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Attorney General Holder promises more openness about drone attacks (+video)

The White House is under pressure about targeting terrorists with drones, including a filibuster by Sen. Rand Paul. Attorney General Eric Holder told a Senate committee, 'I heard you and the president heard you.'

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But Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas tried unsuccessfully to pin down the attorney general on what the freshman lawmaker sees as a key point.

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"Does the Constitution allow a US citizen on US soil who doesn't pose an imminent threat to be killed by the US government?" Senator Cruz asked repeatedly, pushing Holder for a yes-or-no answer. “If an individual is sitting quietly at a café in the United States, in your legal judgment, does the Constitution allow a US citizen on US soil to be killed by a drone?”

Treating the question as hypothetical, Holder would only opine that he thought the situation as Cruz described it would be “inappropriate” for the use of lethal force of any kind.

Earlier this week, the White House agreed to release to the House and Senate intelligence committees additional opinions from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) related to the targeted killing of American citizens.

Human Rights First and other civil liberties groups are pushing for even more government openness about the drone strike program, including providing such legal opinions to all relevant congressional committees, as well as to staff with appropriate clearances and even to the general public.

“The American people deserve to see the justifications for who our government is killing and why," Ms. Eviatar said.

A Fox News poll of registered voters reported this week shows the sensitive nature of the issue – especially as it relates to targeting US citizens on American soil.

By a wide margin (74 percent to 22 percent) respondents approve of using drones “to kill a suspected terrorist in a foreign country.” That includes majorities of Republicans (80 percent), independents (71 percent), and Democrats (69 percent), as well as both men (78 percent) and women (71 percent), according to the poll of 1,010 individuals contacted by land-line telephones and cellphones. 

But the margin of approval for drone attacks drops to 60 percent (versus 36 percent opposed) if the suspected terrorist in another country is a US citizen.

Approval drops even further (56 percent in favor and 40 percent opposed) “to kill a suspected foreign terrorist on US soil,” and it falls into a majority disapproval (50 percent vs. 45 percent) for killing “a suspected terrorist who is a US citizen on US soil” – the kind of situation that Cruz was describing.

Reflecting one key aspect of the debate – whether or not Obama (or any other commander in chief) “on his own, should be able to authorize the use of deadly force, such as a drone strike, to kill a suspected terrorist who is a US citizen on US soil” – public opinion in this poll indicates strong disapproval (63 percent vs. 32 percent).

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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