How I learned to stop worrying and love drones

Created by Tom Tomorrow for the Daily Kos

For twelve hours, fifty-two minutes and eleven seconds, Sen. Rand Paul (R- KY) held the floor of the Senate in a remarkable filibuster aimed at derailing one of the latest decisions made by the Obama administration in matters of domestic security. What is even more remarkable about this is that it was up to a libertarian, a man extremely controversial for his views on the Civil Rights Act, to stand up for the rule of law. What is deplorable, however, is the deafening silence on the part of Democrats.

Sen. Rand Paul tried to oppose the (ultimately successful) nomination of John Brennan as head of the CIA. This nomination comes only days after the Obama Administration released information implying that in cases of emergency, the Administration will be authorized to use drones to strike against US citizens on US soil. This news is enraging and extremely dangerous, yet it failed to draw the attention of the population. NDAA was signed into law on New Year’s Eve, when no one else was looking, and it was left to über conscious human rights workers and lawyers to ring the alarm, amidst the cacophony of the House Speaker reelection and talks about unemployment rates. In times of fear, of distress, and of so-called necessity, history has proven to us that civil liberties are the first to go. Everyone knows by now the evils of the Bush Administration; everyone has denounced the war-mongering, facts-fabricating ways of Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice, the escalation to a war that was doomed to fail from the get-go. The collective breath of relief exhaled on the day of Obama’s election has lulled us into a false sense of security, cradled us in the belief that civil rights violations were over, and the Bill of Rights safe and protected by the wide shouldered power of Barack Obama, himself a constitutional lawyer.

That it took a Republican – and a southern one at that – to denounce the failure of the Administration to protect US citizens from arbitrary and unlawful targeted killings is not surprising. That it came from Rand Paul in a record filibuster took everyone by surprise, most of all traditional liberals, usually rallying around Obama as the democratically elected leader that had taken a stand – as then-Senator of Illinois – against the war in Iraq. The truth is, there is no political voice loud enough to speak out against the ever expanding use of drones in US foreign policy, let alone domestic policy. It took a libertarian, overly decried by the left for his position on women’s rights and civil rights, ironically enough, to say what should have been on everyone’s mind: “Where is the Barack Obama of 2007? (…) If there were an ounce of courage in (the Senate), I would be joined by many other senators. Are we going to give up our rights to politicians?” He later elaborated:

“When I asked the president, ‘Can you kill an American on American soil,’ it should have been an easy answer. It’s an easy question. It should have been a resounding an unequivocal, ‘No.’ The president’s response? He hasn’t killed anyone yet. We’re supposed to be comforted by that. The president says, ‘I haven’t killed anyone yet.’ He goes on to say, ‘And I have no intention of killing Americans. But I might.’ Is that enough? Are we satisfied by that?”

Screen shot 2013-03-09 at 13.58.10

Courtesy of The Onion

The good news is, Attorney General Eric Holder took the time to personally answer Sen. Rand Paul’s concerns in a letter. The bad news is, the letter’s content is as much subject to concern over civil liberties than anyone should have been before and during the filibuster. Holder tried to be clear and concise, claiming, ““It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: ‘Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?’ “The answer to that question is no.” But what does Eric Holder mean by “engaged in combat”?  Those terms are clearly a call-back to the Bush Administration’s worryingly broad definition of combat and combatants, dating back to a Pentagon memo in 2004 basically referring to any Guantanamo Bay inmate as an “enemy combatant”, then clearly expanding the laws of war to anyone in Afghanistan that could be more or less linked to terrorism activities, including drug lords. The War on Terror is well and alive, carrying with it a reading and interpretation of the laws of war that could be summed up by Bush’s infamous phrase, “you are with us or against us”. Ryan Goodman, in an excellent opinion piece released today in the New York Times, explains:

In a 2010 Fox News interview, under pressure to explain whether the Obama administration was any closer to capturing or killing Osama bin Laden, Mr. Kerry’s predecessor, Hillary Rodham Clinton, said that “we have gotten closer because we have been able to kill a number of their trainers, their operational people, their financiers.” That revelation — killing financiers — appears not to have been noticed very widely.

As I have written, sweeping financiers into the group of people who can be killed in armed conflict stretches the laws of war beyond recognition. But this is not the only stretch the Obama administration seems to have made. The administration still hasn’t disavowed its stance, disclosed last May in a New York Times article, that military-age males killed in a strike zone are counted as combatants absent explicit posthumous evidence proving otherwise.

Mr. Holder’s one-word answer — “no” — is not a step toward the greater transparency that President Obama pledged when he came into office, but has not delivered, in the realm of national security.

