Support grows for U.S. "drone court" to review lethal strikes

Fri Feb 8, 2013 7:28pm EST
 

By Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - During a fresh round of debate this week over President Barack Obama's claim that he can unilaterally order lethal strikes by unmanned aircraft against U.S. citizens, some lawmakers proposed a middle ground: a special federal "drone court" that would approve suspected militants for targeting.

While the idea of a judicial review of such operations may be gaining political currency, multiple U.S. officials said on Friday that imminent action by the U.S. Congress or the White House to create one is unlikely. The idea is being actively considered, however, according to a White House official.

At Thursday's confirmation hearing for CIA director nominee John Brennan, senators discussed establishing a secret court or tribunal to rule on the validity of cases that U.S. intelligence agencies draw up for killing suspected militants using drones.

The court could be modeled on an existing court which examines applications for electronic eavesdropping on suspected spies or terrorists.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Thursday that she planned to "review proposals for ... legislation to ensure that drone strikes are carried out in a manner consistent with our values, and the proposal to create an analogue of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to review the conduct of such strikes."

Senator Angus King, a Maine independent, said during the hearing that he envisioned a scenario in which executive branch officials would go before a drone court "in a confidential and top-secret way, make the case that this American citizen is an enemy combatant, and at least that would be ... some check on the activities of the executive."

King suggested that only drone attacks on U.S. citizens would need court approval; other proposals leave open the possibility that such a court could also rule regarding drone strikes on non-Americans.

On Friday, a White House official indicated the administration was open to the idea. Without specifically mentioning drones, the official said "the White House has been discussing various ways there could be independent review of counterterrorism actions for more than a year."   Continued...

 
U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the White House in Washington November 28, 2012. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque