Poll: Plurality say drone strikes on US citizens are illegal

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The Fairleigh Dickinson University's PublicMind poll found that 48 percent of voters think it's illegal for the federal government to use drones to target and kill Americans overseas. Just 24 percent said it is legal in certain circumstances.

Broken down by party affiliation, 50 percent of Democrats surveyed say it is illegal for the U.S. to target citizens abroad with drones, while 23 percent say it's legal. Among Republicans, 44 percent say it is illegal and 26 percent say it is legal. Twenty-seven percent of Democrats surveyed were not sure, and 30 percent of Republicans said they were unsure.

The Fairleigh Dickinson poll also found that a large majority, 75 percent, approve of the military's use of drones to attack targets the United States considers a threat to national security. Just 13 percent disapprove of the use of drones. Similarly, 65 percent approve of the CIA using drones for attack missions around the world, while 21 percent disapprove.

The poll, released Thursday, follows the public release of a Department of Justice white paper outlining the administration's legal justification for using armed drone strikes to kill U.S. citizens abroad without due process. The memo sparked congressional anger as lawmakers demanded more information from the White House on drone strikes.

The White House on Wednesday said it would brief lawmakers on its legal arguments for drone strikes, after Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) suggested he would block the nomination of John Brennan for CIA director.

Brennan, currently Obama's top counterterrorism adviser, is expected to be grilled on the administration's drone policy when he appears before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday.

The Justice Department argued in its memo that the United States can kill a target with a drone strike if it is a senior leader of al Qaeda or another terrorist organization, provided that a high-ranking American intelligence officer deems the target a threat, capturing the target is impossible, and the strike follows international law for the use of force in wartime.

The Fairleigh Dickinson poll was conducted in December, months before the Justice Department memo was released. The poll was conducted among 814 registered voters nationally and had a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points.