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Gates backs more oversight of drones

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates suggested the Obama administration consider adding a check on the president's ability to use drones to target terror suspects.

Gates, speaking on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday, said that the United States should consider creating a third group in charge of informing Congress and intelligence communities about an imminent drone strike.

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"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 think some check on the ability of the president to do this has merit, as we look to the longer term future," Gates said.

Gates, who served as Defense secretary for both then-President George W. Bush and President Obama, suggested a court in charge of oversight for drone strikes or perhaps a panel of judges should be given consideration.

"Something similar, whether it's a panel of three judges or one judge or some -- something that would give the American people confidence 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," Gates also said.

But Gates added that his suggestion of an oversight panel for drone strikes was not because of abuse by the Obama administration.

"I think that the rules and the— and the practices that the Obama administration has followed are quite stringent and are not being abused," Gates said. "But who is to say about a future president?"

Gates's comments come almost a week after NBC News reported on a Department of Justice (DOJ) white paper outlining when the United States can use a drone strike on an American citizen abroad. 

The DOJ memo for drone strikes argues that the Obama administration can conduct a strike on an American citizen abroad provided that an American intelligence official concludes that the target poses an "imminent" threat, capturing the target is impossible, and the strike falls in line with international wartime laws on the use of force.

"This conclusion is reached with recognition of the extraordinary seriousness of a lethal operation by the United States against a U.S. citizen, and also of the extraordinary seriousness of the threat posed by senior operational al Qaeda members and the loss of life that would result were their operations successful," the memo says.

Lawmakers grilled top Obama counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, the president's nominee to be CIA Director, on the administration's drone policies during his hearing last week.