No, Eric Holder, Obama can't murder us with drones

Sen. Rand Paul filibustered over Obama's assassination and drone policies. Why were his actions necessary in the first place? Photo: Senator Rand Paul

DALLAS, March 7, 2013 – Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) concluded his nearly 13 hour-long filibuster on the eve of CIA Director John Brennan’s position approval. Soon after beginning his effort to delay the confirmation, Paul’s stand captured worldwide social media attention. Currently, #standwithRand remains the top trending hashtag on Twitter.

The capital lockdown was not founded in partisan grandstanding over President Obama’s nominee choices, nor was he questioning overseas War on Terror tactics, despite claims from opposing politicians and mainstream media.

Paul’s intention was to highlight the administration’s eerie avoidance of questions regarding the legal authority to use drone strikes against citizens in the U.S.

Today, the White House press secretary replied to Senator Paul’s questions, “President Obama would not use drone strikes on American citizens on U.S. soil,” he said.

Eric Holder confirmed in his single-paragraph post-filibuster letter, “Does the president have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on U.S. soil?” the letter reads. “The answer to that is no.”

“I’m quite happy with the answer,” Paul said. “Through the advise and consent process, I’ve got an important answer.” He still has questions about the administration’s drone policy, but for now, “I’ve kind of won my battle.”

These responses satisfy Paul’s initial inquiries, but why was this filibuster even necessary?

When Paul originally asked the Obama administration whether it presumed the authority to use lethal force against non-combative Americans on U.S. soil, the correct answer from the nation’s most powerful prosecutor should have been a resounding ‘no’.

Instead, Eric Holder wrote an evasive and manipulative letter to Paul which did not answer his question, nor concede the illegality of government assassination of non-combatants without due process on U.S. soil. Holder later informed Congress that the president can authorize lethal force against Americans, and that Congress is powerless to limit him.

In the letter Holder wrote, “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 of a catastrophic attack like the ones suffered on December 7, 1941 and on September 11, 2001.”

Holder used his words carefully, so why choose extraordinary circumstances and not national security? The example of thwarting attack planes conflates the inalienable rights of Americans to be free from assassination and national defense.

Stating that active combatants can be neutralized by military force is a red herring; the question centers on whether U.S. citizens can be murdered without oversight, not Americans with their fingers actively pulling triggers, but for those suspected of doing so.

The issue here is not one of police power, but the presumptive authority of the executive branch to serve as judge, jury and executioner based on extraordinary circumstances bureaucrats solely and arbitrarily define.

Some argue this power would only be used to neutralize “imminent threats” posed by U.S. citizens, but what is an “imminent threat”? This term remains undefined until administration memos are released, but Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) extracted from Holder this week confirmation that “imminent” does not mean “immediate”. Like “terrorism” and “terrorist” “imminent” is quickly becoming a term with eminently infinite definitions.

Can we assume threat imminence is defined by an accused domestic terrorist demonstrating intent via weapon stockpiling or planning? Police detection requires gathering evidence. To remain obedient to the law, agents track potential targets, rally local authorities, mobilize SWAT teams, and plan the suspects capture. Once the suspect is captured, our unique legal system determines guilt or innocence to ensure justice is served.

If vague extraordinary circumstances are the measuring stick for government assassination of accused “terrorists”, why even have a justice system? If someone is simply suspected of being an imminent threat, which is not immediate, can they be executed based on the executive branches’ assessment? If this standard becomes incrementally imposed, is the entire justice system not superfluous?

The “ticking time bomb” scenario is rhetorical in nature; a moral society cannot justify murder of non-combatants without judicial oversight simply because the government deems it necessary. This already happens abroad via the “War on Terror”; thousands of “collateral” women and children have been murdered in America’s name.

To err is human and even the most diligent officials with honorable intentions make mistakes. Because those in positions of power are fallible, we cannot allow sacred rights to be eroded by extraordinary exceptions.

As Paul stated during his lengthy speech, “The fact that the Obama Administration has told a U.S. Senator that there is a circumstance where the government could target and kill an American citizen on American soil without charge or without trial is a stark example of an imperial presidency. This is what our founding fathers tried to protect us from.

The U.S. Attorney General’s refusal to rule out the possibility of drone strikes on American citizens and on American soil is more than frightening - it is an affront to the Constitutional due process rights of all Americans.”

In the United States of America, no president or high-ranking bureaucrat can authorize the assassination of a United States citizen without due process. Even the assertion that a president may possibly execute American citizens in extraordinary circumstances, without strictly defining those rules that make it extraordinary circumstances, is an outrage.

The Fifth Amendment was designed to prevent innocent citizens from the whims of imperial leaders and their henchmen. Before the rule of law, King George and his tyrants tossed free citizens into dungeons and never looked back. They were without restraint.

Executives must never be allowed to seize conceivably unjust power without due process again, even in extraordinary circumstances.

If you are suspected of a future crime, no matter how egregious, it is the duty of state forces to gather evidence, investigate and act within the law to apprehend you. The right to be charged with a suspected crime, particularly on U.S. soil, no matter how outrageous, is inalienable. The right to due process is the manifestation of 900 years of political struggle, and the very foundation of American liberty.

Unconstitutional laws or policies are simply illegal, and the Attorney General should know the law. Allowing such reaches beyond the pale of civility, chills the concept of political freedom and paves the way for rising tyranny.

If this nation’s politicians insist on waging endless wars against military tactics of “terrorism”, they are still duty-bound to protect the rights of American citizens. Los Angeles is not Baghdad, New York is not Kabul. Treating citizens as pre-crime combatives to be neutralized at whim is illegal, immoral and anti-ethical to everything this country represents.

It is difficult to conceive any “extraordinary circumstance” ever eclipsing the moral hazard of allowing current or future Presidents such obscene authority.

Senator Paul succeeded in igniting a firestorm of transpartisan support, starting a debate in Washington and among American citizens in the process. He rallied the anti-war left, GOP moderates and the libertarian wing. It is the duty of Americans to continue this national discussion for our sake and for the future. 


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Tiffany Madison

Tiffany is a writer and veteran's advocate. Her column focuses on civil liberties, veteran's issues and current events. You can follow her on Twitter @tiffanymadisonFacebook or her website.

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