On Wednesday we got to witness one of the unique gems of our political system, a filibuster in the U.S. Senate! Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) spoke for nearly 13 straight hours, delaying the confirmation vote to appoint John Brennan as the new head of the CIA. The issue which turned the hash-tag #standwithrand into all the rage on Twitter was the policies of Barack Obama on the use of domestic drones. Specifically, can drone strikes be carried out within the borders of the United States against potential terrorists? The White House and other administration heads, like Eric Holder, have been ambiguous as to whether such actions are unconstitutional? The junior Kentucky Republican senator had a few allies helping him out during his filibuster, including Mike Lee (R-UT), Ted Cruz (R-TX) and even one Democrat, Ron Wyden (D-OR). But none of the ′Old Guard′, like Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, participated, opting instead to attend a dinner with Obama.
Taking the floor at 11:47am, Sen. Rand Paul began his filibuster which lasted until 12:39am Thursday morning. Paul and his supporters all acknowledge that use of domestic drones would be perfectly acceptable in the drastic scenario of stopping an actual terrorist attack in progress. But the question is can Obama use the same criteria for drone attacks overseas? Many of which involve targeting people who are only suspected of being connected with Al Qaeda and many killed while not actually doing anything threatening, or even being armed! Earlier on Wednesday, Sen. Ted Cruz grilled Eric Holder during a Senate committee hearing asking him if the federal government using a drone attack to kill an American citizen suspected of being a terrorist while sitting at a cafe violate the Constitution concerning due process? After much hemming and hawing, Holder eventually answered, No.
Since 2005, the Department of Homeland Security, DHS, has operated a fleet of at least 8 Predator B drones delegated for border security. However, in recent years, there have been a growing number of occasions where these federal assets have been lent to local police departments and other federal agencies in criminal investigations and other purposes. In one instance, a drone′s sophisticated sensor platform determined that three suspects surrounded by law enforcement in a building were not armed, enabling the police to enter safely and make their arrests.
With the prospects for wide-spread drone use by local governments, perhaps as many as 30,000 drones being purchased in the next decade, what will be the policies for their use? Obama currently has been taking advantage of the war authorization act for Afghanistan to carry out drone attacks in several countries. This includes the killing of American citizens Anwar aal-Awaki and his 16-year old son in Yemen. Such attacks are done using a secret ′kill list′ that Obama approves without any legal oversight. Sen. Rand Paul fears that a policy of a global war without end, or borders, may give Obama or any future president the rationale for killing American citizens within the United States without any due process. No warrant, no charges filed, nothing except a vague or secret criteria that leaves no recourse or redress.
So were you among the millions of Twitter tweeters who #standwithrand yesterday? Senator Rand Paul, the junior Kentucky Republican, led a filibuster on Wednesday for nearly 13 hours over Barack Obama and his drone policy. The talk-a-thon forced a delay in the confirmation vote to make John Brennan the new head of the CIA. Sen. Paul stood the whole time, occasionally munching on jelly beans and Snicker bars to sustain himself. He wanted either the White House or Eric Holder to make a definitive statement admitting that the use of drones within the United States to kill suspected terrorists must follow the due process laws of the Constitution. That only in an extreme case, like another Pearl harbor or 9/11 attack could the president order a domestic drone strike without any warrant or charges filed beforehand. So far, the best he has gotten is an assurance that it is not Obama′s intention to do such. Does that satisfy you?