Senator Rand Paul did something noteworthy yesterday – he delayed John Brennan’s confirmation as director of the CIA with an old-fashioned filibuster to make a point about the use of drones for targeted killing of Americans on U.S. soil.
For almost 13 hours – with some quick breaks while fellow Senators helped him out by asking questions – he held the floor and raised an issue that Congress should be raising: can the President order and approve the killing of a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil without judicial process? In a letter to Senator Paul, Attorney General Holder had indicated that he did not foresee a situation like that, but if such an unusual situation occurred, it would be “necessary and appropriate” under the Constitution for the President to authorize such action. i
Oh really? A lot of our civil liberties got trashed in the name of national security after 9/11, but this? This? This goes beyond an imperial presidency. It decimates the rule of law and our system of checks and balances. And – as with everything else – no one would be able to challenge the program because it’s secret.
And so Senator Paul filibustered. And filibustered. And he read from privacy scholarship on drones by Ryan Calo, and read from articles on Wired, and generally gave shout-outs to many journalists, scholars, and activists that most members of the Senate probably never heard of, much less read.
As I followed the tweet stream last night, I found myself impressed with Rand’s points. As much as I have – and do – disagree with him on other important issues – he was generally spot on in raising this concern and in what he was saying.
So where were the civil libertarians and liberals in the Senate yesterday? Why was Senator Ron Wyden the only Democrat to help Paul until late in the filibuster when Senator Durbin gave some limited support by asking a question. Durbin’s question, however, was off the mark. The issue is not whether the government can order a plane to be shot down if it poses an imminent terrorist threat to the citizenry – even if U.S. citizens are on board. The issue is whether the President can order a drone strike to kill an American citizen on American soil based on its assessment of imminent risk, without that citizen ever having been charged with a crime or convicted. And the issue involves how the government defines “imminent” threat.
We want – and expect – our government to keep us safe from genuine terrorist threats. But I neither want – nor endorse – our government deciding the executive can substitute his judgement for our constitutional guarantees of due process. And I don’t want to look up in the sky each day and wonder whether any drone I see is on its way to kill a citizen.
So where were the Democrats yesterday? Shame on them for making this a partisan issue instead of the non-partisan issue it is and should be.
Kudos to Senator Paul. Keep pushing on this issue, Senator.