The drone filibuster

Jeffrey Tucker writes at Not PC:

Twitter began by calling it “libertarian porn” — the longest and most sustained attack on the State leviathan from the U.S. Senate floor in modern history. But then it became more. And more. It went on for 13 hours. It was about halfway through when the junior senator leaned over to an aide and whispered: “Can I get a candy bar?” 

He deserved it. Before the end of the night, the significance of what he was doing was being described as “epic.” What began as a surprise political move became a bipartisan cry against all the evils of our times, which somehow all come down to the egregious power of the executive state and its omnipotent power over our lives and property. It became political theatre unlike any we’ve seen in many years. The target: all terrible things. 

In short, it was a beautiful day on Capitol Hill. 

It all came courtesy of Senator Randall Paul, the man who has brought truth, excitement, fun, and the appearance of real-life morality back to the Senate. …

Senator Paul’s action began just before noon. He started by standing alone against the nomination of John Brennan for the head of the CIA. This Brennan guy is the top advocate of the drone program and the White House’s super-creepy claim of the right to kill American citizens on American soil using unmanned aircraft.

Sen. Paul seemed to break the taboo. He finally said it: This winner of the Nobel Peace Prize is asserting the right to kill citizens right here, without any recourse to courts or law or anything related to the dead letter called the Constitution. …

Again, his one question: Why won’t the president say that he won’t kill non-combatants with on American soil? The White House pretended none of this was happening. …

Just before noon yesterday, stood alone. Then others joined him. Still others. Rand talked and talked. He went on and on. The online crowd began to grow. And grow. The tweets grew and grew. Facebook went nuts. It went on all day. The Senate chamber filled up by the evening. The fracas became frenzy and then became a mania. Hashtag #StandWithRand became the Internet meme of the night.

The drone debate has been fascinating. Obama has used drones to kill hundreds or thousands of targets (and collateral casualties) in Pakistan and other countries. Most Americans support the use of drones (83% in February 2012). The opposition has been a few muted liberals. I suspect if Bush had been carrying out the same numbers, there would have been massive protests.

I personally have no problem with using technology to kill people at war with you. However in one recent case a drone was used to kill a US citizen and for some that was a significant step – maybe one too far.

Now wars are no longer between states, but between states and loose groups of militias or terrorists, I think drone strikes are a sensible way to fight such wars. There are some risks of course – namely that it becomes “too easy” to kill – an issue some US Generals have said is why drone use should be limited.

But wars are basically against foreigners. Should a war power be used against a citizen of your own country born in this case in the United States?

The argument in this case is he was based in Yemen and actively advocating attacks on the US by Muslims living there. And if you look at his history, you can see why he was seen as a danger. But it means the line has gone from killing foreign combatants to killing US citizens overseas.

And then that raised the question – what if a US citizen is in the United States and thought to be a terrorist. Can the President add his name to the list and send a drone in to kill him? If US citizens can now be killed by drones – does it matter where they live?

To my mind, it does. If they are in the US then you can arrest them and should try to do so (if they surrender peacefully). It is impractical to think you can fly into Yemen and try and arrest someone in the middle of the mountains.

But the Obama administration when asked by Rand Paul would not rule out using drones in the US. The Attorney-General said:

Mr Holder stressed in his letter that the prospect of a president considering the assassination of an American citizen on US soil was “entirely hypothetical” and “unlikely to occur”.

Yet “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 authorise the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States,” he wrote.

Appearing in front the Senate judiciary committee on Wednesday, Mr Holder reiterated that “the government has no intention to carry out any drone strikes in the United States”.

That response is what led to Rand Paul to do his filibuster of the CIA nomination. And it worked. After 13 hours the Obama Administration then clarified:

“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.”

So the filibuster is over. But the issue of the limits of drone strikes is now mainstream, and occurred not due to any Democrats but the libertarian Republican Senator from Kentucky.

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