AG Holder answered to the Senate Judiciary Committee today about a range of issues from state drug laws, gun control, voter registration, sequestration and most vocally about killing American citizens with drone strikes. Holder’s recent letter to Sen. Rand Paul about the legality of killing Americans with drones inside the United States has resulted in heightened concern across the political spectrum.
So far there has been virtually unanimous agreement over the lack of transparency with the targeted killing program as outlined in the so-called “targeted killing playbook,” by John Brennan.
Sen. Mike Lee R-Utah urged the release to the oversight committee of the full Office of Legal Counsel Memorandum on targeted killings that has so far been kept secret and upheld by a Manhattan federal judge.
Despite promises to release all information, so far there only exists a timeline of 20 instances beginning in February of 2011 that members of Congress have asked for the memo without success.
…with the exception of the 35 members of the intelligence committees getting a quick peek without staff assistance and (presumably) a more substantial review by members of the Gang of Eight, the Administration has blown off every single one of those 20 requests. (Source)
Once again, pressure has been applied, but nothing has been forthcoming except for more deflection from Holder and some new disturbing statements….
Sen. Lee stressed that the definition so far understood about threat “imminence” which he cited from page 7 of the 16-page leaked version is different from any other definition understood thus far by legal experts. Namely, that there is no specific evidence needed. Holder stammered through attempted answers stating repeatedly, “I’m not sure” of the full legal definition of imminence. The full OLC memorandum and related documents have not been reviewed by the oversight committee.
Perhaps most disturbing is when the subject of judicial review came up. Holder said that he, like Brennan, thinks there could be a place for that, but is worried that it would interfere with operations. Essentially, this is reinforcing the notion that intelligence agencies and the president can work hand-in-hand behind the scenes, away from Congressional review to decide who dies anywhere in the world. It is an incredibly arrogant and dismissive position to take toward the legal representatives of the American people.
As noted by theemptywheel.net, the delays we have seen regarding the full legal explanation is that they very well could still be working on a justification:
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…it appears more and more like what happened with torture: which is that the spooks were executing the program under Presidential authority–that is, under the Gloves Come Off Memorandum–and only after someone complained internally about the legal sketchiness of it all, did they go about getting an OLC opinion sanctioning the actions that had already happened. (Source)
However, when pressed by Texas Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), Holder did seem to indicate “I thought I was saying no” to the question of constitutionally killing Americans with drones domestically. Yet, it is worth noting that, similar to his written response to Rand Paul, Holder made it clear he was responding to a “hypothetical.” The central concern can be found here — the Constitution is written clearly and unambiguously so that clear and unambiguous answers can be given to legal questions. This appears to not be understood at the DoJ.
Much more clarification is needed from an entire administration that has been conducting itself with far less transparency than promised, especially since what was put in writing to Sen. Paul was a clear yes to assassinating Americans inside the United States.
Activists from CODEPINK closed the proceedings by pointing out some real facts about drone strikes killing innocent civilians in far greater numbers than those targeted as “militants.” These were facts documented in the report “Living Under Drones” which paints a picture that can only be described as stated-sponsored terrorism:
US drone strike policies cause considerable and under-accounted-for harm to the daily lives of ordinary civilians, beyond death and physical injury.
Drones hover twenty-four hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning.
Their presence terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities.
Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves. These fears have affected behavior. (Source)
So far this terror campaign has been waged overseas, and on its own is an indictment against U.S. military tactics and adherence to domestic and international law. As public backlash increases across the political spectrum, our nation’s chief legal officer must be called to fully account to Congress and the American people about what constitutes the undermining of our legal foundation as a nation, as well as a real national security threat.
Here is the main segment in question:
Full proceedings can be found at C-SPAN HERE at the video post in right-hand column of the C-SPAN website. Holder’s answers to Sen. Cruz can be found at 57:20 – 1:01:20.
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Full legal analysis of drone strikes can be found here:
Read other articles by Joe Wright Here: