Not long ago a funny thing happened on the way to the confirmation of former Nebraska Senator, Chuck Hagel, as Secretary of Defense.
Apparently, Republicans who were still fuming over the terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in the city of Benghazi, Libya, which killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, saw an opportunity to continue with their attempts to inflict political damage on President Barack Obama over the incident, by forcing him to face continued questions, which the White House, the State Department, and U.S. Intelligence had been widely reported to have already answered.
Their means of doing this was to hold up the confirmation of Sen. Hagel to Secretary of Defense. The unprecedented and brazen opportunism of Republicans was widely criticized by Democrats and even by some in the media who have hardly been sympathetic to the Obama administration in the past.
Nevertheless, the Republicans had yet another opportunity to repeat this noble exercise, through the confirmation of John Brennan to head the CIA.
So, while Attorney General Eric Holder had been assuring a Senate committee that the Obama administration was prepared to provide more information about national security, specifically as it relates to its drone policy, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky was holding a filibuster to temporarily block a vote on Brennan’s nomination, as he made a show of forcing the administration to answer questions that the attorney general had already answered.
Paul, stood before the cameras of the Senate Chamber and asked dramatically: “Does the president have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on an American soil?”
Oddly enough, on March 4, Attorney General Holder wrote a letter to Paul, in respect to the same question, which Paul had addressed to Brennan. Said Holder:
As members of this administration have previously indicated, the US government has not carried out drone strikes in the United States and has no intention of doing so. As a policy matter moreover, we reject the use of military force where well-established law enforcement authorities in this country provide the best means for incapacitating a terrorist threat.Paul was still unsatisfied with Holder’s detailed response, for it is his belief that President Obama would employ drones to, as he has been quoted:
We have a long history of using the criminal justice system to incapacitate individuals located in our country who pose a threat to the United States and its interests abroad. Hundreds of individuals have been arrested and convicted of terrorism-related offenses in our federal courts.
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.
Holder concluded by stating:
Were such an emergency to arise, I would examine the particular facts and circumstances before advising the president of the scope of his authority.
What we’re talking about is you’re eating dinner in your house. you’re eating at a cafe or you’re walking down the road. That’s when these drone strikes can occur.So, the Kentucky Senator decided to take to the Senate floor with a little help from other Republicans, including Texas Senator Ted Cruz, the Republican’s new fire breathing Joe McCarthy.
But even while joining his courageous colleague, Paul, in this obtuse re-enactment of a familiar and beloved Frank Capra film, Cruz had already received the answer that Paul had been seeking, through the attorney general.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, tried to get a “yes” or “no” answer from Holder.And, even with that, Paul had decided that he was going to take to the airwaves to the praise of Conservatives and Progressives and become “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” Somehow I doubt this was the ideal Frank Capra had foreseen in 1939.
“Does the Constitution allow a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil who doesn’t pose an imminent threat to be killed by the U.S. government?” asked Cruz.
“You have to look at all of the facts. But on the facts that you have given me, and this is a hypothetical, I would not think that in that situation the use of a drone or lethal force would be appropriate,” Holder replied.
Cruz pressed on and eventually, the attorney general said “translate my appropriate to ‘no.’ I thought I was saying ‘no.’ All right? ‘No.’ ”
As I stated in a post earlier, it is interesting to me that, as much as Paul is now being viewed by some as, perhaps, a protector of civil liberties, or the champion of “real” filibusters, he certainly has no regard for the civil liberties of those who benefited from the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which he once said:
stifled the first amendment rights.If Mr. Paul had failed to understand the attorney general in his earlier responses I am happy to report that the attorney general, today, has once again written to the Kentucky Senator. The letter states briefly:
Dear Senator Paul:Following Mr. Paul's demonstration of a so called "real" filibuster, John Brennan is expected to win confirmation.
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.