On Wednesday, Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) spent hours filibustering in opposition to U.S. drone policy as he delayed the nomination of John Brennan to the top position at the CIA.
Paul began his filibuster promising to speak until he could 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,” he said.
The filibuster was broadcast to a large audience on C-SPAN, but other U.S. Senators were evidently less interested in Paul’s liberty-defending speech. By 1 p.m., just more than an hour into the speech, Paul was the only Senator left on the floor.
The filibuster resulted from Paul’s displeasure about the answer Attorney General Eric Holder provided to his inquiry about whether the Federal government has the power to kill an American citizen on U.S. soil. Holder responded to Paul, saying the Presidential Administration could kill Americans in the homeland, but has “no intention” to do so at this time.
From Holder’s letter:
The question you have posed is therefore entirely hypothetical, unlikely to occur, and one we hope no president will ever have to confront. 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. For example, the president could conceivably have no choice but to authorize the military to use such force if necessary to protect the homeland in the circumstances like a catastrophic attack like the ones suffered on December 7, 1941, and September 11, 2001.
Paul said that his question was not whether the President had the authority to use lethal force if the Nation is under attack.
“When I asked the President, can you kill an American on American soil, it should have been an easy answer. It’s an easy question. It should have been a resounding, an unequivocal, ‘No.’ The President’s response? He hasn’t killed anyone yet. We’re supposed to be comforted by that,” Paul said.
The Senator noted that he is not trying to cause problems for the President, but will do what he must to protect the Constitution.
“I have allowed the President to pick his political appointees,” Paul said. “But I will not sit quietly and let him shred the Constitution. I cannot sit at my desk quietly and let the President say that he will kill Americans on American soil who are not actively attacking a country.
“I would be here if it were a Republican President doing this. Really, the great irony of this is that President Obama’s opinion on this is an extension of George Bush’s opinion.”
Paul also criticized Obama for losing the respect for the rule of law and Constitutional civil liberties that he was once very vocal about as a member of the Senate.
Paul spent a portion of his filibuster expressing concern over the Federal government’s classification of the war on terror as an ongoing, borderless conflict and the government’s always-changing definition of who may or may not be a terror threat.
He noted that many university students protesting war in the 1960s could have been considered enemies of the state. Could they have been killed with drones under current policy, he wondered.
“Are you going to drop… a Hellfire missile on Jane Fonda?” Paul asked.
Paul could get the answers to his questions directly from the President soon, as Holder told a Senate committee Wednesday that he expects Obama to explain the legal justification for the use of armed drones to target and kill U.S. citizens overseas.
“We have talked about a need for greater transparency in what we share, what we talk about,” said Holder, who added that with the release of more information, “there would be a greater degree of comfort that this government does these things reluctantly but also in conformity with international law, with domestic law and with our values.”
After Paul’s filibuster, more direct answers about domestic drone policy will likely by given by top Administration officials as well.
At around 3 pm Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah), Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) joined Paul in filibustering domestic drone use. Later, Paul was joined by a number of other Senators, including Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).