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When can America kill Americans?

February 7th, 2013
05:27 PM ET

When can America kill Americans?

When can America kill Americans?

By Samuel Burke & Ken Olshansky, CNN

For much of the world, drones represent everything that is wrong with American foreign policy. The sizable majority of Americans, on the other hand, have no problem with them.

In the latest polling, 75% of Americans approve of the use of unmanned aircrafts against terrorist suspects overseas.

In the countries that are on the receiving end of drone attacks, such as Pakistan and Yemen, there is rage. As well as significant evidence that drones have killed and injured civilians.

In Washington on Thursday, the secretive policy had its first official public airing, as Congress started confirmation hearings for John Brennan, whom President Obama has nominated by to be the next CIA director. Brennan is currently President Obama’s counterterrorism chief and the principle architect of the U.S. drone policy.

It was Brennan who first publicly admitted the existence of the drone program last year.

In a speech last year at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Brennan said, “Let me say it as simply as I can: Yes, in full accordance with the law and in order to prevent terrorist attacks on the united states and to save American lives the united states government conducts targeted strikes against specific al-Qaeda terrorists, sometimes using remotely piloted aircraft, often referred to publicly as drones. And i m here today because president Obama has instructed us to be more open with the American people about these efforts.”

Much remains secret about the drone program. Most notably is the “Kill List” – targets, including American citizens, that the President is said to personally approve.

Indeed, three Americans are known to have been killed by drones, including a 16-year-old American boy who was born in Colorado, who the son of American-born al Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki.

The Brennan hearings may be an accountability moment.

Leading the charge is a Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, who has laid out some fundamental questions about the drone program.

“Every American has the right to know when their government believes it's allowed to kill them,” Senator Wyden said on MSNBC Thursday morning. “I don't think that, as one person said, that is too much to ask. And this idea that security and liberty are mutually exclusive, that you can have only one or the other, is something i reject.”

In the video above, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour puts Senator Wyden's questions to two experts: Mark Lowenthal, a former CIA official who approves of the U.S. drone policy; and Vince Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. Warren is one of the lawyers representing the al-Awlaki family’s case against the U.S. government.

READ MORE: Grandfather grieves teenage grandson killed by U.S. drone

Filed under:  Drone • Latest Episode
soundoff (28 Responses)
  1. jimmy

    "When can America kill Americans?" - Apparently, pretty much whenever you feel like it.

    February 7, 2013 at 7:45 pm | Reply
    • Killemall

      It's open season in Chicago! Nice town Barry

      February 8, 2013 at 8:43 am | Reply
      • RW

        I don't understand all of the killings in Chicago. After all, they have some of the strictest gun control laws in the country. Things that make you say "hhhhhhhhmmmmmm."

        February 8, 2013 at 8:57 am |
  2. Christine

    If you can't trust the US government to target and kill enemies of our country, then we have a much bigger problem then being able to show proof. I am appalled that an American would step up to defend anyone, American or not, that has publicly announced to wage war on America, urging terrorist to kill Americans. Shame on you Mr. Warren. Thank you US govt for taking him out. Good for you!

    February 7, 2013 at 9:00 pm | Reply
  3. John

    Cry me a river. A human being is only a human being if said being holds human values. An American citizen who so does NOT hold American values, such as the value of life itself, such a citizen who goes out and declares all Americans including the innocent to be their sworn enemy and valid targets, these are NOT Americans. Who gives a rat's behind for the 'rights' they themselves hold in contempt? I do not. Flame their a-s.

    February 7, 2013 at 11:38 pm | Reply
    • Joe

      Take away there rights for things they said? Ok let's take away your rights as well, seeing you hold the right to due process in "contempt." With your logic you should be next on the list.

      November 12, 2014 at 11:52 pm | Reply
  4. LOL

    Americans their own worse enemy

    February 8, 2013 at 5:36 am | Reply
  5. Johnson

    Americans questioning Obama for attacking / killing Americans that are "enemies of the state" this is bizzare and weird . If your wife / husband ; brother / sister ; parents or kid decides to kill you . You need no moral justification to kill or take out such person. Which do you prefer : A terrorist spared just because he is an American and rains terror on Americans and the World or The American terrorist taken out so that we can all sleep / live without fear . Are we saying that a terrorist that is an American is not a terrorist or he is a special terrorist ? . An enemy of the the state is an enemy , be he American or Alien. "You are either with us or you are against us " We should all remember that Obama's Strategy killed Osama Bin Laden . America think !

    February 8, 2013 at 6:32 am | Reply
    • Scott_B_Hebert

      Define "terrorist". Shall that be defined as anyone who certain members of the government don' like because they happened to excercise their 1st amendment rights?

      February 9, 2013 at 12:32 pm | Reply
  6. OP OP

    THIS debate itself -is NOT and American debate.

    February 8, 2013 at 7:03 am | Reply
  7. Ed

    Cops killed an armed criminal who had kidnapped a 5 year old and was holed up in a bunker. There was no trail, no judge and no jury. And that is considered public service. Nobody complained.
    Drones killed a Jihadi terrorist who was holed up in Yemen. That a great public service. What's the problem here?

