Did the Department of Justice Really Say that the Government Would Not Assassinate Americans?

George Washington's picture

After a 13-hour filibuster by Senator Paul asking for a yes-or-no answer, on the question of whether the government could kill Americans on U.S. soil with drones, the Attorney General responded:

Dear Senator Paul:


It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: “Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?” The answer to that question is no.




Eric Holder

But – as anyone who has worked in the legal or legislative field knows – statements which do not pin down all possibilities create loopholes large enough to drive trucks through.

Remember, Holder’s letter to Paul can’t be taken in a vacuum. The government has said for many months that it has the power to assassinate Americans on U.S. soil.

William Grigg notes:

This brief message from Holder … should be read in terms of the supposed authority claimed thereby. This means removing useless qualifiers in the interest of clarity.


What Holder is saying, in substantive terms, is that the President does have the supposed authority to use a drone to kill an American who is engaged in “combat,” whether here or abroad. “Combat” can consist of expressing support for Muslims mounting armed resistance against U.S. military aggression, which was the supposed crime committed by Anwar al-Awlaki, or sharing the surname and DNA of a known enemy of the state, which was the offense committed by Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdel. Under the rules of engagement used by the Obama Regime in Pakistan, Yemen, and Afghanistan, any “military-age” male found within a targeted “kill zone” is likewise designated a “combatant,” albeit usually after the fact [update: children too]. This is a murderous application of the “Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy,” and it will be used when — not if — Obama or a successor starts conducting domestic drone-killing operations.


Holder selected a carefully qualified question in order to justify a narrowly tailored answer that reserves an expansive claim of executive power to authorize summary executions by the president.

Indeed, the Supreme Court ruled in Hamdi that American citizens can be treated as enemy combatants.

But the determination of who is a “combatant” is made in secret and without judicial review.  For example, AP notes:

Pentagon counsel Jeh Johnson … said only the executive branch, not the courts, is equipped to make military battlefield targeting decisions about who qualifies as an enemy.

Secretive, unaccountable agencies are making life and death decisions which effect our most basic rights. They provide “secret evidence” to courts which cannot be checked … and often withhold any such “evidence” even from the judges. For example:

“I find myself stuck in a paradoxical situation in which I cannot solve a problem because of contradictory constraints and rules — a veritable Catch-22,” the judge wrote. “I can find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the Executive Branch of our Government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws, while keeping the reasons for their conclusion a secret.”

The government uses “secret evidence” to spy on Americans, prosecute leaking or terrorism charges (even against U.S. soldiers) and even assassinate people.

Secretive, unaccountable agencies are making life and death decisions which effect our most basic rights. They provide “secret evidence” to courts which cannot be checked … and often withhold any such “evidence” even from the judges. For example:

“I find myself stuck in a paradoxical situation in which I cannot solve a problem because of contradictory constraints and rules — a veritable Catch-22,” the judge wrote. “I can find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the Executive Branch of our Government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions [i.e. assassinations] that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws, while keeping the reasons for their conclusion a secret.”


The government’s indefinite detention policy – stripped of it’s spin – is literally insane, and based on circular reasoning. Stripped of p.r., this is the actual policy:

  • If you are an enemy combatant or a threat to national security, we will detain you indefinitely until the war is over
  • But trust us, we know you are an enemy combatant and a threat to national security

See how that works?

The government also wants to expand its assassination program to cover “associates of associates” of Al Qaeda.

And – given that political dissent is now considered terrorism, and protesters considered low-level terrorists – does that mean that dissent or protest makes one a “combatant”?.

Karl Denninger also points out that Holder didn’t say anything about other types of assassination:

Still can’t be bothered to make a clear statement can you?

So in your opinion, Mr. Holder, it’s perfectly ok if the President uses an M-16, a 9mm, a bomb constructed out of C-4 or burns the building you’re in to the ground?

Therefore, Holder’s letter raises more questions than it answers.

