CIA Director Nominee John Brennan

Tomorrow will be one of the first and possibly last opportunities for a real discussion of the US Drone Assassination program as John Brennan goes before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in hopes of being confirmed as CIA director. Already a contentious issue, the stakes have been further raised as a Justice Department white paper on the justification for the program was leaked.

The white paper’s justifications for killing American citizens were almost immediately condemned by civil liberties advocates.

[T]he paper only underscores the irresponsible extravagance of the government’s central claim. Even if the Obama administration is convinced of its own fundamental trustworthiness, the power this white paper sets out will be available to every future president—and every “informed high-level official” —in every future conflict.

Beyond the white paper are the questions asked by members of the Senate Committee regarding the justifications used to kill specific Americans. SSCI member Senator Ron Wyden responded to the white paper with a statement that demanded more answers.

 Every American has the right to know when their government believes that it is allowed to kill them.

The Justice Department memo that was made public yesterday touches on a number of important issues, but it leaves many of the most important questions about the President’s lethal authorities unanswered.  Questions like ‘how much evidence does the President need to decide that a particular American is part of a terrorist group?’, ‘does the President have to provide individual Americans with the opportunity to surrender?’ and ‘can the President order intelligence agencies or the military to kill an American who is inside the United States?’ need to be asked and answered in a way that is consistent with American laws and American values.  This memo does not answer these questions.

The confirmation hearing tomorrow may be the last time for the remainder of the Obama Administration that the public has an opportunity to scrutinize a program that could kill them. Even Senators like Wyden have been stonewalled up to now by the President. The killing of American citizens without due process is a serious violation of the constitution and if left unchallenged will become precedent for future administrations.

Tomorrow will likely be the last bite at the apple for finding out the specificity of the drone assassination program – now is the time to contact members of Senate Select Committee On Intelligence and demand they follow Senator Wyden’s lead and fight for answers at tomorrow’s hearing.

Photo by the White House under Public Domain