Remember how Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) has been trying to get a straight answer about whether the United States government reserves the legal right to assassinate American citizens on U.S. soil? Well, Attorney General Eric Holder has just answered the question in a letter to Paul, partially reprinted by Mother Jones. Excerpt:
As members of this administration have previously indicated, the US government has not carried out drone strikes in the United States and has no intention of doing so. As a policy matter moreover, we reject the use of military force where well-established law enforcement authorities in this country provide the best means for incapacitating a terrorist threat. We have a long history of using the criminal justice system to incapacitate individuals located in our country who pose a threat to the United States and its interests abroad. Hundreds of individuals have been arrested and convicted of terrorism-related offenses in our federal courts.
The question you have posed is therefore entirely hypothetical, unlikely to occur, and one we hope no president will ever have to confront. It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States. For example, the president could conceivably have no choice but to authorize the military to use such force if necessary to protect the homeland in the circumstances like a catastrophic attack like the ones suffered on December 7, 1941, and September 11, 2001.
The Reason-Rupe poll found last week that 57 percent of Americans think assassinating Americans is unconstitutional. More Reason commentary on the topic here.
UPDATE: You can read the whole letter here.
UPDATE 2: Rand Paul responds here. Excerpt:
The U.S. Attorney General’s refusal to rule out the possibility of drone strikes on American citizens and on American soil is more than frightening – it is an affront the Constitutional due process rights of all Americans.
Paul also received a response letter from John Brennan, whose nomination to CIA director Paul has been opposing, in which Brennan says the CIA “does not conduct lethal operations inside the United States.” Sen. Paul’s office comments: “Notably missing from Mr. Brennan’s response are answers to the myriad other questions Sen. Paul posed to him in previous correspondence.”