Update:  One of the nation’s top constitutional and military law experts – Professor Jonathan Turley – just weighed in on this issue:

We previously discussed how Attorney General Eric Holder wrote a letter confirming that the President would have authority to kill citizens on U.S. soil without a charge or conviction. His answer triggered a principled filibuster by Sen. Rand Paul and another embarrassment to Democratic Senators who, again, chose personality over principle in staying silent. Now, Holder has issued a new statement. No, President Obama still claims the right to kill U.S. citizens on his sole authority. However, Holder now says that, if the citizen is “not engaged in combat on American soil,” the President cannot vaporize him. The answer leaves the constitutional claim of Obama even more confused and conflicted. Does this mean we have a third category now under the policy: citizen, citizen terrorist, and citizen non-combatant terrorist?


In his prior letter, Holder answered a question about whether the President was claiming the right to kill citizens on U.S. soil. This follows the release of a memo showing that Holder’s description of the policy at Northwestern University Law School was narrower than the actual policy described within the Administration. A memo leaked to the press shows that the Administration has adopted a virtual limitless definition of imminence: “The condition that an operational leader present an ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.”


Last week, Holder said “It is possible I suppose to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States.”




It is not clear … why Holder did not answer the question previously.




It is not clear what Holder means by “engaged in combat” since the Administration memo shows that the Administration is using an absurdly broad definition of “imminent” threat under the kill list policy. Since the Administration has continued to assert that terrorists are engaged in a war against the U.S., the terse reply of Holder seems designed to preserve later flexibility.


Moreover, there is nothing in the constitutional claim of the Administration that reflects such a limitation. Deciding on where to kill a citizen would be an discretionary policy under the sweeping presidential authority described by the Administration. As noted in earlier columns (here and here and here), it is astonishing how citizens, including so many liberals and civil libertarians, Obama is saying that his appointment of a non-binding committee satisfied due process and relieves any need for judicial review. Moreover, if the President has the inherent authority to kill a citizen in Canada, it is not clear why such inherent authority would not exist a few hundred yards away in Detroit. The Administration has said that it can use the unilateral power when it considers a capture to pose undue risk to its personnel.


What is particularly striking is that we have a president who is asserting the right to kill any citizen but the Administration has classified memos on that authority and the Attorney General will only give a Senator a terse two line conclusory statement on scope. The Administration appears to believe that there is little need to explain the details on killing citizens, such as how it defines “combat.” Obviously, if there is a war occurring in the United States, a president has the right to put down insurrection or attacks on the federal government. These strikes concern targeting terrorists. One can easily foresee this or a future president insisting that an alleged terrorism conspiracy is a form of combat.


It would seem an obvious thing to explain how they define combat and whether an alleged terrorist would fall into it. Does this mean that there will be a category of non-combatant terrorists for domestic strikes? How is that defined? It seems like a hole big enough to fly a drone through.Since police can already use lethal force to stop an attack in progress, the answer leaves more questions than it answers in my view. For a citizen it would mean that he or she can be killed abroad on the basis of the Administration’s wildly broad definition of “imminent” but domestically would fall under a different “combat” definition. Where is the line between an “imminent” threat and “combat” drawn? Does Holder mean there is a different meaning to imminence when someone steps over the border? We already have the definition of “imminent” and the Administration’s new definition of “imminent.” Is this yet a third option?

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mendigo's picture

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal
, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

I am not sure but I think maybe Mr Holder is the dumbest person in America.

dscott8186's picture

Nava: Our word can be our bond. 
Krax: Until we decide to break it! 


dscott8186's picture

No matter what the Administration says, given the history (track record) of their statements, all of them have an expiration date.   That is the sad State of the Union.  A total loss of credibility compounded by the gullibility of 50.5% of the voters.  One begets the other in a chicken and egg scenario. But then both are tasty when cooked to perfection. 

NoWayJose's picture

New US mottos

- Drone first, ask questions later

- Drone 'em all and let God sort the out

- This is your life and its ending one drone from now

Walt D.'s picture

Who is Randy Weaver?

mendigo's picture

Interesting as usual Mr Washington or should I Comrad?

shovelhead's picture

Anwar al-Waliki: "Abdel... Take out the trash."

Abdel: "Okay, Pop."


Drone Central 1: (static) "Alpha-We have confirmation of collusion, green light, over."

