Rand Paul, John Brennan and the Exploding Cafe Scenario

After nearly 13 hours, Sen. Rand Paul ended his filibuster over the government's legal authority to kill, via drone strike, a U.S. citizen on American soil.

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Charles Dharapak / AP

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., walks to a waiting vehicle as he leaves the Capitol after his filibuster of the nomination of John Brennan to be CIA director on Capitol Hill in Washington, early Thursday, March 7, 2013.

Rand Paul, the libertarian Republican Senator from Kentucky, has spent the past several hours, with the help of a few GOP colleagues, leading an unexpected Republican filibuster of John Brennan’s nomination to be CIA director. Paul beef isn’t really with Brennan himself. It’s over an issue he’s talked about for weeks: whether President Obama believes he has the legal authority to kill, via drone strike, a U.S. citizen on American soil. “I rise today for the principle,” Paul declared as he kicked off his talkathon. “That Americans could be killed in a cafe in San Francisco, or in a restaurant in Houston or at their home in Bowling Green, Kentucky, is an abomination.”

Could they? Is it? In recent weeks Paul and others have asked Brennan, the Obama White House, and, most recently, Attorney General Eric Holder whether the president thinks he’d be allowed to do such a thing. No one has exactly ruled it out. In a letter to Paul on Tuesday, and in Senate testimony Wednesday, Holder gave the most detailed answers to date. While allowing that Obama has “no intention” to blow up an American within the 50 states, he could “conceivably have no choice” but to do so in an extreme emergency, akin to the September 11 or Pearl Harbor attacks.

That’s not good enough for Paul, who among other things is fixated on the idea that the president might strike a suspected terrorist who, unlike the aggressors on those two days of infamy, is not in the middle of a warlike act. A person sitting at “a cafe in San Francisco,” for instance.

In fact, the cafe scenario came up during Holder’s mostly unrelated Senate testimony earlier today, when Republican Ted Cruz asked Holder whether it would be legal to drone an American “sitting at a cafe.” Holder’s answer: “No.”

But that’s still not good enough for Paul, who just before 5pm conceded that Holder’s response to Cruz had come close to satisfying his concern. But Paul then added that he wants a “comprehensive” statement from Holder flatly declaring that “the drone program will not kill americans who are not involved in combat.”

He might get it, but it seems unlikely. In the post-9/11 legal framework that presidents of both parties have now maintained, notions like combat, combatant and imminent threat have taken on new meanings. You can imagine Holder and other Obama officials wanting to reserve the right to drone a suspect who might not be about to fire a bazooka, but about to remotely detonate a bomb, or send a code that will hack into a nuclear power plant’s cooling system.

Of course, the odds of that scenario are tiny. If the terrorist is nursing a cappuccino at a cafe, he can almost certainly be grabbed and arrested without violence. More likely, he’d be in a remote area like a mountain or forest, in which case a drone might actually be the most practical way to find and zap him quickly.

But it’s worth remembering how narrow, and perhaps even academic this issue is. Only one American–the now-deceased Anwar al-Awlaki–has been targeted for drone execution. Three others have been what they call “collateral damage” in attacks on other targets. None of those actions occurred on American soil. Rand Paul has every right to press this question. But it’s almost an academic exercise when compared to the more relevant questions of how reliant we should be on drone strikes against non-U.S. citizens in foreign countries. And it has very little do with John Brennan’s ability to run the CIA, an agency that is quite clearly barred from operating within the United States.

Update 7:06 am

Paul yielded the Senate floor around 12:40 am, and left the chamber to cheers, according to the New York Times. The filibuster had stretched on for nearly 13 hours. After Paul stepped down, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) filed a cloture motion to cut off debate on Brennan’s nomination, setting up a vote for later this week.  

