Posted by on March 05, 2013 in Blog

In a letter released earlier today, US Attorney General Holder said the administration has the authority to use military force to kill an American on US soil in an “extraordinary circumstance” although it has “no intention of doing so.”

The letter was in response to Senator Rand Paul (R- KY) who sent three inquiries to John Brennan, the administration’s nominee for CIA director, asking whether the administration believes it has the authority to conduct drone strikes on Americans on US soil.   

“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,” wrote Holder.

In a separate letter to Paul, Brennan said the CIA has no authority to conduct drone strikes in the US.

In the letter, Holder said the administration would not use military force where “well-established law enforcement authorities in this country provide the best means for incapacitating a terrorist threat.” But what this means is that the administration indeed has the authority to conduct extra-judicial killings in the US but no intent to use that authority.

“The question you have posed is therefore entirely hypothetical, unlikely to occur, and one we hope no president will ever have to confront," Holder wrote.  

Senator Paul, who has threatened to filibuster the nomination of John Brennan, said, “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 – it is an affront [sic] the Constitutional due process rights of all Americans.”

It’s simply unprecedented for the chief legal counsel of the administration to insinuate that the president has the authority to use a lethal strike against an American on US soil far from any battlefield, without charge or trial, and deprive said individual of the constitutional guarantee of due process.  

Earlier today and ahead of Brennan’s vote, additional legal opinions from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel regarding the targeted killings of Americans was released to the Senate Intelligence committee. Brennan was confirmed 12-3 out of committee today and is expected to be confirmed by the full Senate later this week. Tomorrow, Holder is expected to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee for a Department of Justice oversight hearing. The hearing will likely focus heavily on the issue of the targeted killings of Americans overseas and on US soil. And undoubtedly, legislation will shortly be introduced by US lawmakers clearly prohibiting the use of drone strikes on Americans in the US.  

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