March 5th, 2013
07:00 AM ET

A 'thought war' over drones

By Libby Lewis, CNN

Editor's Note: Listen to the full story in our player above, and join the conversation in our comments section below.

(CNN) - With the nomination of John Brennan to be CIA director, the lid of secrecy on the U.S.’s targeted killing program has lifted a bit.

Brennan is a key figure in the secret drone programs carried out by the military and by the CIA. So his nomination sparked lots of questions, followed by some answers, in a leaked summary of the nation’s legal justification for including U.S. citizens – as well as foreigners – to be targeted.

Now, Congress is showing signs it wants more say in how the drone program operates, especially when it comes to U.S. citizens being targeted.

The House Judiciary Committee recently invited President Obama’s Justice Department to come testify on the drone program. But no one from the administration showed up. So the panel relied on a group of national security lawyers for advice, including John Bellinger:.

[1:35] "I do think it’s disappointing they didn’t send a witness. We’re happy to be your second string here – to try to help you out."

Bellinger was a key national security figure under President George W. Bush.

He and three other national security experts tackled a lot of questions from the lawmakers – questions that show how deeply messy this territory will be for Congress in its oversight role.

There’s a weird reality to it now. Today, the government needs court approval to wiretap a U.S. citizen suspected of terrorism overseas – but it doesn’t need one to kill him.

So there’s lots of talk, for instance, about whether Congress should ask the courts to play a role in the targeted killing program.

Republican Ted Poe of Texas, a former judge, said he didn’t like keeping the courts out of the decision about who to kill:

[3:38] "I’m troubled with the concept of – they’re put on the kill list, they’re killed and THEN we do a review. That doesn’t do the dead guy much (good) -when we find out, whoops we made a mistake here."

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soundoff (57 Responses)
  1. Kelly

    you have the right not to be killed. murder is a crime. unless it was done by a policeman or an aristocrat

    March 7, 2013 at 10:19 am | Report abuse |
  2. John

    Whether it is drones, healthcare, or whatever, before you decide that it's a good idea to cede control to the government, ask yourself "Will I be comfortable letting someone that I disagree with make this kind of decision for me?" because regardless of your party affiliation, eventually someone that you disagree with will be in control of the government and they, or someone that they appoint, will be making these decisions for you.

    March 7, 2013 at 10:14 am | Report abuse |
  3. real rob lawson

    While i understand the concerns, and for the most part they are somewhat valid, we must try and take a balanced view of this kind of thing,,lets say, we have the ability to save lives in the now and down the road, and we dont use that ability and those people die and or are maimed,..who is responsible?,is it the protesters that dont understand what they are protesting?, is it the "owner" of the tool?,..Use, not use,, it is no easy decision I am sure.You know, we discussed this re Libya, and syria and are still in discussion[which is a good thing, checks and balances only work when they are in action 24/7],..We could have used them in those situations and very great! restraint was excercised instead and they served only as survielance tools, which, btw, statisticly, is still true,, almost all are non violent data gathering platforms,Yes, some! are being used as weapons, and yes,as we can see, they are not 100% reliable[and never will be],So, when you "protest" against saving lives in real time, be aware that the ball falls in your! court when others sufer for your actions[or non actions],..there is no free ride at this level,,I for one, am far far!! more concerned about these tools being used by the criminal elements that I ever was! on legitimate,GOV usage,.. this is the reality, they exist, and will! be used for evil and very likely are as we speak,,there is no going back now,We! have to deal with it in an intelligent fashion based on the realities and move on and ahead, as always,, so be it!,..btw, "suicide bombers" are also "drones",, try and remember that,..different kind, but still DRONES,..whena terrorist hides in a vehicle carrying innocents and uses them,knowingly as a shield,.. who is to blame for "collateral"??..No ONE! "protests" against that, do they? but perhaps we should be?,.. name and shame,..with the facts and only! the facts, can work if used correctly,..

    March 7, 2013 at 10:04 am | Report abuse |
  4. william

    Here is the memo written by Obamas DOJ lawyers outlining drone attacks against US Citizens. Its from NBC, hardly a Conservative news outlet.