    February 8, 2013 at 7:40 am | Reply
  8. RW

    It's okay for Americans to kill Americans, when the Commander-in-Chief is a liberal who gets a "free pass" from the mainstream media on essentially everything. If a Republican was President (any Republican), the mainstream media would be denouncing his drone attacks as "war crimes, criminal acts, and a virtual suspension of habeas corpus." I fully support the attacks (regardless of who inhabits in the White House) and I hope they continue.

    February 8, 2013 at 7:43 am | Reply
  9. DWI Bush

    American Citizens Split On DOJ Memo Authorizing Government To Kill Them

    WASHINGTON—Following the release of a secret Department of Justice memo this week that outlines the administration’s legal justification for killing U.S. citizens, a new Pew Research Center poll has revealed that a majority of Americans are torn over whether they support the government’s right to kill them anywhere at any time without due process. “On the one hand, I get it—it’s important for the government to be able to murder me and any of my friends or family members whenever they please for reputed national security reasons. But on the other hand, it would kind of be nice to stay alive and have, maybe, a trial, actual evidence—stuff like that,” said visibly conflicted 39-year-old Nashua, NH resident Rebecca Sawyer, who, like millions of other Americans, is split over whether secret federal agents should be allowed to target and assassinate her anywhere on U.S. soil. “I wouldn’t mind if federal officials blew up other citizens and claimed it was in the name of my safety. But it’s just that when it comes to me, I guess I’d rather not be slaughtered by my own elected officials on charges that never have to be validated by any accountable authority. This is tough.” While most Americans expressed conflicted feelings regarding the memo, the poll also found that 28 percent of citizens were unequivocally in favor of being obliterated at any point, for any reason, in a massive airstrike

    February 8, 2013 at 1:03 pm | Reply
  10. Mark Spalder

    The fact that this is even a topic of discussion is proof of how far the country has fallen. The US now more closely resembles everything that it used to despise rather than what is was even 20 years ago. Nothing is more frustrating than listening to Republicrats bicker about the 2nd amendment while our goverment tosses the 1st, 4th, 5th, 7th and 8th right out the window. I am so glad I moved to Europe.

    February 8, 2013 at 1:35 pm | Reply
  11. Victor Linar

    The Govt are not killing Americans, NO, they are killing Radicals Muslims that happpens to be US citizen, they they are traidtors. and what do you do to traidors.

    February 8, 2013 at 1:46 pm | Reply
    • ArghONaught

      In the 1950's the government branded many Americans as communists. Communism is an economic approach. Americans were too thick to understand the Soviets were communists but the enemy were the soviets not communists. Here we go again but with guns blazing. Trials? Juries? Evidence? Trust the the government for they shall take care of all of us?

      February 8, 2013 at 3:44 pm | Reply
  12. Victor Linar

    You know I don't understand Americans, the Govt dwith the C:IA is defending the US and you don't like, HUMMMMM!!!!truly I just don't undestand that, or maybe they are stupid,

    February 8, 2013 at 1:48 pm | Reply
  13. Frank Rizzo

    In the latest polling, 75% of Americans approve of the use of unmanned aircrafts against terrorist suspects overseas, and this includes any American who threat and kill US American, end of story.

    February 8, 2013 at 11:13 pm | Reply
    • jason

      so the latest polling shows just how naive and stupid the average American is

      February 9, 2013 at 4:30 am | Reply
  14. jason

    so according to US way of thinking, even other countries can attack Americans on American soil to prevent attacks from US government? In my head, it does not make any sense that anyone would have the rights to do so. I'm still waiting for the day US gets attacked by all the people they made angry over the years. I moved away from US years ago and learned how to talk with an Austrailian accent, and I would never tell anyone where I'm from. Try to travel the world for 10 years being from US, and you will understand how hated we are around the world.

    February 9, 2013 at 4:27 am | Reply
  15. Slithey Tove

    Citizens are property of the state. The state may dispose of its property as it wishes, up to and including destruction. Politics is force. If you do not obey the state its recourse against you is force, and this is true of every state, from China, to Iran, to the U.S.A. If you disagree then stop all cooperation with your state. See how long it takes for the men with sticks and guns to come and beat you, imprison you, and/or kill you. All political action rests on the use or threat of force. You may cling to an illusion of freedom if you wish, but that illusion is allowed to persist only so long as you placate the state with your submission, behavioral and/or financial.

    February 9, 2013 at 6:03 pm | Reply
  16. Carlos Eduardo López Ferrer

    As a foreigner... Just the fact that such a question exists in the mind of the people who created the most deadly military in history is terrifying.

    February 9, 2013 at 9:50 pm | Reply
  17. lee baumann

    Tim Mcveigh had his day in court.

    February 10, 2013 at 9:02 am | Reply
  18. M.G. Elizondo

    America has been killing Americans since before it was America. Anyone heard of the Civil War and death penalty?

    February 10, 2013 at 6:27 pm | Reply
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