At a hearing Wednesday, the Attorney General of the United States seemed to have trouble answering whether the U.S. Constitution would prohibit the President from ordering a drone strike against a known terrorist who is an American citizen sitting in a cafe here in the U.S. minding his own business.
Said AG Eric Holder, “The way in which you have described this person, sitting at the cafe – the use of lethal force would not be appropriate.”
“I find it remarkable that you still will not give an opinion on the constitutionality,” said Sen. Rand Paul.
This prompted a real live talking filibuster in the U.S. Senate by members worried that the 2011 drone strike in Yemen that blew up Anwar Al Awlaki set a dangerous precedent. Awlaki had joined al Qaeda, but he was also an American citizen.
According to a leaked justice department memo the United States – as part of its right to defend itself – asserts the right to target al Qaeda operatives wherever they may be: raising the “terrorist in the Starbucks” scenario.
But this whole debate ignores the real threat. Whatever the Constitution says or doesn’t say, if a U.S. President ordered a drone strike on American soil, and killed innocent people – as we’ve done in Afghanistan and Yemen, he’d be impeached and tried for murder.
The real threat from our expanding use of drones is that we have let the genie out of the bottle. A drone is much easier to make than a nuclear weapon. Pretty soon any country will be able to buy or make one – a precisely targeted drone. It’s a suicide bomber without the suicide. The real threat is not that the President would order a drone strike on US soil, it’s that someone like Anwar al Awlaki might be able to order a drone strike on U.S. soil.