In response to an inquiry from Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday that the federal government has “no intention” of launching drone strikes in the United States but conceded an “extraordinary circumstance” could make it permissible.
Holder emphasized that he was talking about an unlikely theoretical event, but Paul was dissatisfied with his answer.
“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 the Constitutional due process rights of all Americans,” the senator said in a statement.
“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 in his letter to Paul. “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 two examples of such an “extraordinary circumstance” Holder raised was the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks of 2001.
Holder wrote that such “catastrophic” events could make something like domestic drone strikes necessary to protect the homeland.
“In a Google+ Hangout last month, President Obama refused to say directly if he had the authority to use lethal force against US citizens,” the liberal magazine Mother Jones reported, speculating “the reason the president was being so coy is that the answer was likely yes.”
Sen. Paul had threatened to block John Brennan’s nomination for CIA director until he received answers to his drone concerns. Brennan sent Paul a letter clarifying that the CIA does not have the authority to conduct such strikes in the United States.
“Notably missing from Mr. Brennan’s response are answers to the myriad other questions Sen. Paul posed to him in previous correspondence,” said a statement issued by Paul’s office.
The Obama administration previously agreed to release its drone memos to the Senate Intelligence Committee at the request of a bipartisan group of senators.
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