Questions over drone program giving Obama administration headaches

The Obama administration's controversial drone program is causing key members of both parties to question the president's use of unilateral power.

A U.S. Justice Department document released earlier this month revealed what the White House perceives to be the legal basis for its drone policy.

The 16-page document obtained by NBC News said the use of drones, remote-controlled pilotless aircrafts or missiles, to execute an individual without judicial consent is justified with a legal basis when the target in question poses an imminent threat, including American citizens affiliated with al Qaeda's upper ranks.

Since the document's leak, President Barack Obama and his administration have been embroiled in battles with congressmen on both sides of the aisle over the program's use and legality.

Central Michigan University political science department chairman Orlando Perez questioned the administration’s stance on drone strikes.

“While there might be some justification for using drones to fight terrorists, violating U.S. citizens' rights is not a price worth paying,” Perez said. “The ends never justify the means, particularly when those ends violate the Constitution.”

Perez said the use of drone strikes against nations the United States is not currently at war with is a violation of their national sovereignty, while the lack of independent judicial oversight is a circumnavigation of due process.

“Every American has constitutional rights, even those who advocate evil things,” Perez said. “Americans who support violence and the destruction of the nation are wrong, but there are judicial procedures of punishing them. Assassinating them without a trial is unconstitutional.”

Perez’s view is not universally shared. Several U.S. senators feel the new information is still less than satisfactory.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said that he plans to filibuster Obama's pick for CIA director, White House counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan, until the Obama administration is more forthcoming with its drone policy to the Senate.

Additionally, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., have demanded further openness from White House officials.

“I still have a number of unanswered questions about the president’s authority to kill Americans who are deemed to be a threat to the United States,” Wyden said.

Former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told MSNBC's Chris Hayes Sunday that he was told by the administration not to acknowledge the drone program to reporters.

"Here’s what’s inherently crazy about that proposition: You’re being asked a question based on reporting of a program that exists," Gibbs said. "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”

Gibbs called on Obama to be more transparent.

"I think what the president has seen is, our denial of the existence of the program, when it’s obviously happening, undermines people’s confidence overall in the decisions that their government makes," Gibbs said.

Calls for more transparency increased last week after Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said an estimated 4,700 deaths have occurred at the hands of unmanned aerial vehicles. That number is higher than most independent estimates.

Graham is a proponent of drone use in fighting terrorism and questioned calls for increased judicial oversight of the program.

“I can’t imagine, in World War II, for (President Franklin) Roosevelt to have gone to a bunch of judges and said, ‘I need your permission before we can attack the enemy,’” Graham said.


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