Let’s be honest with ourselves: he’s not telling us anything we didn’t already know.
Attorney General Eric Holder can imagine a scenario in which it would be constitutional to carry out a drone strike against an American on American soil, he wrote in a letter to Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.
“It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States,” Holder replied in a letter yesterday to Paul’s question about whether Obama “has the power to authorize lethal force, such as a drone strike, against a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil, and without trial.”
Paul condemned the idea. “The U.S. Attorney General’s refusal to rule out the possibility of drone strikes on American citizens and on American soil is more than frightening – it is an affront the Constitutional due process rights of all Americans,” he said in a statement.
One might suspect every President has privately held the view he has the right to kill an American or group of Americans without a trial if it was required to prevent a significant loss of life or stop a war from breaking out.
There is an justifiable argument that in truly extraordinary circumstances, what is morally right trumps both what is legal and constitutional. It’s a largely theoretical reality that Administrations simply don’t talk about in order to provide “plausible deniability” to the Executive Branch officials who would make such calls.
The extraordinary thing about Holder’s statement is that by publicly admitting that the White House reserves the rights to extrajudicially murder Americans, he’s also created probable culpability for the Administration for those kinds of actions when and if they occur.
Simply put, if Americans start dying as a result of drone strikes under the Obama Administration in less than 100% obvious and justifiable circumstances, then Americans would have the moral right to consider whether the extrajudicial actions against the executive branch are justifiable in return.