A nice catch by the Examiner’s Charlie Spiering, especially after Rand Paul threatened to block Brennan unless/until he provides a straight answer on whether drones can be used against U.S. citizens here in the United States. This doesn’t quite qualify as a straight answer but it’s the closest we’ve come yet:
“The rules outside of the United States are going to be different than the rules inside the United States,” Obama explained. “In part because our capacity to capture a terrorist inside the United States are very different than in the foothills or mountains of Afghanistan or Pakistan.”
I mentioned that in my post about Paul and Brennan a few days ago. Because infeasibility of capture is one of the three criteria for ordering a drone strike, in theory the DOJ could declare that a terrorist located inside the U.S. is always, by definition, within reach of law enforcement and therefore the infeasibility requirement can never be satisfied here. Obama’s hinting at that point — but he never quite makes it. And in hindsight, it amazes me that the “white paper” on using drones against Americans that leaked to NBC never explicitly states it either. The White House knew it’d take heat for its judgments on Awlaki once that memo came out; one way they could have reassured the public and bought some goodwill would have been by including a blanket rule that armed drones can never, under any circumstances, be used in American airspace. They didn’t, even though Obama’s vaguely insinuating here that that’s essentially their policy. How come?
If you haven’t yet, read Kevin Williamson’s take on the perils of letting the president decide unilaterally whether an accused terrorist has “taken up arms” against America. No one disputes that Awlaki was a bad guy and master propagandist; the dispute is over whether that’s all he was or whether he was moving jihadi pieces around the chessboard on the operational side, as the White House insists. (For details on his alleged role in planning Abdulmutallab’s attempted “underwear bombing,” see pages 12-14 of this PDF.)