GOP Shows It Can Connect, With Anti-drone, Michael Moore Type Message

This video frame grab provided by Senate Television shows Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. speaking on the floor of the Senate on Capito
This video frame grab provided by Senate Television shows Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. speaking on the floor of the Senate on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 6, 2013. Senate Democrats pushed Wednesday for speedy confirmation of John Brennan's nomination to be CIA director but ran into a snag after a Paul began a lengthy speech over the legality of potential drone strikes on U.S. soil. But Paul stalled the chamber to start what he called a filibuster of Brennan's nomination. Paul's remarks were centered on what he said was the Obama administration's refusal to rule out the possibility of drone strikes inside the United States against American citizens. (AP Photo/Senate Television)

I spent hours watching Senator Rand Paul's dramatic and compelling filibuster. Like many others, I had a favorable impression of Senator Paul's views, and was charmed by his modest demeanor and clear and plain-spoken way of talking. Like Senator Harry Reid, I was moved by the strength of Senator Paul's convictions. What a contrast this was to countless other GOP addresses to national audiences, which have come across as shallow, partisan and often distorted accounts of policy debates. Rand Paul did what few politicians can do, he spoke from his heart and mobilized people.

What was as interesting as the quality of the filibuster was the nature of the argument. Senator Paul, like his father before him, began as a voice in the wilderness, questioning the growing drone killing program. While the main point was to question the authority of the president to kill U.S. citizens who are noncombatants living on U.S. soil, Paul went far beyond this, providing a more general critique of drone killings of non-American Muslims in foreign lands, including the children of suspected al Qaeda operatives, and of the vast expansions of the concept of war into a drift toward permanent martial law. He quoted from EFF and Glenn Greenwald, defended Miranda rights, explored the impact of new technologies and national security policies on privacy, reminded people that not everyone who is accused of a crime is actually guilty, and declared that not all persons who find themselves on the wrong side of society deserved to be executed. Much of the speech could have been delivered in a Michael Moore film, and perhaps will be some day.

March 6, 2013 was an extraordinary day because Senator Paul began to win over senators in his own party, who were forced to take a fresh look at the issues he had raised, many for the first time. The dramatic asymmetry between the support from GOP and Democratic senators obscured the fact that Paul's message resonated with a deeply bipartisan constituency that has longed for a public champion to push back on the war on terror excesses.

It is premature to assume the GOP will become more open to its anti-war pro-civil rights wing, or to anticipate the evolution of the Democrats on these issues. But it was certainly a day to remember.

Michael Moore and Senator Rand Paul, Wikipedia pictures.

Congressional Record -- Senate March 6, 2013


The PRESIDING OFFICER (Ms. BALDWIN). The Senator from Kentucky is recognized.

Mr. Paul. . . .

They say Lewis Carroll is fiction; Alice never fell down a rabbit hole, and the White Queen's caustic judgments are not really a threat to your security. Or has America the beautiful become Alice's Wonderland?

''No, no!'' said the Queen. ''Sentence first -- verdict afterwards.''
''Stuff and nonsense!'' Alice said loudly.
''The idea of having the sentence first.''
''Hold your tongue!'' said the Queen, turning purple.
''I won't!'' said Alice.
[''Release the drones,''] said the Queen, as she shouted at the top of her voice.

Lewis Carroll is fiction, right? When I asked the president: Can you kill an American on American soil, it should have been an easy answer. It is an easy question. It should have been a resounding and unequivocal no. The president's response: He hasn't killed anyone yet.

We are supposed to be comforted by that. The president says: I haven't killed anyone yet. . . . He goes on to say: and I have no intention of killing Americans, but I might.

Is that enough? Are we satisfied by that? Are we so complacent with our rights that we would allow a president to say he might kill Americans, but he will judge the circumstances, he will be the sole arbiter, he will be the sole de- cider, he will be the executioner in chief if he sees fit?


There is a white paper that was written, and the title of it is ``The lawfulness of a lethal operation directed against a U.S. Citizen who is an operational leader of al-Qaida, foreign associated forces,'' and this is from the Department of Justice. This white paper sets forth a legal framework for considering the circumstances for which the U.S. Government could use lethal force. One of the things they do in the document -- this was leaked repeatedly -- is they tell of the criteria for when they can kill people overseas.

We don't know the criteria for killing people in this country. They make a contention that the rules will be different, but no one is acknowledging exactly whom they can kill or what the rules will be. For the people who are killed overseas by drone strikes, the thing they come up with is that they say it has to be an imminent threat, but it does not have to be immediate.