    Rand Paul is correct.

    March 7, 2013 at 10:04 am | Report abuse |
  5. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    What's the difference between drone usage in a war zone and the 5,000 pound bombs we dropped from our bombers and fighters on Baghdad in 2003 and beyond indiscriminately??? What about the civilian casualties??? The civilian casualties we called collateral damage??? And where was the due process for the people of Iraq???

    March 7, 2013 at 8:45 am | Report abuse |
    • william

      If there is no difference than i wonder why your outrage over domestic drone attacks is so muted.

      March 7, 2013 at 10:05 am | Report abuse |
  6. Hadenuffyet

    The singular roll of government is to get bigger , pass ever more laws , create ever more restrictions on liberty. Drones are effective , but invasive . They (government agencies) will find ever more reasons to implement them and justify their use. Welcome to 1984.

    March 7, 2013 at 8:10 am | Report abuse |
    • william

      I wish it was 1984. Anyone who lived through the Carter years than experienced our growth during the 80's can appreciate what i am eluding to.

      March 7, 2013 at 10:06 am | Report abuse |
  7. mique1

    How's that "due process" thingey working out for us?

    March 7, 2013 at 5:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

      The people of Iraq are asking the same question. Where was the due process??? That country's sovereignty was violated and now they are mared in civil unrest for perhaps decades to come. A year ago, Dick Cheyney went on CNN and told Candy Crawley about his tenure that he had "no regrets whatsover." Dick Cheyney and GWB don't know what due process is.

      March 7, 2013 at 8:36 am | Report abuse |
  8. Nodack

    Drones are here to stay. They are a tool just like the police helicopter hovering overhead only they are cheaper to operate. The only reason there is a controversy now is because Republicans made it one. They will make a contraversy out of any possible thing they can think of while Obama is President.

    I have zero doubt that if a Romney won this wouldn't be an issue with Republicans. Democrats would be the ones complaining about Romney possibly using them because it would be their turn to be the ones that try to stop Republicans from getting anything done.

    Isn't politics in America great. They divided us up down the middle nicely and now half the country hates the other half of the country because that's the way they like it.

    We all like health care. We all want a good job. We all want liberty and freedom. We all love our children. We all want to be safe. We could all work together to help all of us prosper, but instead we are doing everything in our power to make the other side look bad and that's appearently more important than any of those other things I mentioned. So sad.

    March 7, 2013 at 1:47 am | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      No its about giving the power to the govt to hit your ass with a hellfire missile just because THEY think you are a threat. They are talking about using drones to kill us citizens on us soil. This is worse than Judge Dredd.

      March 7, 2013 at 7:49 am | Report abuse |
      • Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

        Perhaps they shoud test it on Crawford ranch or at the next NRA convention. O' and speaking of the NRA, aint drones just a supersized gatling gun with propellers and a GPS system??? I believe it is our second amendment right to use drones. After all, they're just superzized guns. Drones should make the right wing gun loonies in America proud.

        March 7, 2013 at 8:00 am | Report abuse |
        • enough already

          Your arguments make no sense at all Blah Blah Blah. Your name is fitting to the babble that you spew. You seem to support the drones, although I am sure you against waterboarding when Bush was in office. I am sure you wanted Miranda rights read to foreign terrorists but you do not seem to mind that no right would be given to US citizens. Why? Are you that blinded by your love for Obama and your hatred of Republicans. What killing american citizens overseas, which was already done. How many of you who are OK with this are against the death penalty? All american citizens have the right to trial, otherwise, we might as well be communists.

          March 7, 2013 at 10:16 am | Report abuse |
  9. jkantor267

    There's no controversy over drones. You either support using them or you support Terrorism – and should be a target yourself.

    March 7, 2013 at 1:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Matthew

      Why don't we just get rid of that pesky document called the U.S. Constution? Have you ever heard of somehing called due process?