Drone Base Alpha: Roger that, Drone 1. Green light, commencing misson, over."

DOT's picture

"...kid should have picked better parents."

Kina's picture

Well there you go ... the US (and their owner banksters) have the legal power to murder whomever they want..under cover of this law.


Obama can pick and choose whom he is annoyed with and have them killed without any recourse. If anybody asks...I am sure HLS CIA or FBI can make up some shit about the poor person.


So....anybody who disagrees with the government is a traitor and thus anything they do must be of the enemy.....wil be droned to death.


Mugabwe, Pol Pot, Stalin would be very proud of Obama.


You know a nation is in its death throws when it believes it has to have laws like this, against its own citizens. 

IamtheREALmario's picture

They have always done it in secret. Now they are just going to do it in public.

It brings into question exactly who are the murderers flying the drones... just as "who are the murderers suiciding someone or rigging their aircraft to fall out of the sky" ... or did you think those were coincidences?

The Heart's picture

More and more people SEE what is happening and now the ship, she is steering into the wind to face the adversarial forces aligned against the real answers to the real problems.:

"All foreign spy organizations such as the ADL and related lobbying groups such as Aipac  and the like must be registered as foreign intel operations and closely regulated.  No more Congress-critters should be allowed to sign loyalty oaths to anyone and must honor their oath to uphold the US Constitution from all enemies both Foreign and Domestic.  It must be made illegal for anyone who is a member of a secret society has sworn allegiance to extra-judicial entities to serve in in official capacity in the USG, LE, or the judiciary.

Any Congressperson being involved in or promoting unConstitutional or illegal acts or wars should be immediately impeached, and those who have committed Treason and Sedition must be tried in a suitable court of law by “we the people”.

And most of all the Federal Reserve Banking System, a private Delaware Corporation and its agent the IRS must be abolished and replaced by a new Central Bank solely owned and run by Americans, one that issues real money, not debt-based fiat notes, but real Greenbacks like the Colonialists or Abe Lincoln or what JFK tried to do.  The phony national debt must be cancelled, “fair trade” must replace “free trade” and proper tariffs must be assigned to imported goods to establish parity. All foreign aide must be stopped and all foreign US military bases closed and the troops brought home."

Here is an interesting read.:

Killing America


savagegoose's picture

the president wont be authorising it,  the drones will be under police control, thats a state matter.

DOT's picture

Yeah, the Federally Funded local police will activate the (federally funded) SWAT team to roll out in the (federally funded) tanks,using their (federally funded) radios to call in the (federally funded) armed drones, to take-out the Federally Targeted "criminal".

Dungeness's picture

Eventually the drones could be under the control of computer software, an auto-pilot with pre-programmed targets and instructions on what to do or not do.

The Heart's picture

Terminator Drone Wars...hummmm...yeah...might have heard of that.

AnAnonymous's picture

'Americans' at it again.

So what's up in the propaganda/fantasy bin this day?

'Americans' assassinate people. What a statement. What a piece of news.
Even before drones, and of recent record, 'americans' could shoot a handcuffed guy, flat on his back, with small consequences.

So what? What is "assassination" since this killed guy had not been processed through their 'american' law system? Nope, it was not.
Murder, assassination are all social conceptions. And as 'americans' did not conceive the act of shooting in the back of a handcuffed guy, laying on the ground,face down as an assassination, it was not an assassination.

Apparently, 'Americans' have troubles keeping the same standards when it comes to drones.

Winston of Oceania's picture

What do you call it when a tank is used on an unarmed man in a square? Hump!

steveo77's picture

Shut up, make your effen point.   8 lines that all you get...got it!

JamesBond's picture

thanks for making the point so the rest of us don't

AnAnonymous's picture

Now, combat, combatant.

It is well known that 'americans' started their career by claiming unalienable rights to human beings.
And just in the following, started to affirm that some human beings were not human beings and such, were not entitled to the famous 'american' human rights.

Since 'americans' have shown time and time over their willingness to dismiss an inalienable quality like the human condition, it would be very disappointing to them if they do not fiddle with the concept of combat and combatant.

Somehow, 'americans' would like the definition of combatant to be engraved in stone so that they can remain on the good side of it.

