Attorney General Eric Holder has sent the following response to Republican Senator Rand Paul’s question about when the president has the authority to use drones to target US citizens on American soil:
Dear Senator Paul:
It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: “Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?” The answer to that question is no.
As I discussed in more detail here, the big issue with drone targeting is not that the Administration claims that it can target American citizens under some circumstances, but what exactly the limits on that power actually are.
Holder’s letter today is somewhat reassuring on that point, at least when it comes to to domestic targeting. But, with respect to international targeting, it still leaves open the key question of who determines whether a potential target is an Al Qaeda leader, and how much proof they have to have. On the domestic side, there might occasionally be ambiguity about what it means to be “engaged in combat,” though hopefully that won’t be a problem in most cases.