186 comments
chupkar
chupkar

I get the theory behind all this but it eludes me as to when everyone started forgetting about treason. I mean it's not an Internet discussion board. And whybwerent

DREGstudios
DREGstudios

Paul struck the right chord with me for certain and I’m a bleeding-heart liberal.  Our Constitutional Rights are in severe danger now more than ever with due process being submerged in the name of fighting “terrorism.”  American Citizens can be held without trial and now be assassinated by remote controlled drones.  We are at war with ourselves more than these shadowed enemies and have created a  Society of Fear and Paranoia.  Read more about Orwellian doctrine becoming a reality and my visual responses to national and cultural Fear Mongering on my artist’s blog at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2011/09/living-in-society-of-fear-ten-years.html

DanBeaulieu
DanBeaulieu

Our government is becoming more of a police state every year, drones are a matter of when, not if. You knuckleheads that are criticizing Rand Paul for trying to insure that Americans (you and I) are never targeted by a drone should wake up, even if you "think he's wrong", he's out there trying to protect your ignorant ass. Wake up.

JoseGonzales
JoseGonzales

Rand Paul should be worried about getting cancer from the micro dart cancer delivery system shot from a drone hovering over his house.


texrat
texrat

"Paul beef "?

Come on editors.

LouisPFreely
LouisPFreely

Neocons are supporting Obamas position on this. Rand Paul has the same position as Noam Chomsky. And the partisan hacks all take their sides regardless of principle.

MrObvious
MrObvious

Here's the thing; GOP and Rand Paul isn't arguing over our ability to kill anyone anywhere else other then American soil. It's like having the cake and eating it too. It's pretending that there's an outrage about something we're doing, when it's completely manufactured. There's very little chance that anyone will ever kill someone using drone strikes on AMERICAN SOIL. I'd say that 99.99 percent of the killings will be elsewhere. 

So once more GOP fail in their ankle biting ability of pretending to stand for something but grandstand about nothing.

bobcn
bobcn

@Noquarter33 @Calchala

Try reading the entire post.

"Republican Ted Cruz asked Holder whether it would be legal to drone an American “sitting at a cafe.” Holder’s answer: “No.”



drudown
drudown

@DanBeaulieu 

Sure, Dan. 

Rand Paul has each and every American's due process rights in mind with his asinine hypotheticals. Tell me, how has a single US citizen's due process rights been violated? 

(cricket, cricket)

evil.aaronm
evil.aaronm

@JoseGonzales Not the point.  We'd have thought warrantless wiretaps would be unthinkable, after the Nixon administration, but we rolled over and gave up that fight after 9/11, along with a lot of our other "inalienable" rights.

drudown
drudown

@LouisPFreely 

You are now deliberately dispensing lies in a fleeting attempt to condition the People to believe something with no evidentiary value whatsoever. 

Say, were you the one with the "evidence" of Saddam's "mobile chemical weapons labs" (aka abandoned school buses?) I fancy.

BobJan
BobJan

@MrObvious  The GOP do it all the time. They pick a fight, go after it with a vengeance and when they're put in their place, they just pick another one and go on. The one fight they'll never give up is the "Higher taxes will hurt the job creators". By now with all the lower taxes we should have so many jobs that unemployment should be near 0 (zero).

texrat
texrat

@MrObvious I won't even accept that .01%.  The barest possibility is outrageous.  Paul may be grandstanding, but in principle, he's 100% correct.

sixthromeo
sixthromeo

@MrObvious  Spot on, there is no outrage over any of this, no outrage over Tunisia, children of the Koch brothers are more than happy to see death on any horizon as long as they have a profit in it. The greatest threat to the US, now, is the uneducated and not mentally stable "right," the group that is proud of their erroneous ways because it is guaranteed to them. The exploding cafe is Sandyhook, it is Aurora, it is all those televised 911 calls that give high entertainment to the unstable. There is as much to fear from a Sarah Palin rally than there is from an exploding drone.

StephenBrooks4
StephenBrooks4

@drudown "Only one American–the now-deceased Anwar al-Awlaki–has been targeted for drone execution. " 
-Cricket 

drudown
drudown

@texrat @MrObvious 

What about drone use in the military conflict going on in the ME that the Congress voted for? You are speaking to mere hypotheticals. As an aside, isn't it true that a SEAL would be well within his rights to shoot and kill and American taking up arms against our military without such (ahem) "due process" considerations? Oh I see. If its President Obama and via drone its different. 

