According to a report by Tom Carter and Barry Grey on Tuesday, John Brennan, the current chief counterterrorism adviser for President Obama and architect and director of the administration’s controversial drone strike program and nominee for director of the CIA, was given written questions last week by a Senate Intelligence Committee.
One of the questions was, “Could the Administration carry out drone strikes inside the United States?” Brennan’s response was neither a simple yes or no, replying: “This Administration has not carried out drone strikes inside the United States and has no intention of doing so.”
“This is what is known as a non-responsive answer,” write Carter and Grey. “It is reasonable to assume that if the answer was ‘no,’ Brennan would simply have written, ‘no.’ Instead, in order to avoid a giving straightforward ‘yes,’ he answered a different question than the one that was asked.”
Though the administration may not have any “intention” to use drone strikes domestically, that doesn’t necessarily mean it can’t be done. When it comes to government, programs meant to be limited usually expand.
Brennan was earlier asked about drone strikes in the United States at a confirmation hearing on Feb. 7. According to Carter and Grey, “Brennan responded that he was determined to ‘optimize transparency on these issues, but at the same time, optimize secrecy and the protection of our national security.’ He thus completely evaded the question, and no member of the committee, Democrat or Republican, pursued the matter further.”
Obama was also asked about whether drones could be used domestically during a video Q&A over Google+ last week. Like Brennan, Obama refused to give a simple yes or no answer. Here is his complete response:
There has never been a drone used on an American citizen on American soil. We respect and have a whole bunch of safeguards in terms of how we conduct counterterrorism operations outside of the United States. The rules outside of the United States are going to be different than the rules inside the United States. In part, because our capacity to capture a terrorist inside the United States are very different than in the foothills or mountains of Afghanistan or Pakistan, but what I think is absolutely true is that it is not sufficient for citizens to take my word for it that we’re doing the right thing. I am the head of the Executive Branch, and what we’ve done so far is to try to work with Congress on oversight issues. But part of what I’m going to have to work with Congress on is to make sure that, whatever it is we’re providing Congress, we have mechanisms to also make sure that the public understands what’s going on, what the constraints are, what the legal parameters are, and that’s something I take very seriously. I’m not somebody who believes that the president has the authority to do whatever he wants, or whatever she wants, whenever they want, just under the guise of counterterrorism. There have to be checks and balances on it.
While there haven’t been drone strikes on Americans on American soil, drones have been used to assassinate Americans without habeas corpus. Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and magazine publisher Samir Khan were killed in Yemen by a drone strike in 2011. Both were born in the United States.
Shortly after, al-Awlaki’s son, 16-year-old Abdulrahman, was killed by a drone strike. Abdulrahman was not suspected of terrorism. He was in Yemen searching for his father. To this day, the White House refuses to give a reason for his assassination.
Earlier this month, a white paper from within the Justice Department was made public. The paper attempts to legally justify drone assassinations, stating that an official within the government determines when to make strikes and that no evidence that a target is planning to commit an act of terrorism is needed to launch a strike.