“One man with courage makes a majority,” penned Thomas Jefferson. When that courage is armed with principle and backed by constitutional precepts, it’s formidable. Such was the case this week when Kentucky’s Junior Senator, Rand Paul, took to the floor of the senate in a one-man filibuster, reminiscent of the 1939 “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”
Unlike his counterpart in the classic Frank Capra film, however, Paul’s filibuster was over constitutional principles, and citizen rights.. The issue for him was whether the President of the United States was presumed to have power to supercede the 4th, 5th, and 6th Amendments to the Constitution by killing American citizens, on American soil, with unmanned aerial devices (UAV), or drones.
The setting was the confirmation of John Brennan as the new director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Brennan refused to answer Paul’s question during the Senate sub-committee confirmation hearing regarding the use of drones to attack American citizens domestically. Senator Paul was appalled at the idea that the administration would even consider using drones domestically without a citizen ever having been charged with a crime in a court of law.
An American Civil Liberty Union (ACLU) lawyer, Nate Wessler, validated Paul’s premise in an interview this week, when he referred to the administration as, “Judge, jury, and executioner,” if they used drones domestically.
Drones have been used to kill Americans on foreign soil. In 2011 a drone strike targeted, and killed, Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Islamic cleric born and educated in the United States.
Since Brennan refused to answer the question, Paul sought clarification from Attorney General Eric Holder. In a March 4 letter to Paul, Holder superciliously said the Obama administration believes it could “hypothetically” carry out drone strikes against Americans on U.S. soil, but “has no intention of doing so.” Such a response was hardly comforting.
Holder declared, “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.”
That Holder would declare the issue to be “entirely hypothetical,” leads one to believe he’s not at all familiar with how the technology has been, and is being used by the administration. And that he would merely “suppose” that “it is possible,” clearly indicates not much thought had been applied to the issue, a sobering admission from the government’s top attorney.
Senator Paul said, beginning his thirteen hour filibuster, “I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court. 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. It is something that should not and cannot be tolerated in our country.”
That such could be possible, and not merely hypothetical, should be self-evident. Drones are increasingly utilized domestically for research purposes, as well as for regulatory compliance enforcement by the government.
We extend citizen’s rights to expatriates, regardless of where they are globally. Yet after the administration’s 2011 targeting of al-Awlaki with a drone attack, the next logical question is whether it matters where such a target happens to be. This all seems duplicitous on the part of the administration, when our own citizens are not afforded the rights guaranteed by the Constitution, while simultaneously extending citizen’s rights to non-American enemy combatants.
Just this week, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, the al-Qaida spokesman, fundraiser and son-in-law to Osama bin Laden, who is not an American citizen, was afforded citizen’s rights denied to al-Awlaki, as he made an appearance in court just blocks from ground zero in New York City.
Holder finally sent Paul the answer he was looking for. “No,” was Holder’s ultimate response, which finally brought the Senator’s filibuster to a close. This was not just a victory for Paul, to finally get the definitive answer he sought, but also a victory for all of us. Especially since it was a mere six weeks ago that Holder’s boss took an oath to protect and defend our Constitution, that inconvenient founding document that this administration seems to have such a difficult time upholding.
Senator Paul’s one-man crusade for the rights of American citizens, regardless of station, status, creed, color, or party affiliation, was a victory of principle over political expediency, and essentially validated Thomas Jefferson’s aphorism. One man with courage may not a majority make, but armed with truth and principle, can have the same effect.
AP award winning columnist Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, Idaho, and is a graduate of Idaho State University with a BA in Political Science and History and former member of the Idaho State Journal Editorial Board. He can be reached at [email protected].