Rand Paul filibuster: If a Senator talks to an empty chamber, does he make a sound?

Rand Paul is still talking after almost 8 hours. One wonders how he has managed to not leave the floor for the Senate lavatory in all that time. It’s ok to dislike Rand Paul and still think he’s currently doing a public service. It’s probably not correct to suggest that this was prompted by standard GOP obstructionism. They’d use the modern, silent filibuster to demand a more warlike demeanor, and it took hours for even a few other GOP Senators to show up and give the guy a break from talking. (Like Cruz is now by simply reading Tweets about the filibuster.) There are also the small issues of Paul having previously sponsored a bill that would require issuing a warrant before using a drone for surveillance in the United States as well as this being the culmination of his pecking at the administration over drone issues. It appears that the final prompt for this filibuster was the letter that Paul received from AG Holder which claimed that the executive branch has the authority to run a targeted killing program inside the US against US citizens, though it probably never would.

So the eye of this storm is the administration’s wishy-washy statement that the President can kill Americans without legal process but that he won’t. Filibustering the vote for John Brennan’s nomination as director of the CIA is an appropriate place to force the conversation, given that Brennan is largely the architect of the administration’s targeted killing program.

Paul, however, has not kept to such a narrow issue. He’s been questioning the whole concept of Battlefield America and its place in the unending War on Terror. He’s questioned the lackluster and expansive definition of al Qaeda that includes anyone “affiliated” with al Qaeda. It hard to be sure whether following the wrong link on the internet would classify you as affiliated. Just now, he’s talking about how most of the drone strikes have not been against people who are actively involved in combat. Of course the big example is Anwar al-Aulaqi, the Yemeni-American who was killed in a drone strike.

What little we do know about the targeted killing program, and it’s very little since the administration only releases information under extreme pressure, is that it’s based on the concept of imminence. Targets are supposed to be an imminent threat, which most would read as actively planning an attack. Nothing i’ve read indicates that al-Aulaqi was actively involved in any imminent threats against the United States. If he was, the administration never bothered indicting him for a crime. Instead, it launched a Hellfire missile from a drone, which not only killed al-Aulaqi but also his 16 year old son (also an American citizen). The administration’s response to questions about the son were basically, “He had an irresponsible father.” Of course the son was affiliated with someone who was affiliated with al Qaeda, which by our War on Terror definitions make him a terrorist. In any case, at 16 he’d be considered a combatant by the Obama administration because he was of “military age.”

The al-Aulaqi case pretty succinctly sums up the targeted killing issue, though there are enough examples, discussions, and nuances to fill books. Paul’s not addressing every one or getting them all right, but that’s not enough reason to discount him. It all boils down to the Executive Branch deciding that it has the right to kill anyone, anywhere, for reasons that it alone knows. AG Holder has written that “due process” doesn’t involve courts. It can be nothing more than President Obama and John Brennan sitting in an office deciding who lives and who dies.

It’s disturbing. It’s been disturbing for the last 11 years, and it’s only grown larger and more malignant to whatever is left of our Republic. Until 2008, Democrats and liberals who generally vote for Democrats would probably be up-in-arms if they found out that Bush was doing the same things Obama does today. So far there’s only one Democratic Senator involved in this filibuster. I’m no fan of Rand Paul, and i won’t be a fan of his when this filibuster ends. But on this he’s right, although 11 years is a long time to wait for even a glimmer of Congressional oversight on Executive power. What’s most unfortunate is that it had to come from Senator Paul, and that liberals and Democrats appear willing to allow a Democratic president to trample the rule of law … never mind morals.

There will be at least a few of us who will remember this day. When America elects another Republican to the White House and he uses these new powers in such a way that upsets Democrats, we’ll be here to remind you that your party didn’t stand up for what was right. It didn’t stand up between 2001 and 2008, and it kept extremely quiet after 2008 when it was a Democrat doing the evil. You won’t listen. After all, you voted for for these people, just like all the Republicans who voted for Bush twice and never raised a voice in defense of what are supposedly our most cherished principles.

For now, i’m going to go back to watching the Senator from Kentucky continue pushing through this. He seems to be one of the first to say a lot of things that need to be said on the Senate floor. That’s probably why the place is empty.

4 replies »

  1. Well said. I started getting pissed during the Bush years at assaults on freedom like the Patriot Act and our adventure in Iraq. I wasn’t surprised that Bush was doing it or that the GOP was all-in, but the fact that the Democrats fell in line like so many lobotomized sheep was appalling.

    That the cause of democracy and due process has now been ceded to this yahoo tells you most of what you need to know about what America has become.

  2. Great piece, Lex. There’s an old question, but it’s still a good: “Where’s the outrage?” I do not now and never will understand the complicity of the “opposition” on the constant assaults on our freedoms that have occurred since Bush II was appointed HMIC by the Supreme Court (why does no one ever, ever, ever mention that travesty of electoral hijacking?).

    The only conclusion is that they’re all “all in” – the only ones united in this country are those who would destroy our nation’s freedoms, all the while filling the public with horseshit about the need for “security” – even as they dismantle our security as fast as they can while our 4th Estate tells us the details of some trailer trash vixen who killed her boyfriend as if such an act were the beginning of World War III.

    Who’d have thought the Orwellian and Huxleyan dystopias could be merged so seamlessly?

  3. I’m having really conflicting feelings about this performance.

    On the one hand, I get the whole 12-years of outrage over our loss of civil liberties after 9/11. There’s nothing like having to get your boobs routinely patted down in the airport because your underwires set off the metal detector. I know–minor inconvenience compared to the real issues: waterboarding, electronic surveillance, secret courts, Gitmo, and now drones. But, in the name of being “good Americans” and “getting on with our lives” we put up with it.

    Obama wanted to close down Gitmo and couldn’t–the GOP insisted that our Justice department could not handle terrorism cases of that magnitude (especially when they were tainted by torture, as if that was somehow the fault of our legal system–but I digress). Then the National Defense Authorization Act was passed in 2010 containing the “indefinite detention clause.” And Obama signed that. What I want to know is WHO PROPOSED IT? I haven’t been able to find that. Yes, there are a lot of questions I’d like answered.

    The selective outrage bothers me. The hyper-dramatization of being killed by a drone while eating breakfast in a cafe just make me want to spit nails. Really, Rand? Really? Can’t wait to see the campaign ads capitalizing on that.

    The only part of this that did not make my head want to spin like Linda Blair were the civil exchanges (although few and far between political opponents) that reminded me that they are still possible.

    • I was pointed to an interesting essay by a military law expert at Harvard that essentially said a) drones were a weapon system in the US military arsenal and b) the President has had the authority to use any weapon in the military arsenal against American citizens since the Civil War. Not saying I like the ramifications, but it seems pretty solid.