      March 7, 2013 at 2:11 am | Report abuse |
      • William R. Hill

        We're dealing with people who are constantly trying to find ways to destroy us and our way of life and who care nothing about our Constitution. We continue to find out that the only good terrorists are dead terrorists. When you'r fighting a war with people who will kill themselves to kill you and anybody else who happens to be around, legalistic niceties go out the window.

        March 7, 2013 at 6:32 am | Report abuse |
      • Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

        Where was the due process when we bombed Iraq? Where was the due process when we bombed the Taliban? I don't believe for one minute that the Taliban we bombed in in Afghanistan or those detained at Gitmo are al Qaeda. That's why GWB and cabinet should be droned.

        March 7, 2013 at 8:05 am | Report abuse |
        • enough already

          Iraq isnt the USA...they do not have our constitution...regardless, if you were against that, then you should be against drone stikes, especially on US citizens. Your arguments make no sense.

          March 7, 2013 at 10:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Todd

      that is why I am flying my drone over your house, to take you out

      March 7, 2013 at 2:52 am | Report abuse |
  10. Samuel R. Kephart


    Published Feb 2013

    Emmy-winning journalist, Shad Olson, explores the controversy over U.S. drone policy, both at home and abroad.

    While technological sky supremacy gives America strategic superiority on the battlefield, the prospect of drone proliferation over U.S. cities is causing concern about loss of privacy, an end to Habeas Corpus and judicial due process and the destruction of Constitutional rights.

    South Dakota U.S. Senator John Thune and former U.S. Senate candidate, Sam Kephart share their views about the consequences of domestic drone deployment in the fight against terrorism.

    March 7, 2013 at 12:50 am | Report abuse |
  11. bucs79

    If flight 93 hadn't crashed, would the President have had the legal authority to order it shot down before it hit its target? If the answer is yes, I don't understand how you can disagree with the President's refusal to take a domestic drone attack on an American citizen off the table. It's clearly a lower legal and moral hurdle to clear than giving an order to kill 40 innocent American citizens. We are NOT talking about a run of the mill terrorist hanging out in a cafe. We are talking about a situation where an American terrorist is in the process of trying to kill a huge number of Americans and only a drone attack (or some other action requiring CINC approval) will avert it.

    March 6, 2013 at 10:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • chicagorich

      Deadly force has always been allowed in order to protect life, such as for example someone shooting at others, or a person holding hostages. Additionally, the killing of fleeing forcible felons where the threat of death or great bodily harm to others should the offender escape have generally been allowed as a last resort if no other practical means of capture was available.

      I do not think we should try to legislate the particular weapon used to apply the force, but the circumstances where deadly force may be used by the state because it is justified.

      I am generally not in favor of expanding the circumstances where deadly force can be used, but I do believe that for existing circumstances where deadly force is allowed the use of a drone of other machine to actually apply that force is fine. In order to determine what type of force should be used a consideration of the totality of the circumstances should be undertaken to determine if the ends truly justify the means used to bring them about. Blowing up a bank with not just the robber but the innocent employees and customers would not be justified, but blowing up a terrorist before he can set off a bomb if it can be done without harming others ought to be.

      Either a warrant for the arrest of the subject for a forcible felony should be obtained, or exigent circumstances where the obtaining of such a warrant is impractical should be a requirement for any use of deadly force by the executive branches of our Federal, State and Local government, and judicial review of cases where it is used to ensure the action was reasonable should be required as a check on executive power. This should be the case whether the force was applied via a gun from a local police officer in a municipal police department (this is generally the case now) or a missile from a drone ordered by the President of the United States against anyone known to be a citizen of our country anywhere, or anyone on U.S. soil outside of the theaters of declared states of war.

      March 7, 2013 at 12:12 am | Report abuse |
  12. John

    Is so funny to see how people tends to change their moral compass when they see fit. Did you say anything when GWB signed the patriot act and created programs like this in the first place? I presume that when the targets are Muslims or Arabs is fine, but for american Christians is not OK. Or when the policies are created by people of your same race, religion or ethnic background. Just remember that the Christian right love self fulfilling prophesies and the only reason they are in fear now is because this president's race and background. And no. Nobody will blow your bible study class up because you are free to do it as long you don't become radical and want to impose your beliefs violently on others, In that case..say hello to the camera... You can approve or oppose but you can not change your mind at convenience.

