WASHINGTON -- Maine independent Sen. Angus King floated the idea Thursday of creating a court to weigh in on America's drone death program -- an idea that CIA nominee John Brennan said the agency has "wrestled with," but did not embrace.
The Obama administration has dramatically stepped up the campaign of targeted killings with drones, taking out suspected al Qaeda terrorists -- including Americans -- without any trials.
The idea that the president can authorize killings of citizens on his own didn't seem to sit well with the recently elected King, who suggested that the Senate Intelligence Committee and the CIA consider creating an independent court to evaluate planned drone strikes, much the way law enforcers have to get warrants under Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to spy on Americans getting communications from overseas.
"Having the executive be the prosecutor, the judge the jury and the executioner all in one is very contrary to the traditions and the law of this country," King told Brennan in Thursday's confirmation hearing.
King suggested that, unlike in battlefield situations, where a soldier couldn't possibly pursue some sort of legal process, drone strikes are planned remotely, with enough time to get an outside check.
"If you're planning a strike over days week or months, there is an opportunity to go to some outside of the executive branch body, like the FISA court, in a confidential and top-secret way, and make the case that this American citizen is an enemy combatant," King said. "At least that would be some check on the activities of the executive."
Brennan answered, "We have wrestled with this in terms of whether there can be a FISA-like court ... to determine whether there should be a warrant for certain activities." He said the idea was worthy of discussion, but seemed cool to it, saying courts are backwards-looking rather that proactive.
"Our judicial tradition is that a court of law is used to determine one's guilt or innocence for past actions, which is very different from the decisions that are made on the battlefield, as well as actions that are taken against terrorists," Brennan said.
"The actions we take on the counterterrorism front, again, are to take actions against individuals where we believe the intelligence base is so strong, and the nature of the threat is so grave and serious, as well as imminent, that we have no recourse except to take this action that may involve a lethal strike," Brennan added.
Brennan earlier defended drone strikes.
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.