Future unmanned drones could be utilized by President Barack Obama to kill US citizens on American soil, the attorney general has said in a shocking statement.
The argument for using the drones – which have been used in recent years to knock out what the administration labels as terrorist cells mostly in the lawless tribal lands on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border – emerged in answers from attorney general Eric Holder in response to questions posed by Republican Rand Paul.
Mr. Paul had also threatened to filibuster the appointment of John Brennan as the director of the CIA unless he received answers on its activities and the usage of drone strikes in the assassination of citizens. A threat he followed through with, filibustering on the floor for a full 13 hours in a press for more information.
In writing to Paul, Holder argued that using lethal military force against an American in his home country would be legal and justified in an “extraordinary circumstance” comparable to the September 11 terrorist attacks. Holder wrote:
“The president could conceivably have no choice but to authorise the military to use such force if necessary to protect the homeland.”
He stressed in his letter that the prospect of a president considering the assassination of an American citizen on US soil was “entirely hypothetical” and “unlikely to occur.”
Yet “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 US for the president to authorise the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States,” he wrote.
Appearing before the Senate judiciary committee, Mr Holder reiterated that “the government has no intention to carry out any drone strikes in the United States”. His letter, however, led Mr Paul, a Republican from Kentucky and a potential 2016 presidential runner,to declare it as “more than frightening”, adding: “It is an affront to the constitutional due process rights of all Americans.”
Overall, the decision means that the Obama administration could authorize, at any time, the death of private United States citizens — they just ‘most likely’ won’t they claim. The Obama administration has been condemned for the secrecy surrounding its extension of America’s “targeted killing” campaign against al-Qaeda terrorist suspects using missile strikes by unmanned drones.
According to research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, drone bombings ended the lives of between 474 and 881 Pakistani civillians, including 176 children — all within the gap of the last 8 years.
This justification emerged only last month in a leaked memo from Mr Holder’s department of justice.
Civil liberties campaigners accuse the president and his aides of awarding themselves sweeping powers to deny Americans their constitutional rights without oversight from Congress or the judiciary. Daphne Eviatar, a senior counsel at Human Rights First, said: “It’s hard to see how authorities could not be in a position to arrest someone yet be able to kill them.”