Dear Senator Graham:
In response to Senator Rand Paul’s filibuster protesting John Brennan’s nomination as head of the CIA, you commented that “this idea that we’re going to use a drone to attack a citizen in a cafe in America is ridiculous.”
Although I don’t speak for Senator Paul, I do not think that he actually believes that there will be drone attacks on US citizens tomorrow, next week, next month, and so forth. What he was protesting is Attorney General Eric Holder’s position that the federal government does indeed claim the authority to carry out such attacks, albeit, in “extraordinary circumstances” or “emergencies.” In other words, Senator Paul was protesting the idea that drone attacks can be utilized against citizens in America.
Unfortunately, history shows that government programs almost never remain within the constraints under which they are first proposed. For instance, the Patriot Act was written ostensibly to give the federal government more tools to fight terrorism. Within a few years of its implementation,however, surveillance powers which the Patriot Act granted the FBI were used to obtain evidence in a cockfighting case in Tennessee. While animal cruelty is abhorrent, I think we can all agree that it is not a threat to national security. Likewise, RICO laws, originally aimed at organized crime, have been used to prosecute everyone from pro-life activists to junk bond dealers. Or look at federal income tax rates which, in 1913, were 1% on incomes up to $20,000 (a sizable income back then) all the way up to 7% on incomes over $500,000. Of course, today these rates are multiples higher.
The fact is that government programs always expand. Giving the government the authority to do something nearly always results in politicians and bureaucrats looking for more ways and more circumstances in which that power can be used. So we should take very little comfort in AG Holder’s postulate that drone attacks would only be used in “extraordinary circumstances.” We may quickly find that these extraordinary circumstances become much less extraordinary than we previously imagined.
I would also remind you, sir, that the United States Constitution is not a set of guidelines or suggestions. It is the supreme law of the land, a document that both you and AG Holder swore to uphold. It is clear that AG Holder’s position concerning the use of drones to assassinate a US citizen in America is unconstitutional and illegal. The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution reads:
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury…nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…
You will notice that the Fifth Amendment does not contain the caveat: “except in extraordinary circumstances or emergencies.”
While some have framed the argument to be between one of liberty and security, that fact is that without liberty there is no security because we are all at the mercy of an authoritarian state. In other words, when it comes to our liberties, when we begin to make exceptions to the rule, these exceptions become the rule.
In response to Senator Paul’s efforts, AG Holder and the White House now claim that the President does not have the authority to “use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on an American soil.” Unfortunately, in the words of Senator Paul, it took “a month and a half and a root canal” to get this answer. Of course, it appears that the question of whether weaponized drones could be deployed in America at all is still at the President’s discretion, so the slipper slope remains. As we have seen with the evolution of the federal government’s definition of “terrorism,” it is not hard to envision a scenario in which the government claims that certain acts, cyberwarfare for instance, are forms of “passive combat.”
In any case, Senator Paul’s filibuster was anything but ridiculous. The only thing ridiculous about this situation is that such an act of outright tyranny, assassinating an American on American soil, would even be the subject of a political debate.