The Obama administration's use of drones, an increasingly important part of the arsenal to track and kill terror suspects, is being put under the microscope by members of Congress who fear the policy may soon cross a constitutional line -- or perhaps already has.
Last week's revelation that the Justice Department had crafted legal arguments for using the unmanned aircraft to kill American citizens in extreme situations has raised a new set of questions.
"The president, a politician, Republican or Democrat, should never get to decide someone's death by flipping through some flash cards and saying, 'Do you want to kill him? Yeah, let's go ahead and kill him,'" Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, said on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday.
Mr. Paul, echoing the concerns of many other members from both sides of the aisle, said the issue is especially important in the confirmation process for John O. Brennan, the president's former national security adviser tapped to lead the CIA.
Mr. Paul argues that Mr. Brennan hasn't given a clear answer on whether he think it would be legal to use drones to kill U.S. citizens on U.S. soil, if they're suspected of being involved in a terrorist plot. That notion may seem far-fetched, but the Justice documents make clear the administration believes it can take lethal action against a citizen deemed to be part of an imminent threat to the U.S.
Mr. Paul said he will not support Mr. Brennan "until I get an answer about whether you can kill an American citizen in America."
The uproar has led some lawmakers to push for a drone assassination court, a secretive panel that could decide whether the administration could kill suspected terrorists. The court is necessary, proponents argue, to be sure the federal government doesn't kill its own people without first presenting concrete evidence of why such a step is necessary.
"It just makes me uncomfortable that the president, whoever it is, is the prosecutor, the judge, the jury and the executioner all rolled into one," said Sen. Angus King, Maine independent and one of the strongest drone-court backers. He also appeared on CNN.
But members of Congress from both parties also are defending the drone strategy and its value in 21st-century warfare. Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said it's up to Congress to figure out "how to mesh the constitutional principles and values with the new mode of war."
"We're in a different kind of war. We're not sending troops. We're not sending manned bombers. We've got to strike a new constitutional balance," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee who appeared on CBS' "Face the Nation," said that proper congressional oversights are in place, and that there's been too much "sensationalism" about the use of drones.
Even House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, defended the administration's drone program on NBC's "Meet the Press."
"Suffice it to say, we have a terrorist threat out there. Islamist extremists are out there still trying to kill Americans and go after what we stand for in this world," Mr. Cantor said.
"We can strike that balance to protect America, to employ technologies to do that, and at the same time, upholding constitutional rights."
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