February 21, 2013
A Drone Court . . . in the Executive Branch?
While many continue talking about a drone court in the judicial branch, Neal Katyal wrote in the NYT in favor of a drone court in the executive branch. Katyal argues that an executive tribunal comprised of national security experts, with congressional oversight, is a better tailored way to ensure accountability in the administration's use of drone strikes for targeted killings. The proposal splits the difference--or takes the best of both approaches--between the administration's current policy (which, it says, includes an internal executive branch review by experts, but with no independent oversight) and a full-fledged drone court in the judicial branch.
According to supporters, the drone court would provide a check to the administration's use of drones for targeted killing of Americans overseas, in the spirit of the FISA court. But ideas so far locate the court in the judiciary. Katyal sees a problem with that:
There are many reasons a drone court composed of generalist federal judges will not work. They lack national security expertise, they are not accustomed to ruling on lightning-fast timetables, they are used to being in absolute control, their primary work is on domestic matters and they usually rule on matters after the fact, not beforehand.
But putting oversight authority in the executive branch, staffed by experts, would solve that problem. And Katyal says that an executive branch "court" could still be subject to a check--by Congress:
The adjudicator would be a panel of the president's most senior national security advisers, who would issue decisions in writing if at all possible. Those decisions would later be given to the Congressional intelligence committees for review. Crucially, the president would be able to overrule this court, and take whatever action he thought appropriate, but would have to explain himself afterward to Congress.
As to explaining to Congress--and shifting gears just slightly--it's now widely reported that the White House is refusing to disclose DOJ memos justifying its targeted killing program. Instead, to gain bi-partisan support for John Brennan to lead the CIA, the administration is negotiating with Republicans to provide more information on the attacks in Benghazi in order to gain their support for Brennan.
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