Lawmakers to consider special court to approve use of drones in 'kill' attacks
By The Associated Press
Published: Friday, Feb. 8, 2013, 8:30 p.m.
WASHINGTON — Lawmakers are considering whether Congress should set up a special court to decide when drones can kill American al-Qaida suspects overseas, much as a secret court now grants permission for surveillance. The effort, after CIA Director-designate John Brennan's vigorous defense of a drone attack that killed U.S. citizens, reflects a philosophical struggle in government over remote warfare.
The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein of California, spelled it out at the start of Brennan's confirmation hearing on Thursday. She declared that she intended to review proposals for “legislation to ensure that drone strikes are carried out in a manner consistent with our values and the proposal to create an analogue of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to review the conduct of such strikes.”
And Sen. Angus King Jr., in a letter Friday to senior leaders of the panel, suggested an “independent process — similar to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court — to provide an appropriate check on the executive branch's procedure for determining whether using lethal force in a foreign country against a U.S. citizen would be lawful.”
In FISA proceedings, 11 federal judges review wiretap applications that enable the FBI and other agencies to gather evidence to build cases. Suspects have no lawyers present, as they would in other U.S. courts, and the proceedings are secret. The government presents its case to a judge, who issues a warrant or not.
The notion of something similar for drone strikes drew immediate criticism from human rights and legal groups, which contend that such a court must allow the accused to mount a defense.
“It's not about evidence gathering, it's about punishment to the point of execution,” said Mary Ellen O'Connell, professor of international law at the University of Notre Dame and a critic of the government's drone program. “We have never thought people could be executed without some kind of trial.”
A former CIA official reacted coolly, too, but from the opposite direction.
“I think it is reasonable to ask the question under what circumstances the president can use lethal force against a U.S. citizen overseas,” said Jeff Smith, former general counsel of the CIA. “It's a frightening power, and I think we need to think very, very carefully about how that power is used and whether some judicial review is warranted.”
“But I certainly don't think judicial review or congressional review is needed to strike al-Qaida or other terrorist organizations,” he said.
The idea is also so preliminary that lawmakers can't yet say exactly how a new process would work. Most of those interviewed said the current system works well.
Brennan pioneered the current process to determine which targets are dangerous enough to be placed on one of two hit lists for killing or capture — one held by the CIA and the other by the military's Joint Special Operations Command. Many of the names on the lists overlap, and the agency that goes after the target depends on where the suspect appears.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- ‘Holy grail of guitars’ for sale in April auction
- California man named as bitcoin creator denies involvement
- Spyware in government computers ‘has Russian paw prints all over it’
- Accuser takes stand during court-martial
- Nuke plant safety improving, watchdog says — with cautions
- El Nino could bring relief to U.S.
- Miranda read to sex assault accuser, 14
- Border Patrol ordered to stop shooting at vehicles
- Kansas public school funding unconstitutional
- Deputy accused of illegal stops
- Sex-crimes prosecutor accused in groping