President Barack Obama’s use of unmanned drones to kill Americans who are suspected of being al-Qaida allies deserves closer inspection, lawmakers said Sunday as even some of the president’s allies suggested an uneasiness about the program.
Obama’s stance toward the terrorist threats facing the United States has left some Democrats and Republicans alike nervous about the unmanned drones targeting the nation’s enemies from the skies. Questions about the deadly program dogged Obama’s pick to lead the Central Intelligence Agency last week and prompted lawmakers to consider tighter oversight. All killings carried out under the drone program have ballooned under the president’s watch.
“We are in a different kind of war. We’re not sending troops. We’re not sending manned bombers. We’re dealing with the enemy where we find them to keep America safe. We have to strike a new constitutional balance with the challenges we face today,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).
“The policy is really unfolding. Most of this has not been disclosed,” the second-ranking Senate Democrat added.
Before John Brennan’s confirmation hearing to lead the CIA on Thursday, Obama directed the Justice Department to give the congressional intelligence committees access to classified legal advice providing the government’s rationale for drone strikes against American citizens working with al-Qaida abroad. That 2012 memo outlined the Obama administration’s decision to kill al-Qaida suspects without evidence that specific and imminent plots were being planned against the United States.
The nomination of Brennan, Obama’s counterterrorism adviser who oversaw many of the drone strikes from his office, kick-started the discussion about how the U.S. prosecutes its fight against the terrorist group.
The potential model that some lawmakers are considering for overseeing such drone attacks is a secret court of federal judges that now reviews requests for government surveillance in espionage and terrorism cases. In those 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.
Republicans seemed to oppose such an oversight proposal.