Many members of Congress aren't pleased with the Obama administration's rationale for the continued use of drones to kill American citizens, and they're considering turning up the heat at a pivotal moment.
As CIA Chief nominee John Brennan prepares for his Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Thursday, a number of Democratic lawmakers are signaling that he better show up equipped to answer numerous questions pertaining to the operation and execution of the country's drone program.
What's more, the report by the Associated Press indicates that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold hearings regarding American drone policy.
"It has to be in the agenda of this Congress to reconsider the scope of action of drones and use of deadly force by the United States around the world because the original authorization of use of force, I think, is being strained to its limits," said Senator Chris Coons, D-Del.
The White House defended its drone policy on Tuesday, saying it already has Congressional authority to carry out its current operations.
"It is a matter of fact that Congress authorized the use of military force against al-Qaida," said White House spokesman Jay Carney. "It is a matter of fact that al-Qaida is in a state of war against us and that senior leaders, operational leaders of al-Qaida are continually plotting to attack the United States, plotting to kill American citizens as they did most horrifically on September 11th of 2001."
In the wake of September 11th, Congress granted the military the power to use "all necessary and appropriate force" to decimate al-Qaida. The question being debated now is whether or not the administration is going too far in its interpretation of its power.
On Monday night, a previously undisclosed Justice Department memo detailing the administrations legal through process regarding drones was leaked to the press. It laid out the conditions under which the government can target and kill Americans, but then proceeded to dilute the very conditions it stated were necessary. Essentially, the memo claimed that any "informed, high-level official" within the executive branch can lethally target a U.S. citizen suspected of working with al-Qaida or "an associated force," even without clear evidence of a terrorist plot.
The memo was immediately criticized by civil rights proponents such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights.
"The parallels to the Bush administration torture memos are chilling. Those were unchecked legal justifications drawn up to justify torture," said Vincent Warren, the Center for Constitutional Rights' executive director, to Wired. "These are unchecked justifications drawn up to justify extrajudicial killing."
Of course, not everyone shares Warren's conclusion, and administration officials aren't the only ones defending the drone policy.
"When an individual has joined al-Qaida - the organization responsible for the murder of thousands of Americans - and actively plots future attacks against U.S. citizens, soldiers, and interests around the world, the U.S. government has both the authority and the obligation to defend the country against that threat," said House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich.
What Congress will do, if anything, to curb the administration's wide latitude for extrajudicial killing is unclear. At the very least, the newfound motivation of some Congressional members to seek clearer answers should shed some light on one of the country's most secretive and controversial practices.
The second most powerful Democrate in the House, Steny Hoyer of Maryland, said that "it deserves a serious look at how we make the decisions in government to take out, kill, eliminate, whatever word you want to use, not just American citizens but other citizens as well. We ought to carefully review our policies as a country."