Obama 'can use drones at home'
PRESIDENT Barack Obama has the authority to use an unmanned drone strike to kill US citizens on American soil, his attorney general has said.
Eric Holder argued that using lethal military force against an American in his home country would be legal and justified in an "extraordinary circumstance" comparable to the September 11 terrorist attacks.
"The president could conceivably have no choice but to authorise the military to use such force if necessary to protect the homeland," Mr Holder said.
His statement was described as "more than frightening" by Senator Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, who had demanded to know the Obama administration's position on the subject.
"It is an affront to the constitutional due process rights of all Americans," said Mr Paul (50), a favourite of the anti-government Tea Party movement, who is expected to run for president in 2016.
Mr Holder wrote to Mr Paul after the senator threatened to block the appointment of Irish-American John Brennan as the director of the CIA unless he received answers to a series of questions on its activities.
Mr Obama has been sharply criticised for the secrecy surrounding his extension of America's "targeted killing" campaign against al-Qa'ida terrorist suspects using missile strikes by unmanned drones.
The secret campaign has killed an estimated 4,700 people in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. A quarter are estimated to have been civilians, prompting anger among human rights campaigners.
According to research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, drone strikes killed between 474 and 881 civilians – including 176 children – in Pakistan between 2004 and last year. Criticism within the US has focused on the implications for terrorist suspects who are also US citizens, after Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical cleric born and educated in the US, was killed in Yemen in 2011.
The administration claims it has the legal authority to assassinate Americans provided that they are a senior al-Qa'ida operative posing an imminent threat and it would be "infeasible" to capture them. This justification emerged only last month in a leaked memo from Mr Holder's department of justice. Mr Obama this week agreed to give Congress his full set of classified legal memos on the targeting of Americans.
Civil liberties campaigners accuse the president and his aides of awarding themselves sweeping powers to deny Americans their constitutional rights. without oversight from Congress or the judiciary.
Mr Holder stressed in his letter that the prospect of a president considering the assassination of an American citizen on US soil was "entirely hypothetical" and "unlikely to occur". (© Daily Telegraph, London)