Poor Rand Paul. He seems like a decent enough fellow, the kind who might stand when a lady joins the table…or sit when a CIA director enters the room. What’s he doing getting mixed up with that seedy D.C. mafia they call Congress? His father might have at least warned him.
Nevertheless, the Kentucky senator has been all over the news this week. Social media feeds lit up Wednesday with messages of support for the man many see as the Libertarian Party’s next champion. The hashtag #StandWithRand flashed throughout the Twittersphere. Catchy Rand memes swept across Facebook networks.
What exactly had the senator done to inspire such impassioned furor?
1. a. The use of obstructionist tactics, especially prolonged speechmaking, for the purpose of delaying legislative action.
b. An instance of the use of this delaying tactic.
At precisely 11:47am Wednesday, Senator Rand Paul began the act of filibustering. He began talking, in other words, for a very, very long time.
“I will speak until I can no longer speak,” he boldly declared. “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.”
Let it never be said that we are opposed to the use of “obstructionist tactics” to delay, preferably indefinitely, “legislative action.” But it’s time to count the chips.
To be sure, the CIA’s ongoing drone campaign is a vitally important issue. We’ve reckoned on it many times in these very pages. (See here, here, here and here…for starters.) Still, one can’t help but notice how tightly confined are the terms of the “public debate”…how stymied the “discussion”…how lamentably theatrical the issue has become. Especially in the grandest theatre of them all: Congress.
A few things worth noting. Senator Paul was not, in this particular instance, asking that the Obama Administration cease its relentless campaign of murder against non-US citizens on non-US soil. Nor was he here suggesting that US citizens be spared death-by-Hellfire missile should they happen to be outside the fifty states when the thunder begins. Incredibly, he was not even asking that the Nobel Peace Prize-winning president rule out killing US citizens with weaponized drones in the United States “without [them] first being found to be guilty by a court.”
The man was simply asking whether the State might clarify its position vis-à-vis the use of unmanned aerial vehicles to carry out extrajudicial assassinations of innocent American citizens in their own backyard.
Thursday afternoon, the Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder, replied to Paul’s 13-hour filibuster with a single-paragraph memo:
Dear Senator Paul,
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.
Eric H. Holder Jr.
Curiously enough, the Attorney General’s curt response appeared to have all but satisfied Senator Paul.
“I’m quite happy with the answer,” he told CNN on Thursday afternoon. “I’m disappointed it took a month and a half and a root canal to get it, but we did get the answer.”
Not so fast, senator.
Holder’s pithy correspondence might have been vaguely acceptable had it not contained so many conspicuously pregnant caveats, were it not perforated with conveniently malleable terms and had the issuing government not boasted an unwavering historical tendency to “creatively interpret” the letters of its own laws.
Take the politically pliable phrase “engaged in combat,” for instance. It doesn’t take much effort to imagine a situation in which it might be deemed expedient for the US government to reclassify domestic political dissidents as “enemies” and, therefore, “engaged in combat.” Presumed “combatants” might include, say, those who openly embrace an anarchist philosophy, one that, by its very definition, squares them off as “enemies of the state.” Or they might simply be civilians caught in the dronefire and reclassified as combatants after the fact.
If that last point sounds a bit paranoid, consider that it is exactly the same “trial by fire” process used by the Obama administration when counting the dead in Pakistan and other drone “hot spots” abroad. In May of last year, the New York Times ran a story detailing the government’s despicable accounting trickery (emphasis ours):
Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.
In the unlikely case that the point here is lost, let us be crystal clear: The Obama administration already retro-classifies any male aged 16-65 who happens to be killed in a drone strike abroad as a “military combatant.” After all, the government argues, why else would they be killed by a drone strike?
Though we can’t imagine the posthumous exoneration of a victim to be of any succor to grieving widows and orphans, it does provide convenient political cover for thugs and murderers seeking to extend and expand their lustrously profitable drone wars.
The conscientious Reckoner might well be moved to ask what kind of sick, sociopathic germ could stand behind such a heinous campaign of lies and terror. Continued the Times:
This counting method may partly explain the official claims of extraordinarily low collateral deaths. In a speech last year Mr. Brennan, Mr. Obama’s trusted adviser, said that not a single noncombatant had been killed in a year of strikes.
And lo! Here we find the same Mr. Brennan, John Brennan, Obama’s trusted adviser, the man whom Senator Paul was to stand against…and whom was yesterday confirmed, by a Senate vote of 63-34, as the brand new director of the Central Intelligence Agency.