From The Washington Examiner:
Attorney General Eric Holder wrote Sen. Rand Paul,R-Ky., to confirm that President Obama does not have the authority to kill an American on U.S. soil in a non-combat situation, Obama’s spokesman announced today.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney quoted from the letter that Holder sent to Paul today. “Does the president have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on an American soil?” Holder wrote, per Carney. “The answer is no.”
Here is the complete text of Holder’s letter. This news comes hours after Senators McCain and Graham scolded Rand Paul and his efforts on the Senate floor last night, with Graham saying Rand’s question about Obama’s authority to kill US citizens is “offensive” and doesn’t “deserve an answer.”
As Brian Doherty at Reason’s Hit & Run points out, this “answer” is not good enough. “But who is a noncombatant?” Doherty asks. “What constitutes engaging in hostile activities to the White House?”
It’s a good question, considering Obama’s use of “signature strikes” in which individuals whose identities are not specifically known and have not been shown to be actively engaged in an ongoing plot or attack can be drone bombed.
Finally, it’s worth asking who the government considers a legitimate domestic target. Current domestic counter-terrorism efforts, like the Department of Homeland Security’s “fusion centers,” have targeted for surveillance Americans entirely uninvolved with terrorism.
A Senate investigation last year found that “when fusion centers did address terrorism,” which was rare, “they sometimes did so in ways that infringed on civil liberties,” the AP reported. “The centers have made headlines for circulating information about Ron Paul supporters, the ACLU, activists on both sides of the abortion debate, war protesters and advocates of gun rights.”
Some of these intelligence centers even investigated Muslim-American community groups and their book recommendations. No evidence of criminal activity was ever found, but the government did store the information, which it is prohibited from doing for First Amendment activities.
Update: Despite the lingering concerns that I mentioned above, Rand Paul has responded positively to the administration’s answer. TPM reports:
Appearing on CNN on Thursday afternoon, Paul declared that Holder’s response was satisfactory and that he would allow a vote on Brennan’s nomination.
“I’m quite happy with the answer and I’m disappointed it took a month and a half and a root canal to get it,” Paul said.
Update II: The Senate has voted to confirm Brennan as CIA Director, by a 63-34 vote. Rand Paul voted no.