Momentum Grows For Targeted Killing Court

CIA Director nominee John Brennan

Momentum is growing among lawmakers to form some sort of new oversight panel or court to weigh in on targeted killings carried out by the Obama administration.

Yesterday’s Senate hearings on the confirmation of John Brennan as CIA Director brought several questions from Senators related to the program, started under the Bush administration, but expanded over the last four years, involving the targeted killings of suspected militants associated with Al Qaeda. Concern has grown over the past several days, following the leak of a Department of Justice white paper laying out the legal justification for the killing of American terrorists abroad.

Sen. Angus King (I-ME) during the proceedings raised the idea of sending cases where Americans have been accused of collusion with Al Qaeda to a special court of some sort. Such a court, one of several possibilities to rein in the program this blog suggested this week, could potentially be based around the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) courts that approve the wiretapping of individuals suspect of being foreign agents:

KING: A soldier on a battlefield doesn’t have time to go to court. But if you’re planning a strike over a matter of days, weeks, or months, there is an opportunity to at least go to some outside of the Executive Branch body — like the FISA court — in a confidential and top secret way. Make the case that this American citizen is an enemy combatant. At least that would be some check on the activities of the executive.

Brennan said that the concept was “certainly worthy of discussion,” without elaborating on whether he was for or against the idea. Intelligence Committee chair Diane Feinstein (D-CA) after the hearings seemed to be supprotive of the the idea put forward by King, saying that she and other lawmakers “may explore setting up a special court system to regulate strikes.” Such a system, however, could prove to be as susceptible to abuse as the FISA courts currently are.

Commentators on both sides of the political spectrum have spent the week expressing their concern about the extensive nature of the program and the lack of investigation into whether the strategy behind it is working. While the House and Senate Intelligence Committees currently monitor the CIA’s drone program activities in Somalia, Pakistan and other locations, they are bound by secrecy rules to keep those reports under wraps. Some lawmakers have pressed the administration for more declassification of the information surrounding drone strikes and other methods of targeting, opening up what is already a widely reported on occurrence.