I CAN'T BELIEVE I'M SAYING THIS: I AGREE WITH RAND PAUL
Senator Rand Paul's filibuster against the appointment of John Brennan as head of the CIA made for compelling television (how often is that said about C-SPAN?), and also caused me to navel-gaze to an uncomfortable degree.
I cannot think of any topic on which Senator Paul and I would find ourselves natural bedfellows. And yet, given Attorney General Holder's suspect semantics and carefully crafted non-response to the fairly straightforward question of just how far the Administration's self-appointed power to target American citizens by drone extends, I am practically honour-bound to adopt the twitter hashtag #ISTANDWITHRAND. Why does it take one of America's most conservative politicians to call attention to an issue which should have civil libertarians and Democratic human rights supporters up in arms?
Senator Rand's outrage was predicated on the admittedly remote possibility that the Obama Administration would use a drone to target an American citizen minding his or her own business at a Starbucks in Texas. The authority claimed by the notorious "DOJ White Paper" leaked in early February does impose some operational limits, namely that the U.S. government could "use lethal force in a foreign country outside the area of active hostilities against a U.S. citizen who is a senior operational leader of al-Qa'ida or an associated force of al-Qa'ida." But when pressed, the Attorney General refused to rule out the prospect, however improbable, that this authority could be extended to other situations, and raised the twin spectres of Pearl Harbour and 9/11 to scare everybody into submission.
This is a similar tactic to the one the Administration is currently undertaking in the ongoing legal challenges to some of the more odious provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Section 1021 of the NDAA allows the U.S. military to indefinitely detain anyone it believes is a supporter of terrorism anywhere in the world, without trial. The plaintiffs contesting the law argue that this is a violation of the U.S. Constitution, in that extends the possibility of indefinite detention to American citizens, who may simply be journalists or advocates associating with politically unpalatable parties. The case (Hedges v. Obama) is currently tied up on appeal, most likely en route to the Supreme Court. But the crux of the Government's response to the lawsuit is that the plaintiffs lack standing to bring the suit because there is no "credible risk" that the NDAA will be interpreted in this way. Note the suspect semantics at work in this instance as well: a risk that lacks credibility does not equate to a risk that is non-existent. And it's a worrying precedent for the current drones debate: we are being asked to trust that the Administration will not alter its interpretation and implementation of disquieting laws. Yet we have no way of knowing what the state of affairs might be in the future that will permit them to do so.
Thankfully--for the sake of my own pride--there is a way to elaborate upon Senator Rand's carefully stage-managed indignation, and give it a wider application that human rights defenders can stand behind without the embarrassment at being linked to the Tea Party. In not so many words, the Obama Administration is essentially reserving the right to use armed drones against its citizens should future warrant such use. Americans are rightly affronted by this executive overreach, and the public outcry since the dissemination of the DOJ White Paper has led to important questions being asked--questions that can provide inspiration to civilians in Pakistan and Yemen who have to live with drone strikes and targeted killings every day.
Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi has infamously professed his love of deadly U.S. drone strikes in his country against his own citizens, in violation of most known international laws governing such engagements. Senator Paul could become an unwitting (and no doubt unwilling) example to downtrodden Yemeni civilians, terrorized by a drone war they cannot control, at the behest of a government who ignores their vociferous objections. Moreover, rumours are swirling that one reason the Department of Justice won't release the OLC drone memos for public consumption is because they contain proof of "secret protocols" with the Pakistani government about when and how targeted killings should be conducted in Pakistan. Why all the secrecy? Surely villagers in North Waziristan are totally on board with the constant hovering of drones overhead, and being targeted for assassination on the basis of poorly-defined "signature" behaviour?
This is a macabre jest, of course. But protesting governmental collusion and cover-up on something as fundamental as the right not to be targeted by a drone strikes in your own country by your own elected leaders is something the American people should rightly provide global leadership on.
There. I said it. I stand with Rand.