Unfortunately for them, as 'americans' are able to deny something like the human condition, it is very hard to see how combat could be that permanent, unchanging thing that would secure the 'american' middle class in their entitlements.

bunnyswanson's picture

"The Story of Civilization" by Will Durant and Ariel Durant"


If you leaf through these 11 volumes, during the remainder of the year, you'll come to realize that this is what happens.  Canadians up there, we did it too.  But so did a couple thousand or so.  Conquer or be conquered.  Aztecs, Spaniards....we got the Mexicans so hey....Do you really expect a ship to turn around after travelling for half a year because you stood on the shore of a fucking continent and said, "this is my spot"???

Come on, you are a provocateur ... trying to sway public opinion and determined to do so in multiple posts that disparage an entire nation of people's character.  I am welsh scottish, english, husband was german GERMAN, lol jking....oh so many flavors here.  we are a melting pot you know ?  MELTING POT. 

Go to bed.  just kidding. 

AnAnonymous's picture

Yep, it is well known.

Before the rise of 'americans', everyone was an 'american'.

Even the King was an 'american'.

Melting pot: social engineering experience as led by 'americans'.

akak's picture


Before the rise of 'americans', everyone was an 'american'.


Rarely does AnAnonymystical insanitation so openly declare itself as the intellectual roadside crapmongering that it is.

TheFourthStooge-ing's picture

akak said:

Rarely does AnAnonymystical insanitation so openly declare itself as the intellectual roadside crapmongering that it is.

Wonders if AnAnonymystical roadside squattery is inflation adjusted for blobbing up.

akak's picture

Constant levels of People's Liberation From Sanitation roadside nightsoil orogeny prove that there is no inflation in the rate of 'chinese' citizenism public crapmongery.

AnAnonymous's picture

The final point:

as usual, and as per their eternal 'american' nature, once again, it is exposed that 'americans' do not oppose assassination, they oppose being assassinated (history is full of examples), and that they do not oppose droning but being droned (as shown multiple times already as 'americans' support the doing when done on other people and outside 'american' nations)

At the moment, things that happened in the past, happened in such secured environment that 'americans' feel they would be left out of it.

But the drones have this randomness about themselves that makes the 'american' middle class worry about being targeted.

'Americans' are thieves and thieves are paranoids.

TheFourthStooge-ing's picture

In chapter three of his latest tirade, AnAnonymous said:

The final point

Somehow I doubt it.

'Americans' are thieves and thieves are paranoids.

AnAnonymous is a good 'american'.

bunnyswanson's picture

Did an American woman break your heart?  What's the deal buddy?  Seriously, what has it taken for you to be so fed up with a nation of people, that you'd smear their legacy all over the page, without apology?

Hey, I live here.  You may not know it but these people have taken a beating.  They are in a daze, deer in headlights, and it is ugly.  They are scared.  They have no goddam leader.  Panic is in the eyes of his supporters who cannot explain it away.  The least number of people are the loudest voice, in this new world.  The sound waves vibrate with their propositions and conceptions, their all about their clothes, you know. How much fucking time do the rich spend thinking about what to wear? 

These people have been bamboozled and it has been a thorough job.  But, alas, it is just not America.  The robbers may be on Wall Street but London is the hub.  The big boys are running the show and anyone who stands in the way gets put 6 foot under.

There is a struggle to survive and the air is palpable with anticipation of something but no one knows what.  You are watching a nation being overthrown, anonymous.  These people are being herded and they know it.  The world knows it.  You know it.

If america goes down, we all go down.  There will be no hope for humanity, who will be placed at the mercy of self appointed trilateralists who happen to be the member of that exclusive club.  Rich boys...of for god's sake, take a minute and think about the possibilities and don't stop with the Americans.  The only change will be who is in the chair with the pen.  It's open season on humanity.  They know we know and now they want the guns.

You should be frightened.  You'll never survive if this falls apart.  It will be the last recorded moment in history that will be visible before they burn the whole fucking place down, them along with us.

AnAnonymous's picture

If 'America' goes down, we all go down? Who is that we? the 'american' middle class?

