Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., pushed for more congressional oversight of the Obama administration’s drone program, saying a legal architecture needs to be put in place on the use of drone strikes against potential terrorist targets overseas.
“I’ve looked into this, I haven’t found one public hearing on drones,” Ellison said Sunday on the “This Week” roundtable. “Now, we had the Brennan hearings, but, you know, Congress has an oversight responsibility here… The president has invited the conversation. He said we need a legal architecture around this thing, so why don’t we go do it?”
Ellison also questioned the legal rationale cited in a leaked Justice Department white paper that applied a wide definition to what constituted an “imminent” terrorist threat. “This is the broadest use of the term ‘imminent’ I’ve ever heard,” Ellison said.
President Obama’s pick for CIA Director John Brennan faced tough questioning at his Senate confirmation hearing last week on the Obama administration’s use of drone strikes, which have greatly increased during Obama’s time in office.
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., called the hearings “very helpful,” but agreed with Ellison that there needs to be more discussion of the drone program. Cole questioned whether some of the strikes are hurting intelligence efforts by killing instead of capturing terrorist targets.
“I really do think we are losing a lot of opportunities out there to actually extract people and – and get information, and human intelligence is really much more important than taking out individual targets,” Cole said.
Republican strategist and ABC News political analyst and contributor Nicolle Wallace said former President George W. Bush would have been judged much more harshly for using the same measures.
“It’s slightly hilarious that people have all this patience for a legal architecture to be crafted after the fact,” Wallace said. “If this had been President George W. Bush’s administration revealing that this many drone attacks are going on, there would be impeachment hearings underway. So the hypocrisy sort of has Republicans steaming.”
But Wallace added that many Republicans have been pleased that President Obama has continued many of the counter-terrorism efforts of the previous administration.
“I think the actual policy and the fact that President Obama has continued almost the entire basket is, in the case of drone killings greatly accelerated their use, has Republicans feeling pretty satisfied that the counter-terrorism policies put in place by the Bush administration, which Dick Cheney was the architect of many of them, have been continued by this president,” Wallace said.
Former Obama 2012 deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter countered that the Obama administration has tried to be transparent on the drone program, while ending the use of torture to gather intelligence.
“Mr. Brennan, the president, the administration has said that they want transparency, accountability, and a process to ensure that… everybody’s aware of what we’re doing going forward,” Cutter said.
While the debate over the drone strike program continues in Washington, ABC News chief global affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz, who just returned from the Middle East, noted how poorly received the strikes are in countries impacted by them.
“I’ve been in all the places they’re used, in Yemen, in Pakistan, and people there do not like them,” Raddatz said. “John Brennan is able to say, ‘look, it’s very effective, and it’s certainly been effective taking out core leadership, but when you talk to people on the street, you wonder what the long-term strategy is.”