To my thinking, only a bunch of government lawyers could come up with a definition for imminent threat that says it is not immediate, so that is the first problem with it. Is that going to be the standard that is used in America, that there has to be an imminent threat, but it doesn't have to be immediate?

My next question is: What does that mean? Does that mean noncombatants who we think might someday be combatants are an imminent threat? It is a pretty important question. What is imminent. There is no question of what imminent lethal force is. If someone is aiming a gun, a missile or a bomb at you, there is an imminent threat, and no one questions that. No one questions using lethal force to stop any kind of imminent attack. We become a little bit worried when the president says imminent doesn't have to mean immediate. When that happens -- and then we see from the unclassified portion of the drone attacks overseas -- many of these people are not involved in combat. They might someday be involved in combat, they might have been involved in combat, but when we kill them, most of them are not involved in combat. So even overseas there is some question of this program, but my questions are primarily directed toward what we do in this country.

It says the U.S. Government can use lethal force in a foreign country outside the area of active hostilities. That is, once again, the point. We are not talking about a battlefield. But because the battlefield has no limits -- since the battlefield is not just Afghanistan. The battlefield has no geographic limits so the battlefield is the whole world, and many in this body say the battlefield is the United States. So once we acknowledge and admit that the battlefield is the United States, this whole idea of what is imminent versus what is immediate becomes pretty important because we are talking about our neighbors now.

The other thing about this is we need to try to understand who these terrorists are. Members of al-Qaida. There are no people walking around with a card that says ``al-Qaida'' on it. There are bad people. There were bad people associated with the terrorists -- and we have killed a lot of them -- who were in Afghanistan training and part of the group that attacked us. But there are terrorists all over the world who are unhappy with their own local governments - -some of them are unhappy with us too -- but to call them al-Qaida is sometimes a stretch and sometimes open to debate as to who is and who isn't.

Then they use other words, and words are important. They are either a ``member of al-Qaida'' or ``associated forces.'' I don't know what that means. Does one have to talk to al-Qaida or commit terrorism or does a person have to be in a country where we are supporting the government and people are attacking the government? It is not always clear.

The other question we get to when it is either al-Qaida or people associated with al-Qaida is that now we get to the United States and we have the government defining what they say as terrorism. So the government has put out some documents, one by the Bureau of Justice, to warn us of who might be a terrorist. In fact, the government has programs where they want people to inform: If you see someone, tell someone. If you see these people, you are supposed to inform on them. So some of the characteristics of the people who might be terrorists -- and I don't know, they don't have to be an imminent threat or an immediate threat, but some of these people might be terrorists. I don't know. If the president is going to kill these people, he needs to let them know. Some of the people who might be terrorists might be missing fingers. Some people may have stains on their clothing or some people may have changed the color of their hair, some people may have accumulated guns, some people may have accumulated weatherized ammunitions, which might be half the hunters in the South this time of year, or people who might like to pay in cash, or people who have seven days of food on hand. I know people who just for religious reasons are taught to keep food on hand. In fact, government Web sites sometimes tell us to keep food on hand for hurricanes. If you live along the coast, one government Web site says keep food on hand, and another one says if you do, you might be a terrorist. They are not saying you are, but if these are the characteristics of terrorism, would you not be a little concerned that if the government is putting this list out, we are going to drop Hellfire missiles from drones on people in America who might be on this list? I am particularly concerned about that.

So I think we can't be sloppy about this. We can't allow ourselves to be so I guess afraid of terrorism or afraid of our enemies that we give up on what makes us Americans. What makes us Americans are our constitutional rights that are enshrined in our Constitution. It is why we have gone to war, to defend these rights. Will we think the war still has purpose if we are no longer able to enjoy these rights at home?

The problem as I see it as we go forward is that I wish I could tell people there is an end to this, that there would be a grand battle for our constitutional rights or for what rights we lose overseas, what rights we lose here if we travel. The problem is they don't see an end to the war. They see perpetual war, perpetual war without geographic limits, and they see the battlefield here, so they want the laws of war to apply not only there but here. In other words, what they are saying is the laws of war are martial law. These are the laws of war. These are the laws that are accepted in war.

We accept a lot of things on the battlefield that we don't want to accept here. I acknowledge we accept that we don't get Miranda rights on the battlefield. We don't get due process. We don't get an attorney. If they are shooting at us, we shoot back and kill them. But the thing is if a person is sitting in a cafe in Houston, they do get Miranda rights, they do get accused of a crime, they do get a jury of their peers. That is what we are talking about here. The president should unequivocally come forward and state that noncombatants -- people not involved with lethal force -- will not have drones dropped on them.