America is shamed that only Rand Paul is talking about drone executions
Where are the civil libertarians in the president’s party that we must rely on a Tea Party Republican to champion this issue?
by Amy Goodman
President Barack Obama’s controversial nomination of John Brennan as director of the Central Intelligence Agency was held up Wednesday afternoon by a Senate filibuster. The reason: Brennan’s role in targeted killings by drones, and President Obama’s presumed authority to kill US citizens, without any due process, if they pose an “imminent threat”. The effort was led by Tea Party Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky, joined by several of his Republican colleagues. Among the Democrats, at the time of this writing, only Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon had joined in the genuine, old-fashioned “talking filibuster”, wherein the activities of the Senate floor are held up by a senator’s speech.
Members of Congress, tasked with oversight of intelligence and military matters, have repeatedly demanded the memoranda from the White House detailing the legal basis for the drone program, only to be repeatedly denied. The nomination of Brennan has opened up the debate, forcing the Obama administration to make nominal gestures of compliance. The answers so far have not satisfied Senator Paul. Nearing hour six of his filibuster, Senator Paul admitted:
“I can’t ultimately stop the nomination, but what I can do is try to draw attention to this and try to get an answer … that would be something if we could get an answer from the president … if he would say explicitly that noncombatants in America won’t be killed by drones. The reason it has to be answered is because our foreign drone strike program does kill noncombatants. They may argue that they are conspiring or they may someday be combatants, but if that is the same standard that we are going to use in the United States, it is a far different country than I know about.”
The issue of extrajudicial execution of US citizens, whether on US soil or elsewhere, is clearly vital. But also important is the US government’s now-seemingly routine killing of civilians around the world, whether by drone strikes, night raids conducted by special operations forces or other lethal means.
Rand Paul’s filibuster followed a curious route, including references to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, and quotes from noted progressive, constitutional attorney and Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald and blogger Kevin Gosztala of Firedoglake.
US Attorney General Eric Holder sent a letter to Senator Paul, 4 March, writing:
“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.”
Holder noted that Paul’s question was “entirely hypothetical”. So, on the Senate floor, Paul brought up the case of two actual US citizens killed by drone strikes, Anwar al-Awlaki and his son, Abdulrahman. Anwar al-Awlaki was killed by a US drone strike in Yemen on 30 September 2011. Two weeks later, also in Yemen, his 16-year-old son Abdulrahman, a Denver native, was also killed by a drone strike. Paul asked during his filibuster:
“If you happen to be the son of a bad person, is that enough to kill you?”