WASHINGTON — Senators of both parties on Wednesday criticized Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. for the secrecy surrounding the Justice Department legal memorandums justifying drone strikes aimed at American citizens, while pushing him to say more about when the Obama administration believes it can use military force on United States soil.
One focus of the hearing was the extent to which the administration believed it could authorize the military to use lethal force, like drone strikes, against American citizens on domestic soil. Earlier this week, Mr. Holder sent a letter to Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, saying that the question was “entirely hypothetical” and “unlikely to occur,” but that it was possible to imagine circumstances in which it would be appropriate, such as during an attack like the one at Pearl Harbor or the ones on Sept. 11, 2001.Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, suggested a hypothetical situation in which a terrorism suspect was not presenting an imminent threat — like “sitting in a cafe,” rather than pointing a weapon — and asked whether it would be unconstitutional to simply kill that person.Mr. Holder repeatedly said that would not be an appropriate time to use lethal force rather than arresting the suspect, but Mr. Cruz said he was asking a “simple question” about whether it would be legal, not its propriety.Finally, Mr. Holder said “translate my ‘appropriate’ to ‘no.’ I’m saying ‘no.'”Mr. Cruz replied that he was glad that “after much gymnastics,” he had obtained the simple answer, adding that he wished Mr. Holder had given the same statement in the letter to Mr. Paul.
As Mr. Holder came before the Senate Judiciary Committee for a department oversight hearing, the chairman of the panel, Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, said that he was considering issuing a subpoena to the executive branch to compel it to turn over the Justice Department documents. Mr. Leahy and others have been seeking them for more than a year.“While the department’s success in disrupting threats to national security has been remarkable and its efforts to hold terrorists accountable commendable, I remain deeply troubled that this committee has not yet received the materials I have requested regarding the legal rationale for the targeted killing of United States citizens overseas,” Mr. Leahy said. “I am not alone in my frustration or in my waning patience. The relevant Office of Legal Counsel memoranda should have been provided to members of this committee. It is our responsibility to ensure that the tools at government’s disposal are used in a way that is consistent with our Constitution, laws and values.”
UPDATE: Holder's over-the-top assertions in testimony sent Sen. Rand Paul to the floor of the senate, the same night I wrote this post, in a good old fashioned, Jimmy Stewart kind of filibuster on the dangers of whacking American citizens via drone technology. While the filibuster itself was largely theatrical and ultimately meaningless, it did raise coverage of Holder's brazen assertions regarding executive power. And Secret Agent Man is undeterred.
Awesome...the same, meaningless "enemy combatants" phrase thrown around by the Bush administration stooges regarding torture.As Republicans went at one another and White House officials watched in amusement, the administration directly answered the question at the heart of Mr. Paul’s filibuster. No, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a letter Thursday to Mr. Paul, the president does not have the authority to use a drone to kill a United States citizen on American soil who is not engaged in combat.Mr. Holder did not say how the president would determine who is an enemy combatant. And he did not back off his statement on Wednesday that the president has the authority to pursue military action inside the United States in extraordinary circumstances, an assertion that helped set off Mr. Paul’s filibuster.
"Secret Agent Man, he gives you a number and takes away your name."
UPDATE II: "Hello! You've Been Targeted For Drone Assassination! Helpful Hints From Your U.S. Government!"