Sure. Right. 

evil.aaronm
evil.aaronm

@sixthromeo @MrObvious Then why can't Obama and Holder just say, unequivocally, that the president does not have this authority?  Why the parsing of the Constitution to create conditions where, conceivably, the president could do this?  Why does he want this authority, and legal indemnification, if he'll never use it?

drudown
drudown

@JoseGonzales @DanBeaulieu

You need to SHOW ME what express provision of the Constitution Obama has violated. Saying he does not "honor" it is merely conclusory. 

StephenBrooks4
StephenBrooks4

@drudown Yes, because he is an American.  What if you were in Afghanistan, and the president decided you were a terrorist and killed you.  Would your family deserve proof? I am fine with killing Americans who are proven to be terrorists, that is not the argument.  What I am not ok with, is the president being able to kill any American he THINKS is a terrorist on any given day.  You will not win this argument, not today, not ever, so says the constitution.  

What's scary is the government is not being held accountable, and what's even more scary is citizens like you are not realizing the ramifications of this.  

JoseGonzales
JoseGonzales

@drudown @JoseGonzales @StephenBrooks4 The number one requirement to being a lawyer is the ability to read and understand English.  Rand was setting limits.  He succeeded in rendering an opinion from the AG that the president does not have authority to authorize a drone strike on a non combatant on American soil.


drudown
drudown

@JoseGonzales @StephenBrooks4

Is that what you call it?

So are you suggesting Rand Paul's position (i.e., that an American living in Yemen that has professed to destroy America and has taken overt actions to harm our People is entitled to the same Due Process rights as law abiding citizens at home) is the correct one?

JoseGonzales
JoseGonzales

@StephenBrooks4 @drudown Rand Paul was on the floor drawing a line on the erosion of the Constitution.  He was setting limits, something no other politician was capable of doing.

JoseGonzales
JoseGonzales

@drudown @JoseGonzales @HelenPouTurner Do you honestly think information like this is posted on the web?  It is highly dubious that you are a lawyer, I rather suspect at best you are a first year law student or perhaps a legal clerk.

BobJan
BobJan

@drudown @JoseGonzales @evil.aaronm If they locked up drunks like they do marijuana users practically half the nation would be in prison. It's just idiotic to lock people up for "weed".

drudown
drudown

@JoseGonzales @evil.aaronm 

I'm sure the people with Glaucoma (and duly prescribed Marijuana card from their doctor) share your self-perceived plight

bobcn
bobcn

@texrat @drudown @LouisPFreely

The neocons support a few policies that Obama has retained from Bush.  They also detest Obama and the Dems and work very hard to defeat them.  

It's true that many gopers have taken to calling themselves libertarians, while not having a clue what libertarianism actually means.  I have a few friends who now call themselves libertarian because they've been embarrassed by the tea partiers and the hard right extremists that have taken over their party.  If the gop ever returns to sanity they'll probably just go back to calling themselves republicans.

drudown
drudown

@texrat 

Based on McCain's rebuke today, maybe someone with more wits than you is listening to my logic.

texrat
texrat

@drudown @LouisPFreely talk about loss of credibility.... when your favorite rhetorical tools are sarcasm and hyperbole, you undermine your own position.

drudown
drudown

@texrat @LouisPFreely 

In order to know that a jar is a jar, I look with my eyes and see.

What's the difference with the GOP and Libertarians? You can invoke your ideological principles, but the "Libertarian" (and Tea Party) "movement" is a ruse for Big Business to avoid Federal or State regulation. 

Enjoy the Mercury in your fish and eat your Freedom Fries.

texrat
texrat

@drudown @texrat @LouisPFreely the neocons support the *policies* that Obama has retained from Bush.