    March 6, 2013 at 9:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Andrew

      Several times I voiced my concern... its only now that people pay attention and ask "Why didn't you say anything under Bush?"

      March 6, 2013 at 11:34 pm | Report abuse |
      • Todd

        Some of us have been raising caine the entire time, still are, and will until we get rid of this criminal organization

        March 7, 2013 at 2:54 am | Report abuse |
        • william

          The very people who did not like Bushes wars, Republican spending or wiretaps joined the Tea Party and were immediately branded as terrorists and rabid racist by the establishment on both sides.

          March 7, 2013 at 10:09 am | Report abuse |
  13. Rick

    Are the drone pilots in the U.S.A. "Legal Combatents" when they fire at the ememy in a war zone?

    March 6, 2013 at 8:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • chicagorich

      I believe that they would be, just the same as soldiers operating artillery from behind the lines, or aircraft that fire missiles from a hundred miles away are.

      March 7, 2013 at 12:18 am | Report abuse |
    • bltzflck

      If that is the case, then the sites from which the attacks are launched would be considered part of a war-zone and attacks on those sites by enemy combatants would be governed by the rules of war. This raises some interesting legal and ethical questions that go beyond the use of drones.

      March 7, 2013 at 7:42 am | Report abuse |
  14. Julie

    I too am concerned that christians could be called a hate group because of their long held beliefs in the Word of God – how about the teaparty people? Anyone remember when there was something going around a few years back where some were called terrorists because they disagreed with some policies? Can't remember exactly but there was a big deal on it – and an outcry saying they were calling americans terrorists when this was not the case – Please support Senator Rand Paul – We cannot get in to fusses about social issues and miss the BIG PICTURE that will affect all of us – NO man should be able to be judge jury and executioner – thanks

    March 6, 2013 at 8:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      Is so funny to see how people tends to change their moral compass when they see fit. Did you say anything when GWB signed the patriot act and created programs like this in the first place? I presume that when the targets are Muslims or Arabs is fine, but for american Christians is not OK. Or when the policies are created for people of your same race, religion and ethnic background. Just remember that the Christian right love self fulfilling prophesies and the only reason they are in fear now is because this president's race and background. And no. Nobody will blow your bible study class because you are free to do it as long you don't become radical and want to impose your beliefs violently on others, In that case..say hello to the camera... You can approve or oppose but you can not changing mind at convenience.

      March 6, 2013 at 9:42 pm | Report abuse |
      • Andrew

        Several times I voiced my concern... its only now that people pay attention and ask "Why didn't you say anything under Bush?"

        March 6, 2013 at 11:36 pm | Report abuse |
      • mique1

        I have been complaining since the Vietnam War. Things have just gotten worse. People who would give up their freedoms and rights for a proclaimed sense of security deserve neither. I fear us.

        March 7, 2013 at 5:40 am | Report abuse |
  15. cm74130

    "Targeted killing" absolutely needs oversight. Drone applications in the US will need a lot of attention and regulation both as weapons and as surveillance tools.

    March 6, 2013 at 6:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • George

      Oversight is exactly what the government will be doing. They will be flying over your back yard videotaping your wife nude sunbathing, and if you zoom in to the left over that privacy fence, to the house second from your left, you might be able to see me in the second floor window with a pair of binoculars.

      March 6, 2013 at 7:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Todd

      it will be the sheep bleating, that is all

      March 7, 2013 at 2:55 am | Report abuse |
  16. dont worry about it

    and they are worried about us having assault weapons

    March 6, 2013 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • George

      The terminator is coming, you had best believe it. Our government has developed and produced the equipment necessary to kill everyone and anyone it wants to. This is what we have made.

