Transcript: Sen. Dick Durbin’s remarks on drones & targeted killing – Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on April 23, 2013

Partial transcript of Sen. Dick Durbin’s remarks on the “Drone Wars: The Constitutional and Counter-Terrorism Implications of Targeted Killing”. The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights hearing was held on April 23, 2013:

…At the outset, I want to thank Senators [Patrick] Leahy and [Chuck] Grassley, Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee for pressing the Justice Department to provide the committee with the Justice Department’s memos on targeted killing of Americans. The Department recently provided these memos to the committee. I’ve had a personal opportunity to review them in advance of today’s hearing.

As we will discuss today, this was a positive step but I still believe the Justice Department should provide the committee with its memos on the targeted killing of non-Americans as well and make public the legal analysis contained in those memos without revealing any intelligence sources or methods.

The Constitution bestows upon the President of the United States the unique responsibility and title of commander-in-chief, and with that title comes the responsibility to protect and defend America from foreign and domestic enemies.

To accomplish this goal, the President has a military that is the best in the world – best trained, best equipped, and most effective.

While the tactics and tools used by our military are ever evolving, one thing must remain constant: Ours is a democratic society where the rule of law prevails. The President must exercise his authority as commander-in-chief within the framework established by the Constitution and the laws passed by Congress.

Even as President Obama commands a military with the most sophisticated weapons known to man, including weaponized drones and targeted killing operations, his authority is grounded in words written more than 200 years ago in our Constitution.

At times of the course of our history, the rule of law has been abused during times of war. When this occurs, it challenges America’s moral authority and standing in the world. This potential for abuse is a stark reminder of Congress’s responsibility to authorize the use of force only in narrow circumstances and to conduct vigorous oversight once authorized.

The heat of battle and the instinct to defend can create moral, legal, and constitutional challenges.

We can all recall the controversy surrounding the use of torture in the previous administration. Torture, though clearly illegal under both domestic and international law, was rationalized at that time by some as appropriate in our war against terrorism.

Today’s subject – the targeted killing of combatants in contrast to torture – has always been part of warfare in areas of active hostility. In recent years, however, it has been employed more frequently away from the traditional battlefield.

The use of drones has, in stark terms, made targeted killing more efficient and less costly in terms of American blood and treasure. There are, however, long-term consequences especially when these air strikes kill innocent civilians.

That’s why many in the national security community are concerned we may undermine our counter-terrorism efforts if we do not carefully measure the benefits and costs of targeted killing.

This administration has not claimed the authority to override laws like the Criminal Prohibition on Torture. Instead, the administration has attempted to ground its use of drones in statute – the 2001 congressional authorization to use military force.

And officials, like Attorney General Eric Holder and CIA Director John Brennan, have acknowledged the strikes and delivered speeches explaining the administration’s legal and policy positions.

In my view, more transparency is needed to maintain the support of the American people and our international community.

For example, the administration should provide more information about its analysis of its legal authority to engage in targeted killing and the internal checks and balances involved in U.S. drone strikes.

And the administration must work with Congress to address a number of serious challenging questions, some of which are being hotly debated even as we meet:

What is the constitutional and statutory justification for targeted killing?

What due process protection extend to an American citizens overseas before he is targeted and killed by a drone strike?

What are the legal limits on the battlefield in the conflict with Al Qaeda?

And is it legal to use drones not just in war zones like in Afghanistan but also to target terrorist suspects in places where the U.S. is not involved in active combat such as Somalia and Yemen?

What is the legal definition of a combatant in the conflict with Al Qaeda? And who qualifies as associated forces under the 2001 AUMF [Authorization for Use of Military Force]?

Should the U.S. lead an effort to create an international legal regime governing the use of drones?

What moral and legal responsibility does the United States have to acknowledge its role in targeted killing and make amends for inadvertent destruction and loss of life, particularly where missiles kill or injure innocent people?

These are some of the questions that would be explored at this very serious hearing.

Speaking recently about the use of drones, President Obama said, “One of the things that we’ve got to do is put a legal architecture in place and we need congressional help in order to do that – to make sure that not only am I reined in but any President is reined in.”

Now, I agree with the President on the need for clear, legitimate, transparent legal framework for targeted killing. Today is the first step in that process.

I do want to note for the record my disappointment that the administration declined to provide a witness to testify at today’s hearing. I hope that in future hearings we’ll have an opportunity to work with the administration more closely.

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3 Comments on “Transcript: Sen. Dick Durbin’s remarks on drones & targeted killing – Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on April 23, 2013

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