At the present time, one could make a much better prediction, with a "we" encompassing many more people

If 'america' stays up, we all go down.

Yep, that "we" is likely to be humanity, 'americans' included.

AnAnonymous's picture

'Americans' have this: they are duplicitous.

So they tell they are guided by reason but dismiss any factual report as a product of passion.

Here's a factual report of the situation.

'Americans' can kill handcuffed people, flat on their belly, face down.

'Americans' can kill a family leaving a van to care for injured people.

Does it take to have been heart broken by an 'american' to report those facts?

That is what 'americans' would like to make believe. Just like they would like to make believe you have to belong to a special group in order to report those facts.

mendigo's picture

I am sensing a combative tone. Please advise your present position or do you have your cell with you presently.

Oh and please stand clear of any bank or government building ( that may seem redundant but we must communicate in common terminology). Thank you for your help in this matter.

AnAnonymous's picture

Zero combative tone.

'Americans' in power are people in power. And people in power do not waste time on people who are no threat to them.

akak's picture

Chinese citizenism citizens on the roadsides are people emitting a powerful stench.  And people with a powerful stench do not waste their time wasting the spreading of their waste anywhere but on a chinese roadside.

Mark Noonan's picture

Earlier today I came across a story of a man who was locked in solitary confinement for 22 months after being picked up for DUI - he was never charged, never tried, never even brought before a judge.  The man was just left to rot - literally, as when one of his teeth rotted badly enough, he had to extract it, himself.  This was not, however, a deliberate act of injustice on the part of government - the man was simply forgotten about.  That is what is really more of a threat than whether or not Holder will zap someone with a drone strike.  The government has grown so large that in practical, day to day terms, no one is in charge and it just rolls along - with people only intervening when something screws up so badly that it can't be hidden from the public.  I don't think that Obama will ever actually order a drone strike on an American inside the United States, but I do believe it could happen because someone, some where in the bureaucracy thinks it should...and as there's no way Obama can even know one in ten thousand things which go on each day in government, it'll just happen.  Afterwards, of course, post-facto justifications will be issued...which is why I think that Holder initially gave his non-answer to the question...this better answer does, of course, leave some gray areas there...and if we're one day looking on TV at the smoking rubble of an American's home, you can bet your last dollar that it'll be said that the dead were engaging in combat against the United States.

Of course, while we have this gigantic, no-one-in-charge government, people who want to steal are, naturally, robbing us blind.  Via grants, loans, contracts and kickbacks, there is a massive amount of theft going on...this is the standard outcome of an organization grown to large to be managed:  the boss can't keep tabs, but those who want to steal will make certain that their theivery goes on. 

Left or right; hawk or dove; conservative, libertarian or liberal, this has to be recognized as the fundamental problem:  government is too large.  Even if you want it to do good things, it is so large that for the most part only bad things will hapen.

Chupacabra-322's picture

@ Mark Noonan,

Simply put, we have a Illegitamate Criminal Tyranical Federal Government.  The reset button must be pushed and mass arrests of the Treasonist's must happen.  Sooner rather than later.


Mark Noonan's picture

Revolution is needed, but I still believe we can carry it out at the ballot box - provided, of course, all of good will cease allowing the Ruling Class to divide us in to antagonistic groups.  After Paul's filibuster, my suggestion is that we Occupy the Federal Reserve and then have a TEA Party march on Goldman Sachs.  Both sides do have their kooks and they must be marginalized - but if we want to be free, then 67% of us are going to have to get on the same side.

verum quod lies's picture

Sure the government is too large, and your post is too long (i.e., given the point it tries to make). Also, do you really believe Barry Soetoro has or will have no complicity in the killing of Americans? In my opinion, and although stupid and incompetent,  he seems to hate us and enjoys what he is doing.

Colonial Intent's picture

He is not stupid or incompetent, nor does he hate you or enjoy what he is doing, saying that distracts from his real motivation, but hey you just demonise the man and ignore the system if that works for you, where were all you dissenters when the patriot act was passed, oh that was ok cos the prez was a republican?

