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Do US drone kills need an oversight board? How would it work? (+video)

The confirmation hearing for John Brennan, Obama's pick to be CIA chief, has given impetus to the idea that drone strikes on terror suspects be subject to some form of judicial oversight.

By Staff Writer / February 8, 2013

This undated U.S. Air Force handout image shows a MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft. A leaked government memo addresses the killing of American citizens as part of its controversial drone campaign against al Qaeda.

Lt Col Leslie Pratt/US Air Force/Reuters/Handout



Should the US establish some sort of secret court to conduct judicial oversight of drone strikes used to kill terror suspects?

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That’s an idea that’s been discussed for some time in Congress and in Washington national security think tanks. It’s acquired new salience because of Thursday’s Senate Intelligence Committee nomination hearing for John Brennan, President Obama’s pick to be the next CIA chief.

Committee Chairman Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California said that the time has come to shine a light on the drone program and any other method of targeted killing used in the war against terrorism. She and other senators, she said, were considering legislation establishing a secret court to oversee the targeted killing process, similar to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court, which now looks at national security wiretap applications within the US.

Earlier this week NBC obtained a 16-page summary of classified documents that outline the legal process the administration currently follows in drone strike authorization. Under pressure from Congress, the White House allowed Senator Feinstein and other members of the Intelligence Committee access to those classified documents prior to the Brennan hearing.

“I think the process set up internally is a solid process,” said Feinstein. “I think there’s an absence of knowing exactly who is responsible for what decision. So I think we need to look at this whole process and figure a way to make it more transparent and identifiable.”

Mr. Brennan, for his part, did not dismiss the idea. Under questioning from Sen. Angus King (I) of Maine about the process for targeting terrorist suspects who are US citizens, the current Obama counterterrorism adviser said a court might be something for the US to at least consider.


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