Quotes of the day

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul’s hours-long, multi-senator filibuster of John Brennan’s CIA director nomination has accomplished a rare feat: questions about targeted killing and the drone program have vaulted from the fringes to the forefront of Washington conversation, and it’s lasted nearly an entire day.

Civil libertarians have, finally, arrived.

“You would hope that the question of whether the president can on his own authority kill citizens in the U.S. would have come to the forefront as soon as it was floated,” said David Boaz, executive vice president of the libertarian Cato Institute. “But it seems like it took this particular circumstance to get people talking about it.”…

“Amazing that it’s a Republican,” Shank said.


Sen. Rand Paul just offered to end his filibuster and allow a vote on CIA nominee John Brennan if he could get a vote tomorrow on a non-binding resolution regarding drone killing of US citizens on US soil. But Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin objected to allowing a vote on the resolution. So Paul resumed speaking.

Paul’s resolution said it was the sense of the Senate that “the use of drones to execute or target American citizens on American soil who pose no imminent threat clearly violates Constitutional rights” of due process.


When an administration official claims that there are no viable reports of civilian casualties, belief is beggared. That’s either a lie or hopeful blindness. So many people read into the strategy have admitted casualties. And a growing number of officials, including the former Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, think parts of it are counter-productive. The former commanding general of the Joint Special Operations Command, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, is another critic. Neither opposes “targeted killing” of confirmed terrorists. Both find fault with the political-military policy that institutionalizes it.

What is that policy? No one knows. Really. We don’t. No one can explain it beyond a vague mumble about al Qaeda.

But the president is busy with other things.

He ought to change his priorities…

Obama needs to get this right. It can’t be done entirely in secret.


Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster will inevitably fail at its immediate objective: derailing John Brennan’s nomination to run the CIA. But as it stretches into its sixth hour, it’s already accomplished something far more significant: raising political alarm over the extraordinary breadth of the legal claims that undergird the boundless, 11-plus-year “war on terrorism.”…

Paul sometimes seemed to object to the specific platform of drones used against Americans more than [he] did the platform-independent subject of targeted killing. But Paul actually centered his long monologue on the expansive legal claims implied by targeting Americans for due-process-free execution: “If you get on a kill list, it’s kind of hard to complain… If you’re accused of a crime, I guess that’s it. … I don’t want a politician deciding my innocence or guilt.” Paul threw in criticisms of other aspects of the war on terrorism beyond targeted killing, from widespread surveillance of Americans to the abuses of state/Homeland Security intelligence “fusion centers.”…

It would be foolish to presume that Paul’s moment in the spotlight heralds a new Senate willingness to roll back the expanses of the post-9/11 security apparatus. Rubio, for instance, stopped short of endorsing any of Paul’s substantive criticisms of the war. But Paul did manage to shift what political scientists call the Overton Window — the acceptable center of gravity of discussion…

Paul’s filibuster posed a challenge to the Senate more than it does Brennan or President Obama. “Is perpetual war OK with everybody?” he asked.


RAND PAUL’S STAND against John Brennan’s nomination as CIA director is doing the right thing for the wrong reason. Brennan has a reputation inside the intelligence community for “failing upward” and would likely not be a stellar DCI. But Sen. Paul’s objection — that Obama might use drones to kill Americans on U.S. soil — is actually dangerous. In reality, you want the president to be able to kill Americans who are attacking civilians without a court order. Does any body really think that Lincoln have gotten a warrant every time the confederates took a shot at federal property. Should George Washington have had to get a judge’s approval to fire on the rebels in the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion? When people take up arms against our country, they are making war on us–not engaging in criminal activity. If Sen. Paul’s prevails, they will have all of the protections of criminal law–and the public will have none of the protections of military force. Hardly a good bargain.


Israel’s highest court wrestled with the same issue in 2006, ruling that it was legal for the military to kill a terrorist even if that terrorist was engaged in ordinary, everyday activity, though that power was carefully circumscribed and not to be used if other means are available.

It is the function being performed by a person, not their physical distance from the battlefield (e.g. in a café), that defines that person as a combatant.

The U.S. government wants the power to target people, including U.S. citizens, who are unlawful combatants disguised as civilians. It likely has that power under the Constitution.

Sen. Paul is confusing the issue somewhat by suggesting that the government wants the power to target people who are definite non-combatants. He is right that the Constitution does not grant that power, and that individual liberties come first regardless. But he is wrong about the distinction between combatants and non-combatants, which is really the core of the problem.


This filibuster excites me for the same reasons — a return to the Old Ways, the ways that actually work, the way American politics is actually supposed to be conducted, with Senators offering thoughtful defenses of their positions and, above all, insisting that this nation is We the People not We the Ministers & Lesser Bureaucratic Warlords of Whatever Current Government the Public Has Had the Folly to Install In Office.

I don’t entirely agree with Rand Paul, at least if he’s arguing for an absolute bar– the Terrorist On His Way To Deliver a Working Nuke to NYC obviously (to me anyway) merits a unilateral exercise of prophylactic lethal force (assuming time won’t permit regular order to be followed).

But this filibuster is bigger even than that issue (which is itself large). This filibuster is about the basic character of a Democratic Republic, and restoring that character to good working order.


Tea Party groups are already rallying to the cause. The conservative group FreedomWorks issued a statement Wednesday afternoon calling for other senators to “Stand with Rand.”

The NRSC also tweeted support of the filibuster, asking followers to “stand with us…

The support of other Republicans has the potential to boost Paul’s political standing.

One of his biggest political hurdles, should he run for the presidency, is appealing to mainstream conservatives wary of his libertarian foreign policy streak. The backing of his Senate Tea Party compatriots (and others) on this high-profile filibuster could help him do just that.



But if Paul is waiting for an official White House response to his efforts, it seems he won’t be getting one anytime soon.

For now, the White House tells POLITICO, it has nothing to say.




Via John Sexton, from 2007:

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Jazz Shaw May 16, 2022 12:41 PM ET