And you're mischaracterizing TRUE Libertarians by lumping them in with rank opportunists like the Tea Partiers.  Yes, there are many who call themselves Libertarians who stay in lockstep with the GOP and it's despicable.  But there are many others who stay true to Libertarian principles, so it's unfair to paint with such a broad brush.

drudown
drudown

@texrat @drudown @LouisPFreely 

As a threshold matter, (1) the neocons do not support President Obama in any single respect. So, that is a falsehood for LouisPFreely to suggest otherwise. More disconcerting, however, is his assertion that (2) people that identify with either political party are somehow "pining away in ignorance" on account of partisan ideology. Ironically, making such a statement renders the speaker appear to be the one uncritically adopting facts not in evidence.

Above all, I think the ENTIRE "Tea Party" or "Libertarian" movement is a farce, particularly given the GOP operates in a complete lock step manner. Both "factions" pay lip service to "independent thought" but, like lemmings, hurriedly follow loser GOP policy off the proverbial cliff, apparently duping many other into thinking they are any different. Not so.

TheDers
TheDers

 not that im trying to be annoying. but i would really like evidence from any trusted news papers or articles you can forward me to. where "opposed to indiscriminate use anywhere (and there's evidence we're guilty of such) as well as usage on US soil in violation of due process" because i havent found any?

drudown
drudown

@texrat

I will, silent friend of many distances.

Be good.

drudown
drudown

@texrat @drudown @MrObvious 

By analogy, a police office "might" use innovative means of lethal force in a myriad of contexts. But that hardly justifies hindering the lawful exercise of Police Power on account of mere speculative scenarios. And so we disagree. So what.

texrat
texrat

@drudown @MrObvious I'm not completely opposed to drone use in war theaters.  I *am* opposed to indiscriminate use anywhere (and there's evidence we're guilty of such) as well as usage on US soil in violation of due process.  You call it hypothetical, but the federal government calls it policy and equivocates disingenuously when pressed on the subject.  That's enough cause for concern IMO.

As for your SEAL scenario, it's too vague.  But I lean toward no when we're talking US soil.  So does Posse Comitatus.

evil.aaronm
evil.aaronm

@drudown What I'm concerned about, and I'm sure I'm not the only one, is that it will become used more and more because it's expedient.  For example, look at cops, nowadays: they shoot first, and maybe ask questions later - eg. the women shot at by LAPD because they drove a truck that sort-of resembled Dorner's - because it's expedient to take out a threat and chalk it up to "officer safety."  Look at how many warrants served are carried out by SWAT teams who destroy a household instead of just knocking on a door.  They take the quasi-military approach because it's expedient and conducive to officer safety, among other things (such as wanna-be soldiers playing "Rambo").  This isn't "tinfoil hat" paranoia: this happens almost daily.

Obama killed Anwar al-Awlaki rather than bring him in for a trial.  Now, you might say, "He deserved it," but I'll ask: based on what?  You only know what the president told you: the dead man never got to tell his side of the story.  I don't trust Obama at face value: I don't trust anyone at face value.  That's why we have trials and courts: to bring forth the facts.  Don't you know why the Founding Fathers stressed due process?  Because the king did whatever he thought was expedient, to the detriment of the people.

All that aside, you still haven't answered the question: if they'll never use it, why the need for parsing Constitutional linguistics to justify it?  We all bitched on this board when Bush was piddling on the Constitution, years ago, and I'm appalled to see so many of those same people complaining about Rand's stand to honor that same document.  The hypocrisy, and tribalism, is sickeningly thick, lately.

drudown
drudown

@evil.aaronm @sixthromeo @MrObvious 

Look, there are all kinds of "laws on the books" that have no application: women can't wear pants in Paris and Slavery was "legal" in some states in the South as recently as last year.

Unlike the latter, you naively presuppose there is no lawful or justified use for drones against an American to thwart a terrorist attack, i.e., if Rand wants to rely on hypotheticals, what, if terrorists were bringing a dirty bomb across the border in rural Texas. It might be too dangerous or impracticable to apprehend them. That is an unlikely scenario, but not as far fetched as Rand Paul's asinine "SF cafe" blather.