When will you people realise its a one horse race, politicians, lobbyists and corp interests have always ran america, its like twilight, you get a choice between the vampires or the werewolves and any other solution is not part of the dialogue, its us or them, black or white, good vs evil, the fact that we have lost the ability to think that another way is possible, that is their true victory.

(sorry to be so heavy on a weekend but thats the way i see it)

Mark Noonan's picture

My view of Obama is that he's a political coward - whcih is all too common among political and military leaders, but is aggravated in Obama's case by an apparent belief on his own part that he's figured it all out.  Very little studied is this phenomena of leadership...we tend to mostly study only successful leaders and put down the failures as just that, failures, without ever seeking to understand why they failed.  Obama has that problem of leaders which is that he lacks the moral courage - which is hard to get, because you have to learn it and it mostly comes about in the school of hard knocks - to either see his own weaknesses, comprehend his opponent's point of view and to ruthlessly act when necessary.  In American history, the people who have had this are George Washington, Jackson, Polk, Lincoln, Cleveland, Coolidge, Reagan...most don't have it, but it also isn't necessary most of the time...only when crisis impends. 

Given the sort of person Obama is, we're rather spinning out of control...

mendigo's picture

So your right to life seems to boil down to where you are standing and wether or not you are a citizen. Apparently people from other countries don't even bear mention. We've effectively put the rest of the globe on notice that they continue to live as long as it suits us.

I know that the reason I am confused is that I did not attend a top tier university. Clearly its so easily understood. I'm so ashamed.

espirit's picture

Perhaps the the real question is... "Are you an Amerikan, or a citizen of the United States".

If you are dedicated to the overthrow of the United States of America, which case in point there are over 1000  subversive declared groups within these lands...

Are you a combatant on home soil, or enemy soil?

the grateful unemployed's picture

if you are overseas in a combat zone, your rights are pretty much the same as those reuters reporters in Baghdad who were shot up by an army  blackhawk sitting almost a mile above them. a similar situation on US soil would be untenable. no POTUS wants to be responsible for that kind of slaughter of americans. and no POTUS wants another Ruby Ridge, or a WACO. and still they keep pushing the legality of this stuff [which isn't the same as the public approval to do these kind of operations] and buying up ammunition? why don't they just shut up and say they'll follow the Constitution, and maybe people will forget they promised to close GITMO, and a few other things.

HalinCA's picture

"... no POTUS wants another Ruby Ridge, or a WACO" ...

Ahh ... sorry, get a grip.  That actually might be useful to POTUS-keepers.  To them we are a market, not a nation.  POTUS-keepers unhitched themselves from us ... oh gee ... about when Reagan got away with his illegal alien amnestry program in the mid '80s.  WACOs show their handlers the POTUSes are still controllable.

POTUS-WANIBEES have learned they are bought for their gelatinious qualities.  Vertebrates need not apply.  Now they will do what all un-accountable rulers have done for the last ten thousand years: any fucking thing their handlers let them.  

Hope to Christ the Iranians have the balls to EMP us back to reality.  Nothing short of that will get the attention of the 'average voter', and it will take a major clusterfuck to take out the garbage.  Nothing worth recycling.

the grateful unemployed's picture

Clinton didn't do himself any good, (the impeachment group went after him), and the Dems lost barely in 2000. he also bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade during the Bosnia war. (and that really hurt his China relations, and leads me to wonder if they were helping Bin Laden) if Obama were to make a mistake like RR or Waco, the GOP would hang him out to dry and he knows that. checks and balances.

DOT's picture

It is far to easy for the POTUS to create a bag holder to take the heat after 'a regrettable tragedy'.

the grateful unemployed's picture

Janet Reno didn't exactly have big shoulders, and for Holders part he doesn't look like much to the american public, except one of Barry's black friends from college or something. not much heat absorbing material in that.

Bingfa's picture

In any kind of conflict if drones were used it would just amp up the whole situation.

People on the fence would be enraged...

                 This country would be over....overnight.

                 Another Obama wetdream.

sitenine's picture

You know, it's pretty fucked up that we're even talking about this in the first place. Regardless, if there was ever a modicum of doubt as to what the government will do to preserve itself, doubt no more.