After Protracted Questioning: Holder Admits It's Unconstitutional for Gov't to Kill U.S. Citizen Sitting Peacefully in U.S. in Cafe

March 6, 2013 - 12:54 PM

Eric Holder

President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that the U.S. Constitution does not allow the targeted drone killing of a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil who does not pose an imminent threat to life or bodily harm.

“Let me be clear. Translate my appropriate to no. I thought I was saying no. Alright? No,” Holder said after Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) asked him six times whether hypothetically it was constitutional for the U.S. to use a drone to kill a U.S. citizen sitting in a café in the U.S. who does not pose an immediate threat.

“If an individual is sitting quietly at a café in the United States, in your legal judgment, does the Constitution allow a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil to be killed by a drone?” Cruz (R-Texas) asked Holder.

“For sitting in a café and having a cup of coffee?” Holder asked.

“If that individual is not posing an imminent and immediate threat of death or bodily harm, does the U.S. Constitution allow a drone to kill that individual?” Cruz asked.

“On the basis of what you said, I don’t think you can arrest that person,” Holder said.

“The person is suspected to be a terrorist. You have abundant evidence he’s a terrorist. He’s involved in terrorist plots, but at the moment, he’s not pointing a bazooka at the Pentagon. He is sitting in a café overseas. The United States government uses drones to take out individuals when they’re walking down a pathway, when they’re sitting in a café,” Cruz said.

“If a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil is not posing an immediate threat to life or bodily harm, does the Constitution allow a drone to kill that citizen?” Cruz asked.

“I would not think that that would be an appropriate use of any kind of lethal force. We would deal with that in the way that we typically deal with a situation like that,” Holder said before Cruz cut him off.

“With all respect, General Holder, my question wasn’t about appropriateness or prosecutorial discretion. It was a simple legal question. Does the Constitution allow a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil who doesn’t pose an imminent threat to be killed by the U.S. government?” Cruz asked again.

Holder said that based on the facts in the hypothetical Cruz had given it was not “appropriate” to use a drone or lethal force.

“Again, General Holder, I have to tell you, I find it remarkable that in that hypothetical, which is deliberately very simple, you are unable to give a simple, one-word, one-syllable answer ‘no.’ I think it is unequivocal that if the U.S. government were to use a drone to take the life a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil and that individual did not pose an imminent threat that that would be a deprivation of life without—“ Cruz said.

“Let me be clear. I’ve not been clear. I said that the use of lethal force, and I’m saying drones, guns or whatever would not be appropriate in that circumstance,” Holder said.

“You keep saying appropriate. My question isn’t about propriety. My question is about whether something is constitutional or not. As attorney general, you’re the chief legal officer of the United States. Do you have a legal judgment on whether it would be constitutional to kill a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil in those circumstances?” Cruz asked a sixth time.

Holder again answered that based on Cruz’s hypothetical of someone not posing an imminent threat “the use of lethal force would not be appropriate.”

“I find it remarkable that you still will not give an opinion on the constitutionality. Let me move on to the next topic, because we’ve gone round and round—” Cruz said.

“Let me be clear. Translate my appropriate to no. I thought I was saying no. Alright? No,” Holder said.

Cruz said he was “glad after much gymnastics” that it is the opinion of the Department of the Justice that “it would be unconstitutional to kill a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil if that individual did not pose imminent threat.”

“That statement has not been easily forthcoming. I wish you had given that statement in response to Senator [Ron] Paul’s letter asking you it,” he added.

Cruz said he would be introducing legislation in the Senate to “make clear that the U.S. government cannot kill a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil absent an imminent threat, and I hope based on that representation that the department will support that legislation.”