March 5, 2013
Despite reassurances following the Christopher Dorner manhunt that lethal drones won’t be used to target American citizens on U.S. soil, a letter from Attorney General Eric Holder to Kentucky Senator Rand Paul states otherwise.
“It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States,” the letter partially posted by Mother Jones states.
Sen. Paul’s concerns that the government may use armed drones to target American citizens was the main reason he threatened to filibuster the nomination of John Brennan to head up the CIA.
When Brennan referred Sen. Paul to the Department of Justice, this is the response he got from Holder:
As members of this administration have previously indicated, the US government has not carried out drone strikes in the United States and has no intention of doing so. As a policy matter moreover, we reject the use of military force where well-established law enforcement authorities in this country provide the best means for incapacitating a terrorist threat. We have a long history of using the criminal justice system to incapacitate individuals located in our country who pose a threat to the United States and its interests abroad. Hundreds of individuals have been arrested and convicted of terrorism-related offenses in our federal courts.
The question you have posed is therefore entirely hypothetical, unlikely to occur, and one we hope no president will ever have to confront. It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States. For example, the president could conceivably have no choice but to authorize the military to use such force if necessary to protect the homeland in the circumstances like a catastrophic attack like the ones suffered on December 7, 1941, and September 11, 2001.
“The U.S. Attorney General’s refusal to rule out the possibility of drone strikes on American citizens and on American soil is more than frightening,” Sen. Paul said in a statement on his Senate website Tuesday. “It is an affront the constitutional due process rights of all Americans.”
The Department of Homeland Security faced criticism following an unsubstantiated report that surveillance drones were being used to aid the manhunt for suspected cop killer Christopher Dorner in California earlier this year.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection were quick to issue a response denying their use of drones – in attempts to quell public outrage – and shortly thereafter, the Federal Aviation Administration reassured the public that lethal drones would never be used.
Many, however, were dismissive or oblivious of the fact that government surveillance drones have already been used to spy on members of the public.
In 2011, police in Grand Forks, North Dakota called in a favor from their buddies at the DHS to use one of their drones to monitor the Brossart family farm after six cows had reportedly wandered onto their property.
Drones are also routinely used to survey agricultural conditions and enforce environmental laws throughout the country.
Last June, the EPA responded to a letter from Nebraska’s congressional delegation saying they “would use such flights in appropriate instances to protect people and the environment from violations of the Clean Water Act,” a fact they later denied following intense media scrutiny.
Indeed, the FAA has already secured authorization to have anywhere in the neighborhood of 30,000 drones criss-crossing the skies by 2020.
Public sentiment towards drone use in America has shifted greatly in response to rumors of alleged drone use in the Dorner manhunt. Also, last month a 16-page Justice Department memo concerning legal drone assassinations of American citizens was leaked fueling further concerns that drones can and will be used to hunt and target American civilians.
“Just six months ago, a survey conducted by The Associated Press and The National Constitution Center found that more Americans supported than opposed the use of surveillance drones by domestic law enforcement agencies,” writer and editor for PrisonPlanet.com Steve Watson wrote recently.
“Now, in the latest poll, 57 percent of respondents say it is unconstitutional to order the killing of Americans overseas. Even more — 59 percent — believe that the federal government abuses its power when it comes to targeted strikes.”
Moreover, “47 percent of respondents to the latest poll said they believe they have a right to destroy a UAV if it flies over their house without their permission.”
Drone strikes have killed American citizens in the past, as was the case in Yemen with Anwar Awlaki and his son 16-year-old son Abdulrahman al-Awlaki.