Rep. Ellison calls for congressional hearings on armed drone strikes

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) called for congressional hearings into the Obama Administration's use of drone strikes on Sunday, questioning a Justice Department white paper released earlier this week outlining the conditions under which American citizens affiliated with al Qaeda can be targeted.

"You know, I've looked into this, I haven't found one public hearing on drones," Ellison said on ABC News's "This Week." "Now, we had the [John] Brennan hearings, but, you know, Congress has an oversight responsibility here. And, by the way, the president has invited the conversation. He said we need a legal architecture around this thing, so why don't we go do it?"

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Drone strikes were a major topic of inquiry at the confirmation hearing of John Brennan, President Obama's nominee to head the Central Intelligence Agency. The white paper, obtained Monday by NBC News, shared the Justice Department’s legal rationale for allowing such strikes against American citizens abroad. 

The paper concludes that a lethal strike against a senior operational leader of al Qaeda — or an affiliated terrorist group — can occur if a three-part test is met: that a high-level American intelligence official has determined the individual poses an imminent threat, that capture is infeasible, and that the strike is conducted according to the laws of war governing use of force.

But Ellison said the strikes justified by the White House stood as 'the broadest use of the term 'imminent' I've ever heard."

"You know, yeah, if you're a member of al Qaeda — not even that, if you're in affiliated groups," Ellison said. "So it could be pretty attenuated. I'm glad the president invited the conversation. I think we ought to take him up on it and put some real structure around this thing."

President Obama was praised for his handling of the drone issue, however, by Deputy Majority Whip Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who also appeared on the panel. Cole called the Brennan hearings "very helpful" and said his primary concern was that President Obama might be too involved in the decisions to strike.

"This is not a criticism of the president. I think he's probably been more directly involved in some of the targeting decisions than if I were his adviser I would think would be wise," Cole said. "I think he should supervise the program he needs to be intimately familiar, but… I think he's taking on too much risk for himself, quite frankly. But, again, that actually says good things about the president, not bad things."