In a Google hangout interview last week, President Obama was asked to reassure Americans that he would not and could not legally carry out drone strikes against Americans on U.S. soil. Revealingly, he declined to do so. Real Clear Politics has the transcript:
LEE DOREN, QUESTION: A lot of people are very concerned that your administration now believes it’s legal to have drone strikes on American citizens, and whether or not that’s specifically allowed with citizens within the United States. And if that’s not true, what will you do to create a legal framework to make American citizens within the United States know that drone strikes cannot be used against American citizens?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well first of all — I think, there has never been a drone used on an American citizen on American soil. And, you know, we respect and have a whole bunch of safeguards in terms of how we conduct counterterrorism operations outside of the United States.
The rules outside of the United States are going to be different than the rules inside the United States, in part because our capacity, for example, to capture a terrorist in the United States are very different than in the foothills or mountains of Afghanistan or Pakistan.
But, what I think is absolutely true is that it is not sufficient for citizens to just take my word for it that we’re doing the right thing. I am the head of the executive branch. And what we’ve done so far is to try to work with Congress on oversight issues. But part of what I’m going to have to work with Congress on is to make sure that whatever it is that we’re providing Congress, that we have mechanisms to also make sure that the public understands what’s going on, what the constraints are, what the legal parameters are, and that’s something that I take very seriously.
I am not somebody who believes that the President has the authority to do whatever he wants, or whatever she wants, whenever they want just under the guise of counterterrorism. There have to be legal checks and balances on it.
Let’s break that down a bit.
1) Obama begins his reply by saying that until now, drones have not been used against Americans on U.S. soil. But that wasn’t the question. Notice he doesn’t say they won’t be.
2) He says drone attacks against Americans on U.S. soil would be different from strikes overseas because within the U.S., there is a greater capacity to capture a “terrorist”. So his disinclination to employ drones in the U.S. against his own citizens is merely a practical consideration, rather than a legal or moral one.
3) He says he is making an effort to provide to the public information about his administration’s drone policy. Yet the fact is that his administration has refused to disclose such information as “what the constraints are, what the legal parameters are”. A lawsuit was even filed against the government under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in order to obtain the administration’s legal rationale for drone strikes against American citizens. The judge ruled in favor of the government, stating:
I can only conclude that the Government has not violated FOIA by refusing to turn over the documents sought in the FOIA requests, and so cannot be compelled by this court of law to explain in detail the reasons why its actions do not violate the Constitution and laws of the United States. The Alice-in-Wonderland nature of this pronouncement is not lost on me; but after careful and extensive consideration, I find myself stuck in a paradoxical situation in which I cannot solve a problem because of contradictory constraints and rules–a veritable Catch-22. I can find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the Executive Branch of our Government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws, while keeping their reasons for their conclusion a secret.
Think about that. Even though everyone can see that the government’s actions are a violation of the Constitution, the government itself proclaims otherwise based on a secret legal rationale, and the courts refuse to compel the government to disclose its argument for how its actions do not violate the Constitution, such that the government may continue to engage in actions that are prima facie illegal. By the admittedly “Alice-in-Wonderland” logic of this ruling, it is impossible for the U.S. government to be found to have acted in violation of the Constitution as long as it declares itself to have acted legally without even so much as having to produce an argument to support its claims that it has not acted unconstitutionally. In short, the Constitution is finally dead and buried. Americans live now under a totalitarian government proclaiming for itself unlimited power.
4) Obama says he doesn’t believe he has total, absolute, unconditional power. So he believes there are limits to the authority of the Executive branch. He just isn’t going to tell you what those limits are. Isn’t that reassuring?
Consider further that when Obama’s pick for the director of the CIA, John Brennan, was asked, “Could the Administration carry out drone strikes inside the United States?” his reply was, “This Administration has not carried out drone strikes inside the United States and has no intention of doing so.” Notice that response doesn’t answer the question. And there is only one reason for the administration to repeatedly decline to answer that question.
Wake up, America.