      March 6, 2013 at 7:02 pm | Report abuse |
  17. JC

    We shouldn't be assassinating people. It doesn't matter if we use a bomb dropped from a manned aircraft, a drone, or a guy with a gun. It's wrong. In regard to drones specifically, I don't care if we use them in the US as long as long as they are shown to be safe (not crash into things) and as long as they have to follow the same rules as the equivalent types of manned aircraft.

    March 6, 2013 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Todd

      spoken like a true sheep

      March 7, 2013 at 2:55 am | Report abuse |
  18. popseal

    Government employees have been instructed to not say nasties about faux messiah. Does that apply to us peones in the hinterland? Drones are over and watching you. Are you comfortable with that? They can read your IR heat signiture through a roof, watch you from 15 miles away through clouds, and if you give one the middle finger salute, make sure it's not one with Hellfire missles aboard. And we thought the rise of the machines was a Terminator cartoon....................

    March 6, 2013 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
  19. gstlab3

    The fact they debate the Constitutionality of using these weapons of war on American soil should tell you all you need to know about our government.

    March 6, 2013 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • sampler

      Not just American soil, but against Americans on American soil.

      March 6, 2013 at 7:43 pm | Report abuse |
  20. JB Smith

    I am a victim of "enhanced interrogation techniques" employed by the Virginia State Police and the Newport News Police Department. I am not alone. Brandon Raub, a former marine, also suffered. (See Forbes.com) They are excruciatingly painful. Law enforcement use stabilization wards like GITMO's. Dr. Stephen Cunningham at Virginia Beach Psych already admitted it was state police. Some say it is to violate the 2nd amendment right to bear arms. Coalition for justice says their client had a radio frequency communication implant because he was a foreign national. All I know is, I am not a criminal. I am not a foreign national – my grandmom was full blooded native American Indian. I have only been in a handful of states and have numerous community service awards (over 50). I am an American, but I am not free. For over 4 1/2 years I have been tortured. In court I found out that the CSB people I never met were never licensed in Virginia. All this was done – just to mess with me. Maybe the cop didn't like my hair, my car, my home...I am self employed, put myself through college over 12 years, put 2 kids through college, and have given the court more proof than I need to – hoping for a ruling in my favor. I am still tortured. There is no accountability because there is no knowledge. I hope to change that and get the word out. Please sign my petition at http://wh.gov/dXI4
    It is not classified – it was invented in Russia in the 1950's. The U. S. has refined it. Law Enforcement can now see into people's homes like an airport scanner through the "wifi" meter (it is an unprotected wireless router): see popsci.com. Police can tase them in their home with wireless taser through their electrical outlets – see wireless taser by guardsman.com diablo flashlight. Police can use the audiospotlight by Holosonics to talk to you so no one else can hear. It is the most heinous, atrocious crimes committed by the "special victims 'creators' units" in America. People need to get educated. Active Denial is small, portable, and EVIL!

    March 6, 2013 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
  21. TheTAB

    So, William I'm sure you would be fine if you were to become 'collateral damage' as long as the government got the bad guy that was sitting two tables away at a cafe. That is what we are talking about. A president (current or future) having the ability to kill any American citizen on American soil that is suspected to be a terrorist (or sympathetic to terrorists) - without a warrant – without a trial – without a jury – without any proof other than a President's say so. Judge, Juror & Executioner.

    I guess you've never read the fifth amendment.

    March 6, 2013 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
  22. beware123

    Would have ever thought our GOVT wants the ability to use drones to attack Americans on USA soil because they suspect terrorists or extremists were directly in opposition with Obama? hypothetical speaking, a Bible study group is in a private home and discussing the end times as they see it-–the Christians were expressing concern about the direction America was going–comparing it to Biblical principles as they (the Christians) see it-and out of nowhere a drone flies into the housing area and blows up a house. NOW–when a drone strikes it just wouldn't damage one house-there would be extensive damage in the whole neighborhood. Then the homeowners insurance can't call the incident an ACT of GOD (like earthquakes-tornadoes) and the neighborhood can't SUE the GOVT-what would you do? Hypothetically, there would be nothing anyone could do!

