I think Senator Paul and I agree that this nomination also provides a very important opportunity for the United States Senate to consider the government’s rules and policies on the targeted killings of Americans and that, of course, has been a central pillar of our nation’s counter-terror strategy,” Wyden said.
The Epoch Times publishes in 35 countries and in 21 languages. Subscribe to our e-newsletter