Assassination Court: Senators Mull Pre-Execution Trials

Secret Court Would Decide on Whether or Not to Kill Suspects

With drones suddenly a part of the conversation during the Brennan confirmation hearings, senators are said to be considering an idea to create a secret “assassination court” on the model of the FISA courts that rubber-stamp wiretapping, only this court would be charged with deciding if “suspects” can be assassinated by US drone strikes.

The idea has some support, though officials say it is unlikely any such proposals will be acted on any time soon. The notion of a secretive court deciding who gets killed by robots looming overhead anywhere on the planet strikes some as somewhat morbid.

On the other hand, the drones are already looming overhead and killing people by the thousands worldwide as it is, and the change would just be some nominal court oversight to the whole process of killing people en masse, which at present is entirely up to President Obama. That is a power he is unlikely to be willing to give up.

John Brennan expressed some skepticism about the idea, saying he would consider it but that it would have to be a different type of court from anything in existence. He argued that drone strikes aren’t about guilt for past actions but rather are aimed at preventing a future action, adding that this is an “inherently Executive Branch” function.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D – CA), the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is spearheading the effort, seeking some method of regulating the killings and hoping to translate the FISA model more or less directly.

Sen. Angus King (I – ME) suggested even that might be a bridge too far, and that he believes such a court should be limited only to considering the execution of American citizens, while the executions of everybody else would never see the inside of a court, secret or not.

On the other hand Sen. King did express concern about the killings of Americans, saying that making the president “prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner all in one is very contrary” to US tradition. That apparently did not apply to foreigners.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.