WASHINGTON – John Brennan, the White House nominee to run the CIA, said in documents released Friday that setting up a special court to oversee deadly drone strikes against Americans is worth considering but raises difficult questions over the scope of its authority.
Expanding on Senate testimony a week ago, Brennan said the White House and other agencies have discussed the idea as part of the process of deciding which al-Qaida suspects should be targeted on capture-or-kill lists for the CIA and the U.S. military.
"It would raise some novel, and potentially difficult, questions and furthermore would grant courts authority over decisions that have traditionally been exercised principally, if not exclusively, by the executive branch," Brennan said. "Nevertheless, given the stakes involved and the consequence of such determinations ... all options are worth considering."
Brennan's comments were included in written answers to the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is considering whether to approve his nomination for a full Senate vote.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the head of the Intelligence Committee, has said she is considering legislation to set up a special court system to regulate drone strikes. It would be similar to the court that signs off on government surveillance in espionage and terrorism cases.
Brennan also said he believes the number of civilians killed in U.S. strikes targeting al-Qaida should be made public, and described how the Obama administration uses intelligence, media reports and surveillance footage to determine when the drones kill civilians. He said that happens rarely, and that U.S. officials take steps to try to prevent civilian casualties and injuries.
Brennan repeated President Barack Obama's pledge that drones would not strike against Americans inside the U.S., and that they are not used if it's possible to capture a target.
"This administration has not carried out drone strikes inside the United States and has no intention of doing so," he said.
Feinstein has delayed the committee vote to confirm Brennan for two weeks at the request of lawmakers who want more information on the White House's legal policies about the targeted killings of terror suspects, including Americans. Committee members have been given access to only four of the 11 classified Justice Department memos justifying the use of targeted killing of terror suspects overseas. The White House would not comment on their request this week.
Lawmakers also want more details about the attack last September on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that killed the American ambassador and three other U.S. citizens there.
Kim Dozier can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/KimberlyDozier