    This sounds far fetched but when you think back to 2009 when Janet napolitano (homeland security) spoke about Extremists (both FOREIGN and DOMESTIC) her first statement after taking office was to clarify extremists. Religious organizations and returning soldiers from war with a military mindset. The comment made by President Obama about Christians grabbing their Bible and running to the mountains doesn't know the scripture. Because the Bible instructs the Christian to speak to the Mountains and cast them into the SEA.

    When the President takes the oathe of office and swears to protect both foreign and domestic, Holder and Obama think they can strike and use their drone as they want. ONLY THIRD WORLD DICTATORS HAVE THIS KIND OF MENTALITY! Notify Congress-get the list of numbers from the website-CALL–_CALL-with this knowledge no one would be safe-target at will when our military can arrest persons on the US soil–unless ALL our military is OVERSEAS!

    March 6, 2013 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer


      The President and Attorney General Holder never said they'd support using drones on Americans in America. Attorney General Holder responded to a question about the possibility of drone use in America and he said the only way that drones could possibly be used in the U.S. is in a case where our country was under seige and our sovereignty was at stake. Mr. Holder also stated that the possibility of drone usage would have to be something that's authorized by our government. He further stated however that he does not believe it would be necessary to use drones in America on Americans simply because we have law enforcement agencies to do that job. O' and by the way, I have a question for you...would it have been appropriate to use a drone strike on Timothy McVeigh before he carried out his mass destruction on Oklahoma City?

      March 7, 2013 at 8:21 am | Report abuse |
  23. us_1776

    Keep all drones out of commercial and private aircraft space.

    That means anywhere between 400' and 50,000' NO DRONES.

    The last thing pilots need is to be dealing with, is a bunch of these unmanned nuisances.



    March 6, 2013 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
  24. Mark

    The same people screaming that we must accept drones over our heads are the same ones screaming to take the guns out of our hands!

    March 6, 2013 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

      Can you please provide a list of the people you claimed said its ok to fly drones over our heads??? Can you? And by the way, a drone is just a supersize Gatling gun with propellers and a GPS system. It should make right wing gun nuts like you proud. O' and drone usage is also in your second amendment. Remember???

      March 7, 2013 at 8:28 am | Report abuse |
  25. nonyabidnes2

    What is a cause of concern is, how to do this without giving people their constitutional rights? Also, what happens to those (innocents) caught up in the aftermath? Collertral damage will be a determinant to the populas. I don't think there is anything in our Constitution that spells out the governments right to bomb their people...

    March 6, 2013 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • jon

      The constitution is crap if people don't use their second amendment to defend it. That isn't gonna happen. So just buckle in and prepare for the iron fist.

      March 6, 2013 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
      • Norm

        Hey Jon,I was just wondering, when was the last time you used your second ammendment rights to protect the constitution. Never? All the overweight, old, bald white men yelling and screaming about your second amendment rights should get off your lazy butts and do something! Start a revolution, show up at your town square fully armed and shoot some, I don't know, maybe cops or hippies or someone! Quit talking and start acting or coversely, shut your mouth.

        March 6, 2013 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
        • Robert

          I bet Jon is out at the bar every night "defendering" the Constitution to anyone who will listen as he talks about iron fists and other booger man topics...

          March 6, 2013 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  26. William

    Unleash the drones and let's use them in war and at home for what they were designed for. Having them and not using them as designed is a hugh waste of taxpayers money.
    Our selected used in war is a terrible waste of resources and human life in the number of troops killed when a strike by what's already in the area ready to strike is crazy. Do our emenies call a lawyer every time they plan or excute a mission? Probably not!
    As far as domestic use, let 'em go, like we don't watch things and events within our own borders? Come on now is the tooth fairy out there or what!?!

    March 6, 2013 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
    • schapkj

      Your rationale makes me believe you believe in the tooth fairy. Your stance takes away every freedom Americans have ever had.

      March 6, 2013 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |