This week, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul filibustered the congressional approval of a new CIA director that he has every intention of approving. Does that make sense?
Paul was filibustering the approval to shed light on an important issue that should have everyone who appreciates living in a land governed by laws and not the whim of a man should be concerned about.
Back in 2011, New Mexico born Anwar al-Awlaki was killed by a drone attack in Yemen. This caused some concern among libertarian thinking people since al-Awlaki got no due process before the United States government deprived him of his life. Historically and legally this is an interesting area. al-Awlaki was not in the USA when he was killed, but that alone doesn’t give up his rights under the constitution. The administration argues that he was actively engaged in warlike actions against our troops. It is, at best, a legal grey area.
It isn’t like the American government hasn’t actively killed American’s before, with regard for due process. Police do it regularly, and we don’t usually fault them for it. When a bad guy pulls a gun on an officer in blue, we don’t expect the officer to run to a judge and get a warrant before shooting back. We do, however, expect a thorough review of the incident to make sure the use of lethal force is justified.
Since finding out about al-Awlaki death, several senators and other politicians have been attempting to review the rational and justification for targeting an American Citizen from a drone. Let me be clear, the American al-Awlaki was not collateral damage in the drone attack. He was the target.
We now know he was with four others, all traveling in a SUV. They had stopped for breakfast, when one spotted the incoming predator drone and they fled. An Army Hellfire Missile was fired into the SUV, killing all of them. al-Awlaki was not on a battlefield and he was not actively threatening any citizen of any country. And that is why this is under review.
The administration has not used drones solely overseas. In fact, the Department of Homeland Security has purchased several Predator drones very similar to the one used to kill al-Awlaki. These drones are currently not armed with missiles, but instead an array of electronic equipment that makes domestic spying quite impressive. And at least some of these drones have been used to spy on Americans here at home.
So the concern has become, if it is legal for the Administration to use a drone to kill an American born terrorist overseas, how long until they use a drone to kill an American here at home?
Senator Paul asked this of the appointed new Director of the CIA in a letter. The chief law enforcement officer in the country, Department of Justice Attorney General Eric Holder responded via a letter. His response was less than satisfactory.
The question you pose 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 extraordinary circumstance which it would be necessary appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President authorize military to use lethal force in the territory of the United States.
Holder goes on to develop instances where he thought the drones may be used, like Pearl Harbor and 9/11.
This is disturbing on several levels. In both, foreign nationals attacked our country’s sovereign soil. These were not the actions of Americans, but the actions of angry aliens. As such, neither matched what the Senator asked. Would drones ever be used on Americans in America.
On another level, Holder specifically says “military to use lethal force.” Unless the hypothetical situation is nuclear in nature, such an action would be illegal under the Possie Comitatus Act. Additionally, the current Administration has not been forthcoming with the legal prior to this past Monday with the legal rational for using drones against American’s overseas, and has not stated whether or not the rational applies domestically.
On Monday, Holder released documents concerning the legal rational for overseas drone use against American’s. In a hearing on Wednesday, Holder was questioned about the domestic use of drones. Again, his answer was less than satisfying. In this case, it was Judiciary Committee member Texas Senator Paul Cruz who asked if using a drone in a very specific matter would be constitutional.
The situation was simple. Would the Administration believe it is constitutional to use a drone against a domestic terrorist sitting in a cafe. Again, Holder’s response was unsatisfactory. The answer to that question is “No.” But Holder had to dither, and avoid the constitutional aspect of the question. He was intterupted and asked again. Again he dithered. He finally answered “I thought I was saying no.”
You can watch the whole exchange here:
So I think Senator Rand Paul was more than justified in his Filibuster. It is time that the Administration is clear on its position of the legal use of lethal force on American soil.
Today, the filibuster over, the Senate did confirm John Brennan as the newest Director of the CIA. Just prior to the vote, which Paul did not vote in the affirmative, Paul received a letter from Holder clarifying the Administration’s position on drone strikes in the United States. In the brief letter Holder said that the President did not have the authority to kill an American who was not “engaged in combat.”
Now how CNN dropped the ball. In their report of Holder’s appearance before the Judicial Committee they failed completely to report on the verbal summersaults between Holder and Cruz. In their report, they reported that Holder said “no.” Shame on you, CNN.