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House Democrats demand answers from President Obama about domestic drone killing policy

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Obama national security team situation room
Obama national security team situation room

Several Democrats in the US House of Representatives sent a letter to the White House on Monday demanding answers about the administration's domestic drone policy, writing that "vague legal boundaries" authorizing the deaths of Americans "appear to effectively vitiate due process of law without meaningful oversight or accountability." While only a small group of lawmakers signed onto the letter — including Representatives Barbara Lee (D-CA), John Conyers (D-MI), Keith Ellison (D-MN), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Donna Edwards (D-MD), Mike Honda (D-CA), Rush Holt (D-NJ), and James McGovern (D-MA) — it's a show of some bipartisan support for transparency in drone policy.

The White House's domestic drone policy gained national attention last week when Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) led a rare filibuster which delayed a vote to confirm John Brennan as the CIA director. The filibuster was made in response to a letter from Attorney General Eric Holder that said while no drone strikes had been conducted in the US, domestic strikes in "extraordinary circumstances" could be possible. In his 12-hour harangue, Paul demanded an answer from the White House that would clarify its policy on the potential killing of American citizens by drone strike within the country's borders; "Mr. President, come clean, come forward, and say you will not kill Americans on American soil," Paul said on the Senate floor. "I'm not saying the president is a bad person at all, but he's not a judge. He's a politician… We're allowing him to be the judge, and we're allowing him to be the jury," Paul said. The senator gained some assistance from colleagues during his filibuster, including Ted Cruz (R-TX), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR).

"Authorizing the killing of American citizens and others has profound implications for the core values of our nation."

In their letter sent Monday, House Democrats wrote that "authorizing the killing of American citizens and others has profound implications for our Constitution, the core values of our nation, our national security, and future international practice. The executive branch's claim of authority to deprive citizens of life, and to do so without explaining the legal bases for doing so, sets a dangerous precedent and is a model of behavior that the United States would not want other nations to emulate." The members of congress have asked that the White House fully disclose the legal basis of drone killings, and to prepare a report "outlining the architecture of your administration's drone program going forward."

"We are growing increasingly concerned that there is a risk that our country's 'global war' doctrine will further corrode the foundations of the international framework for protection of human rights," the representatives write. "The Executive's claims of authority need to be fully articulated to the whole of Congress and the American people."