Conyers Statement at Oversight Hearing on Drones
Washington, DC, February 27, 2013
Tags: Government Oversight
This morning, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee held a full committee oversight hearing entitled, “Drones and the War on Terror: When Can the U.S. Target Alleged American Terrorists Overseas?” Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee, Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) delivered the following statement during his opening remarks:
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I very much appreciate that our Committee is examining such a pressing matter: the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or ‘drones,’ to strike at suspected terrorists abroad.
“Let me be clear: the House Judiciary Committee has direct jurisdiction over this issue. We are the Committee in the best position to assess the serious constitutional and civil rights questions presented by the drone program. Our Committee also has direct oversight of the Department of Justice, which has issued legal opinions, albeit classified, that purport to establish the legal basis for the use of lethal force against terrorist suspects.
“Over the course of the 112th Congress, I, along with my colleagues Representatives Jerry Nadler and Bobby Scott, wrote several letters to Attorney General Eric Holder asking him to share those legal opinions with the Committee. These letter requests were made on January 18, 2012, May 21, 2012, and December 4, 2012. Although we did not receive the requested memoranda, the Justice Department did provide us with a copy of the recently-publicized white paper on the targeted killing of U.S. citizens. Unfortunately, the white paper raises more questions than it answers, and does little to address our concerns regarding the broader use of lethal force against terrorist suspects. On February 8, 2013, Chairman Goodlatte and I, together with Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner, Trent Franks, Jerry Nadler, and Bobby Scott, wrote to President Obama to renew our request for all legal opinions related to the drone programs.
“I am pleased that we have reached a clear, bipartisan consensus on this issue: this Committee requires those documents to fulfill its oversight responsibilities, and we will work together to convince the Administration to satisfy our request.
“The need for oversight is clear. I am not convinced, as the title of the hearing may suggest, by the Administration’s legal rationale for the targeted killing of a United States citizen overseas. The white paper describes a balancing test for Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights tilted so far in favor of government interests that a potential target appears to have little chance at meaningful due process when he is nominated to the so-called ‘kill list.’
“I also remain unconvinced about the targeted killing of terrorist suspects who are non-citizens. Although the Administration appears to rest its claim of authority on the Authorization for Use of Military Force passed by Congress in 2001, it is not clear to me that Congress intended to sanction lethal force against a loosely-defined enemy in an indefinite conflict with no borders and no discernible end date.
“And I remain deeply troubled by the widely reported use of so-called ‘signature strikes,’ where suspects display suspicious activity but their identities are unknown prior to the government’s use of lethal force against them. To date, the Administration has not even acknowledged that this program exists—let alone provided this Committee with the information it requires to examine the legality of the program.
“I am, of course, aware that drones offer a relatively precise means for targeting our enemies. If used responsibly, they can limit civilian casualties and do so without putting additional American troops in danger. But we must be mindful that the rest of the world is watching us.
“In a recent interview, General Stanley McChrystal—the principal architect of U.S. counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan—reminded us that ‘the resentment created by American use of unmanned strikes . . . is much greater than the average American appreciates.’ He continued, ‘They are hated on a visceral level, even by people who have never seen one or seen the effects of one.’
“No matter how far removed we are from the battlefield, we must remember that it still feels like war when the missiles strike. And, the United States will not be the only nation with this tactical capability for much longer. Accordingly, the decisions we make—the process this Committee finds necessary before our government may lawfully kill a suspected terrorist, whether or not that suspect is a citizen—will set the example for those who follow.
“I thank the Chairman, and I yield back.”