Yes, the president does have the authority to use military force against American citizens on US soil—but only in "an extraordinary circumstance," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a letter to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Tuesday.
"The US Attorney General's refusal to rule out the possibility of drone strikes on American citizens and on American soil is more than frightening," Paul said Tuesday. "It is an affront the constitutional due process rights of all Americans."
Holder's answer was more detailed, however, stating that under certain circumstances, the president would have the authority to order lethal attacks on American citizens. The two possible examples of such "extraordinary" circumstances were the attack on Pearl Harbor and the 9/11 terrorist attacks. An American president order the use of lethal military force inside the United States is "entirely hypothetical, unlikely to occur, and one we hope no president will ever have to confront," Holder wrote. Here's the bulk of the letter:
As members of this administration have previously indicated, the US government has not carried out drone strikes in the United States and has no intention of doing so. As a policy matter moreover, we reject the use of military force where well-established law enforcement authorities in this country provide the best means for incapacitating a terrorist threat. We have a long history of using the criminal justice system to incapacitate individuals located in our country who pose a threat to the United States and its interests abroad. Hundreds of individuals have been arrested and convicted of terrorism-related offenses in our federal courts.
The question you have posed is therefore entirely hypothetical, unlikely to occur, and one we hope no president will ever have to confront. It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States. For example, the president could conceivably have no choice but to authorize the military to use such force if necessary to protect the homeland in the circumstances like a catastrophic attack like the ones suffered on December 7, 1941, and September 11, 2001.
OK, I can see the wedge of the argument about 9/11. BushCo may, or may not, have ordered fighters to intercept and shoot down civilian airliners taken over by terrorists with the intent of crashing them. We will probably never know in our life time whether such an order was given.
But how the Hell would Pearl Harbor, a military attack by Japanese naval forces, have warranted the killing of American citizens by the president?
Holder apparently told Obama it would be legal to kill Americans without trial overseas. No he is telling him that that it is OK in to kill Americans in America as well. Nice precedent we will be handing to the next Republican appointed to power by the Supreme Court.