After Attorney General Eric Holder sparked outrage this week by stating in a letter to Sen. Rand Paul (R. Ky.) that President Obama has the authority to authorize drone strikes within the United States, members of the administration decided to backtrack, with White House spokesman Jay Carney stating that drone strikes cannot be used domestically.
“The president has not and would not use drone strikes against American citizens on American soil,” Carney said at a press conference on Thursday.
Sen. Paul had repeatedly asked the administration if drone strikes could be used domestically and finally got a response from Holder on Monday in a letter, in which he wrote:
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.
In response, Sen. Paul filibustered for nearly 13 hours the confirmation of John Brennan as the director of the CIA, which prompted Thursday’s response from Carney.
Holder, too, issued a response to Paul, writing a brief, new letter backtracking on his original statement, writing, “It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: ‘Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?’ The answer to that question is no.”
Sen. Paul stated that he was satisfied with the response and would end his filibuster to allow for the nomination of Brennan, saying that he had won his fight to make sure every American is granted due process.
But while it seems as though this would settle the issue, critics aren’t convinced. The phrase “not engaged in combat on American soil” may not mean that a drone strike cannot be used on American soil, as a document from the Justice Department released last month maintains that evidence that a person in another country is about to engage in violence is not needed to launch a drone strike. Further, a strike on an American who was not suspected of violence has occurred, as 16-year-old Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, the son of Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, was killed by a drone strike in October 2011 in Yemen. He was in the country looking for his father, who had been killed by a drone strike the month before.