This morning I heard excerpts from Rand Paul’s filibuster speech to oppose the confirmation of John Brennan for CIA director. Until he gets a "yes" or "no" about whether or not the President claims the power to kill American citizens, via drone, on American soil, Senator Paul is opposing the nomination. And though I oppose most of what Rand Paul (and his usual Tea Party allies) says and stands for, on this issue he is absolutely right. No American president—Democrat, Republican or any other brand—should be allowed to arrogate to himself alone the power of life and death. It violates every tradition of this country (and all English tradition back to the Magna Carta), its Constitution, and numerous laws (Posse Comitatus) about preventing the military from exercising its jurisdiction over domestic affairs. As Paul put it,
“No president has the right to say he is judge, jury and executioner.”
That’s the issue in a nutshell. Every American citizen, indeed, every person residing on American soil, citizen or not, has the right to due process: the right to a jury trial where he is allowed to know the charges against him, and to face his accusers. For a president (who has already done this in the drone warfare this nation has been waging for several years in Pakistan and Yemen) to make the decision to “take someone out” with no evidence required, no judge or jury to weigh the evidence, and no need to even inform the person that he is a suspect, is to turn the U.S. president into a tyrant, a dictator, a king.
I differ with Rand Paul only in this: he limits his objections to drone kills of Americans on United States soil. That limitation automatically sanctions (and I suspect Paul would certainly approve it) the killing of Anwar Al-Awlaki and then his 16-year-old son in Yemen earlier this year. Both were American citizens. Anwar himself was allegedly involved in planning or inciting attacks against Americans, but his son certainly wasn’t. More to the point, no one but the president and a few of his advisors were given the opportunity to consider the evidence, and whether it even qualified as evidence, against Anwar. As to his son, there seems to have been no evidence whatever against him, save his parentage. And yet, both were targeted for assassination, and then assassinated without so much as a by your leave from Congress, much less the courts. Some corporal in Colorado sitting at a computer was simply given the order, and when he, apparently, got a good enough shot, he took it. Target vaporized. Perhaps with some collateral damage. No questions asked. And then high fives all around, in the White House, and among most Americans.
Now, suddenly, the chickens have come home, potentially, to roost. And Senator Rand Paul has decided that if this were to happen on American soil, it would violate our Constitution. Who knows who the president will decide is a terrorist worthy of a targeted drone strike? It could be anyone, at any time. It could be someone who has associated with, or is suspected of associating with terrorists, or suspected terrorists. It could be someone who has contributed funds to an association that has or is suspected of having supported known terrorists or suspected terrorists. And—and this is most significant—it could be someone who could never be convicted in a court of law, given the rules of evidence and transparency demanded in our courts. So, simply dispense with all the problems and messiness of courts and trials and the whole complex legal system of rights given to American citizens. Just drone the bastard. No mess, no fuss, no bother. It’s as simple and efficient as killing insects with a nice, powerful pesticide. Would you rather have a house full of mosquitoes? Plants full of aphids? Of course not. The risk of contamination—and this is the risk for all of us; that all of us or some of us will eventually (the “war” on terror, don’t forget, is virtually forever) be contaminated by the power this concentrates in one person’s hands—is minimal; little more than the risk presented by a small spray of DDT to protect our investments.
The problem here is that the decision—the decision to kill—is sort of final. And sort of contagious. Too final and contagious for me, so I send my congratulations to Senator Rand Paul. We all owe him a vote of thanks for bringing this issue onto the front pages of a press that is too obsequious to do it on its own. We all also owe it to ourselves and our posterity to protest drone warfare in every forum, and at every opportunity we can think of.