Former Defense Secretary Gates Recommends 'Some Check' on President Launching Drones at Americans

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Sunday that there should be "some check on the ability of a president" to launch a drone strike on Americans.

Speaking on CNN's State of the Union, Gates recommended "a panel of three judges or one judge or something that would give the American people confidence that there was, in fact, a compelling case to launch an attack against an American citizen."

CANDY CROWLEY, HOST: Let me ask you about the idea of targeting Americans. Al-Awlaki is the one obviously that has been the most out there. Known terrorist, we understand that. He said hateful, violent things on the internet against the U.S. He was obviously associated, a big player in al Qaeda. He was nonetheless an American citizen, and as we are lead to believe how this works, it's the President who okays a kill list and that would include American citizens. Should that be sort of a broader authority?

ROBERT GATES, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I think that the idea, you know, we have this Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court that approves the use of electronic surveillance on American citizens. So you have an independent person, a federal judge, outside of the executive branch…

CROWLEY: This is for surveillance.

GATE: Yes, this is for electronic surveillance. Something similar, whether it's a panel of three judges or one judge or something that would give the American people confidence that, that there was, in fact, a compelling case to be, to launch an attack against an American citizen. I think just as an independent confirmation or affirmation if you will is something worth giving serious consideration to.

I think that the rules and practices that the Obama administration has followed are, are quite stringent, and are not being abused. But who is to say about a future president? And so I think, I think this idea of being able to execute in effect an American citizen, no matter how awful, having some third party being, having a say in it or perhaps some informing the Congress or the intelligence committees or something like that, I just, I think some check on the ability of a president to do this has merit as we look to the longer-term future.

CROWLEY: When it became known that the Bush administration was using enhanced interrogation techniques on certain folks that had been captured, the outrage was immediate. And yet we have the U.S. targeting an American, an American citizen and killing an American citizen, and we see that these drones widely approved really by the American people, and there hasn’t been much until recently out of Congress. Why do you, how do you account for the difference in reaction to those two things? Are they entirely separate or is that a curious thing?

GATES: How about politics?

CROWLEY: I'll go for that. And in what way?

GATES: Well, I think that at a certain, by a certain point, virtually nothing President Bush did was going to win approval by anybody. And anything he did was condemned from the Surge to various other things, and I just think that that certainly plays a part in it. And particularly a lot of our political leaders have no problem talking out of both sides of their mouth when it comes to issues like these.

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