Americans need a clear statement from President Obama about the circumstances, if any, under which he would dispatch drones to kill citizens in the United States.
The issue emerged during Senate confirmation hearings for the new Central Intelligence Agency director, John Brennan. Last week, Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) filibustered for nearly 13 hours about what he called a potential threat to Americans’ constitutional rights.
Attorney General Eric Holder has said that the Obama Administration doesn’t think it is proper to kill Americans in America without due process of law, except in limited circumstances. The administration also has suggested that it would not be a great idea to use unmanned drones to carry out such executions, at least domestically.
That’s not good enough. Americans need a promise from Mr. Obama that U.S. citizens who don’t pose an imminent threat won’t be executed in this country without due process of law, and especially that armed drones won’t be used for that purpose.
The country’s drone programs are run either by the CIA or the Department of Defense. The CIA is prohibited by law from operating in the United States. And the government is prohibited from using federal troops for law enforcement against U.S. citizens in the United States.
None of this would prevent U.S. forces from acting against American citizens fighting against American troops on foreign battlefields. Nor would it interfere with normal law enforcement by state or local police against would-be criminals or public threats. If, for example, a sniper on top of an office building could be neutralized by a drone, the circumstances would have to be reviewed carefully by proper authorities before any action.
Americans were prepared after 9/11 to tolerate greater infringement on their freedoms, including the declaration of the global war on terror. But it is past time for President Obama to put the lid on unilateral executive-branch killing of Americans, especially through the use of drones.