So wait, did the attorney-general just imply that the president can authorize drone strikes on US citizens on US soil? Because that’s what it sounded like. New CIA Director John Brennan said much the same thing when asked by Senator Rand Paul during his nomination hearing. Apparently the administration feels that drone strikes against US citizens on US soil are totes cool.
Let me make this perfectly clear.
Like many lawyers might, he used three paragraphs rather than just the one word, but that’s what he said.
For a while now the administration has been refusing to answer this question one way or the other, which anyone with half a brain knew almost certainly meant “yes.” But in a letter dated March 4, the Attorney General finally responded to Senator Rand Paul’s question whether “the President has the power to authorize lethal force, such as a drone strike, against a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil, and without trial.”
And the actual single-page letter that artfully says the opposite of what it seems to say.
Dear Senator Paul:
On February 20, 2013, you wrote to John Brennan requesting additional information concerning the Adminìstration’s views about whether “the President has the power to authorize lethal force, such as a drone strike, against a U.S. citizen on soil, and without trial.”
As members of this Administration have previously indicated, the U.S. 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, l suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in winch 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 of a catastrophic attack like the ones suffered on December 7, 1941, and September 11, 2001.
Were such an emergency to arise, l would examine the particular facts and circumstances before advising the President on the scope of his authority.
Eric H. Holder, Jr.
tl;dr: It’s a valid question, and when the issue comes up I will let the President know the answer.
Still tl;dr: Yes.
More: Lowering the Bar