Posted by on March 07, 2013 in Blog

While Attorney General Holder was being grilled by Senators on the Judiciary Committee about the administration's drone policy during a Department of Justice oversight hearing, Rand Paul (R-KY) got on the Senate floor to filibuster the nomination of John Brennan for the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) because the administration had refused to rule out the use of drone strikes in the US. “I will speak until I can no longer speak…I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court,” said Paul.

In his 13-hour filibuster, Paul was joined by 13 Republican Senators and one Democrat – Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), who supports Brennan’s nomination but joined the debate yesterday on the Senate floor to express his reservations over the lack of transparency of the administration’s drone policy: “the executive branch should not be allowed to conduct such a serious and far-reaching program by themselves without any scrutiny, because that’s not how American democracy works. That’s not what our system is about,” said Wyden. 

During his filibuster, Rand Paul spoke at length about the unconstitutionality of targeting and killing Americans on US soil who are not combatants and pose no “imminent” threat to the homeland. “Are we so frightened that we’re going to give up on our Bill of Rights? Are we going to round up people who have a different color skin because they might have a cousin in Lebanon,” said Rand Paul, referencing and condemning the Japanese American internment camps used during WWII. Rand Paul drew a comparison between the suspicion of Japanese Americans during the 1940s to discrimination faced by Arab Americans post-9/11: "If you are sitting in a cafeteria in Dearborn, Michigan, if you happen to be an Arab-American who has a relative in the Middle East and you communicate with them by e-mail and somebody says, oh, your relative is someone we suspect of being associated with terrorism, is that enough to kill you? For goodness sakes, wouldn't we try to arrest and come to the truth by having a jury and a presentation of the facts on both sides of the issue?"   

Ted Cruz (R-TX), who later joined Paul on the Senate floor, asked Holder during the Senate oversight hearing the following question at least three times: “If an individual is sitting quietly in a café in the United States, in your legal judgment does the Constitution allow a US citizen on US soil to be killed by a drone…if that individual is not posing an imminent and immediate threat of death and bodily harm, does the Constitution allow for a drone to kill that individual?” Holder should have stated unequivocally that it would not be legally allowed, but found it rather difficult to respond and merely replied by saying that the use of lethal force in that instance “was not appropriate” when he should have said that it is in fact not authorized.   

Rand Paul should be applauded for his efforts to uphold the Constitution and condemn the targeted killing of any American on US soil, which would essentially turn the entire country into a battlefield. It should be noted, however, that while Paul may be opposed to the use of drones on US soil, he still supports the drone strategy overseas. While on the Senate floor, he repeatedly acknowledged the effectiveness of drones in places such as Pakistan and Yemen, which have reportedly killed up to 4,000 people.

Paul nonetheless succeeded with his historic filibuster that ended early this morning when Attorney General Holder sent him a response regarding the constitutionality of the US government using lethal force on Americans in the US. “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,” wrote Holder.  

In a press statement released by his office today, Paul wrote: “This is a major victory for American civil liberties and ensures the protection of our basic Constitutional rights. We have Separation of Powers to protect our rights. That’s what government was organized to do and that’s what the Constitution was put in place to do.”

Paul ultimately voted to end debate today (though voted against the nomination). John Brennan was confirmed to lead the CIA by a vote of 63 to 34, with Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) as the only Democrats to vote against the nomination.    

 

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