A letter [text, PDF] written by US Attorney General Eric Holder to Senator Rand Paul [official websites] suggests that in "extraordinary circumstances" it would be lawful and within the president's authority to use a weaponized drone to carry out a lethal strike on an American citizen on US soil. Though dismissing the potential for such as strike as being "unlikely to occur" Holder suggested [Reuters report] that in a situation similar to the attack on Pearl Harbor or that of 9/11 it could be conceivable that the president would be forced to use drones to attack Americans domestically in an effort to "protect the homeland." The letter to Rand was a response to a recent threat by the Republican Senator to filibuster the nomination of John Brennan for CIA director until the president "answers the question of whether or not the President can kill American citizens through the drone strike program on US soil." Brennan was approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday but must still win approval of the full Senate.
The use of drone strikes by the US has come under scrutiny in recent months. In January UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism Ben Emmerson announced that he will begin investigating the legality [JURIST report] of the use of drone strikes. Emmerson said that after asking the US to allow an independent investigation [JURIST report] of its use of targeted killings last year, there is still no consensus among the international community as to the legality of the conduct. Also in January Pakistan's Foreign Affairs Minister Hina Rabbani Khar condemned US drone attacks [JURIST report] as a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty and international law. In December the US Department of Justice filed a motion to dismiss [JURIST report] a lawsuit challenging the US government's targeted killing of three US citizens in drone strikes. In July Pakistan's Ambassador to the US called upon the US to end the practice [JURIST report] of using drone strikes in targeted killings. That same month US lawmakers expressed concern [JURIST report] over the use of drone strikes. Samar Warsi [corporate profile] of the Muslim Civil Liberties Union recently argued that Obama administration's drone policy sets a dangerous precedent [JURIST comment] and undermines national security.