On Wednesday, March 7th, Senator Rand Paul, of Kentucky held a Filibuster to hold up the nomination of John Brennan as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Paul spoke for just short of thirteen hours. The reported time, as of this posting, was 12 hours and 52 minutes. His subject matter? The Obama administration’s belief that it can kill American civilians with drone strikes.
While previously known, the issue really only gained public attention in recent weeks after NBC released a leaked Department of Justice memo entitled “Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a U.S. Citizen who is a Senior Operation Leader of al Qaeda or An Associated Force”. Bear in mind, this is not the first memo to be leaked in conjunction with the use of drones targeting American civilians.
The most high profile case of this was the September 30th, 2011 death of American-born radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who is believed to have heavily influenced multiple attacks on American interests, including the Fort Hood massacre and the attempted bombing of Times Square. There is, of course, the fact that there was never a court proceeding charging and convicting him of anything in relation to these crimes. While an active member of an anti-american terrorist organization, al-Awlaki was also an American citizen, born to Yemenese parents in New Mexico in 1971.
What is more distrubing, however, is what followed. Several weeks later Anwar al-Awlaki’s sixteen year old son and fellow American citizen, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki , was killed by a follow-up drone strike. When interviewed, Obama Campaign Senior Adviser Robert Gibbs was asked why. His response of “should have [had] a far more responsible father” was more than lacking in explanation. The boy was not a combatant and was only guilty of having Anwar al-Awlaki as a father. Yet, this was all the explanation they would give. The response drew fire from many groups, but as usual, the issue was quickly forgotten. As a friend of this mine once put it, we no longer live in a world of fifteen minute fame, but one of five second sound bytes.
When asked in March of 2012 about the constitutionality of such an action, Attorney General Eric Holder explained that, at least in the administration’s eyes, the “Due Process ” clause in the Constitution is not the same as “judicial process”. I, for one, would love to hear the Supreme Court’s opinion on this, and suspect that we eventually will.
Further clouding the issue is the Obama administration’s refusal to clarify whether these targeted killings are confined to overseas or if these killings might one day occur within the borders of the American homeland. In response to such concerns, Attorney General Holder has stated “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”.
Many, including this writer, are greatly concerned by the prospect of the United States government taking upon itself the right to end the lives of it’s citizens if they are deemed an Imminent Threat. Even the guidelines mentioned within the sixteen page memo are loosely worded so as to afford room for interpretation.
Senator Paul was joined last night by many of his colleagues who expressed the same concerns. These colleagues included Florida Governor Marco Rubio, Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. From the other side of the political Aisle came further support by some Democrats including Oregon Senator Ron Wyden.
But not all members of Senator Paul’s party feel the same. Today, Thursday March 7th, 2013, Arizona Senator John McCain and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham called Senator Paul’s filibuster a “disservice to Americans.” How bringing an alarming issue to the attention of the American people is a disservice, I do not know.
The White House has indeed issued a response. Attorney General Eric Holder sent a brief letter to Senator Paul stating “It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: ‘Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil.’ The answer to that question is no.”
Paul seemed elated at the response and said “Under duress and under public humiliation the White House will respond and do the right thing.”
Not all of us feel his elation, however. While Paul feels this guarantees us ‘Basic human rights’, This writer feels that the White House does not have the ability to hand out such rights. Different men did that well over two hundred years ago.
On an interesting historical side note; While just under thirteen hours, Senator Rand Paul did not set the record for longest winded politician to speak on the Senate floor. That record falls to Senator Strom Thurmond. In 1957 Thurmond held up proceedings for Twenty Four Hours hours and eighteen minutes. Why? To oppose the Civil Rights Act, of course. In 1964 this wonderful display of bigotry was followed up by Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, for the same cause.
Senator Paul’s cause was far more civil in nature.