The White House nominee to run the CIA said setting up a special court to oversee deadly drone strikes against American citizens is worth considering but raises difficult questions over how much authority it would have in decisions currently made by the president.
Expanding on his testimony a week ago, John Brennan said the White House and other agencies had discussed the idea, when coming up with the process to determine which al-Qaida targets go on a capture-or-kill lists for the CIA and the military.
“It would raise some novel, and potentially difficult, questions and furthermore would grant courts authority over decisions that have traditionally been exercised principally, if not exclusively, by the executive branch,” Brennan said. “Nevertheless, given the stakes involved and the consequence of such determinations…all options are worth considering.”
His new comments were included Friday in written answers to the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The panel is considering whether to approve Brennan’s nomination for a full Senate vote.
Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein has said she is considering legislation to set up a special court system to regulate drone strikes. It would be similar to the court that signs off on government surveillance in espionage and terrorism cases.
Brennan also said he believes the number of civilians killed in U.S. strikes targeting al-Qaida should be made public, and he described how the U.S. works to determine whether there were civilian casualties in drone strikes, drawing on “human intelligence, signals intelligence, media reports, and surveillance footage.
“In those rare instances in which civilians have been killed, after-action reviews have been conducted to identify corrective actions and to minimize the risk of innocents being killed or injured in the future,” he wrote. “Where possible, we also work with local governments to gather facts and, if appropriate, provide condolence payments to families of those killed.”
Brennan repeated assertions made by President Barack Obama that drone strikes would not be used by American citizens inside the U.S., and that they are not used if it’s possible to capture a suspect.
“This Administration has not carried out drone strikes inside the United States and has no intention of doing so,” he said.
Feinstein delayed voting on Brennan’s post for roughly two weeks, at the request of lawmakers who want more information on the White House’s legal policy governing targeted killing, and last year’s terrorist attack that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya.
Committee members have been given access to only four out of a total of 11 classified legal Justice Department memos justifying the use of targeted killing of terror suspects overseas. The White House would not comment on their request this week.
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