Some will claim that despite concerns from those of us on the very left, Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster was, indeed, bipartisan when Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR.) joined in. But is this enough? Will there still be massive national silence, especially from the left, regarding Obama’s law enforcement and military policies in clear defiance of the right to due process? If the 2004 – and later 2006, in the Military Commission Act – definition of “enemy combatant” has generated an outcry from opposants to the Bush Administration, where is the uproar today? Is there still a belief among the majority of Americans affiliating themselves with the Democratic Party that Obama is the anti-war candidate? Or has the war machine created such an intense feeling of fear and dread among the population that any violation of civil rights are acceptable, as long as drones are only killing “the enemy”? In every society on the verge of a democratic breakdown, signs have appeared to be massively erected in neon colors around the time an “enemy” of some sort has emerged; once distant and foreign and justifying the deployment of armed forces abroad – resulting in a bloated Defence budget – the “enemy” then moved closer to the shore, until it infiltrated the regular population.

Of course, any call against war, against military action, against violation of international law is met with extreme sarcasm on the majority of the Republicans, first of them Sen. John McCain, coming to the lectern to say the following:

“…to somehow say that someone who disagrees with American policy — and even may demonstrate against it — is somehow a member of an organization which makes that individual an enemy combatant is simply false. It is simply false. (…) “The country needs more senators who care about liberty, but if Mr. Paul wants to be taken seriously he needs to do more than pull political stunts that fire up impressionable libertarian kids in their college dorms. He needs to know what he’s talking about.”

That scathing comment said, John McCain was joined by Sen. Lindsay Graham. When asked if the question of whether the President could act on a US citizen on US soil, Graham simply replied: “I don’t think that question deserves an answer”. The problem is, it is the only question, and we, the people, deserve an answer. The irony of two formidable opponents of the Obama Administration on other domestic issues suddenly supporting the President and calling a filibuster a waste of time is not lost on the observer.

The most remarkable response to Rand Paul’s filibuster, however, came from John Yoo, the lawyer most known for releasing a memo under the Bush Administration authorizing the use of torture on aforementioned enemy combatants, children included. John Yoo is currently teaching law at UC Berkeley. Alongside McCain and Graham, Yoo was quick to denounce the filibuster as a childish maneuver that could only come from anti-war utopists with no grasp on reality:

“I admire libertarians but I think Rand Paul’s filibuster in many ways is very much what libertarians do, they make these very symbolic gestures, standing for some extreme position (…) It sort of reminds me of young kids when they first read The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged and they suddenly think that federal taxation equals slavery and they’re not going to pay any federal taxes anymore.”

Once again, the irony of a lawyer agreeing to the use of interrogation techniques clearly prohibited by law trying to disprove an intervention on the very values the Constitution stands for is a little bit too unbelievable, but John Yoo has somehow worked his way into the inner circle of pre-approved legal minds that would bend the principles backwards just to fit a political machine that would have never stood the Supreme Court test otherwise. There is clearly a lack of understanding on the part of UC Berkeley to allow this man to teach, to form young legal brains, if this is the example of violation of the rule of law we are supposed to uphold. If John Yoo is fit to teach law, there is indeed something very sick in this society, where fundamental principles of liberty are constantly stampeded in order to achieve political gain. John Yoo sold out to the Bush Administration, and unfortunately is still there to tell the tale of the just war, the justifiable means to an end, the low price of the human life and the overpowering grasp of war-mongering governments on their population.

In the meantime, the US Air Force is quietly taking its tally of drones strikes in Afghanistan offline. John Brennan also took his oath of office as Director of the CIA on a Constitution that was missing the Bill of Rights. Speaking of signs…


About K
bastard banshee. devious lawyer. Lucille Bluth. probably jetlagged.

2 Responses to How I learned to stop worrying and love drones

  1. propertia says:

    I am sad, so very, very sad to say, I have no idea what is going on here. It’s like we went through the Looking Glass last week, and we are suddenly expected to know how to eat Looking Glass Cake. “Hand it ’round first, cut it after!” Rand Paul making sense? It doesn’t surprise me as much that Mr McCain and Mr Graham, much less Mr Yoo, are being a**holes, even a**holes who support the administration’s abysmal choice for CIA Director.

    There is clearly more to this than we currently know. Your piece is timely, and very well-written, and I hope we have answers – reasonable answers – before long. It would seem Mr Obama may have cut a deal with the Dark Side in order to gain – or not lose – some other as yet unknown point in the struggle. I hope to god it does not come back to haunt us.

  2. Pingback: The one who preferred Lena Dunham | Every Word Handwritten

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