Drone Program Gives John Brennan a Lot to Answer For in Hearing

Chief counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan will face questions from the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday at 2:30 pm. The main focus of the hearing will likely be — and indeed should be — Brennan's role in crafting the Obama administration's on targeting suspected Al-Qaeda members for attack, specifically through the use of drones. 

That subject was unexpectedly thrust to the forefront of the news cycle, when earlier this week NBC News released a leaked white paper from the justice department outlining the legal justification for attacks on senior members of Al-Qaeda and "associated forces." The paper claims that the president, and even just high-ranking national security officials, have the authority to determine whether an individual should be targeted for killing.

The white paper claims that the executive branch has the legal authority to unilaterally  determine whether individuals are members of Al-Qaeda, and target them for attack even if they are not actively plotting against the U.S. This includes U.S. citizens because, according to the memo, the Bill of Rights does not apply to members of Al-Qaeda.

Of course in American criminal law, guilt or innocence is not determined by the president, or Congress, but by the courts — specifically juries as in accordance with the Sixth Amendment. The Obama administration claims that by joining Al-Qaeda, one forfeits the right to a trial by jury, as well as their Fifth Amendment right to due process (of which a jury is part). But the entire point of having a court system is to determine things like whether a person has committed a crime, or say, joined a terrorist organization.