That’s Not The Question
March 11, 2013
By Tom Barrett
While I appreciate the 13 hours of herculean effort Rand Paul exerted into filibustering the nomination of John Brennan to be Director of the CIA, I don’t think he and his Republican colleagues were asking the right question. Since Brennan has been heavily involved in the U.S. drone program, his nomination gave them the perfect opportunity to attempt to get Obama to answer a question: “Is there any circumstance under which you believe it would be appropriate to kill an American citizen who is not engaged in an active act of terror using a drone on U.S. soil?”
If Obama had any brains at all, he would have instantly answered, “No way, José!” That’s certainly what every American who honors the Constitution would want to hear. But he just did the usual “Obama shuffle,” talking but not answering the question. “The rules for overseas would be different than the rules within the United States.” What does that mean? And who gets to make the rules? Congress has not been consulted. And killing American citizens without a trial is certainly not constitutional.
Obama’s people have bragged about his “Kill List” to prove that he is not “soft” on terror. But they have never explained by what authority he has made himself judge, jury and executioner for anyone, particularly American citizens who have “inalienable rights” under our Constitution. One of those rights is the right to not be murdered by their own government without the due process of law.
I am a supporter of the right of the government to defend us against enemies who are trying to annihilate us – even if that means killing them before they kill us. I support their right, even in wartime, to kill enemy combatants without a trial of any kind. They do not have Constitutional protections (even though, when convenient for him, Obama has tried to make the case that foreigners have rights under our Constitution). But I draw the line at our government murdering U.S. citizens simply because Obama says it is OK.
While I think the question Rand Paul and his fellow senators (including one Democrat who joined in the filibuster) asked Obama was too narrow, the elements of their question were very specific:
1) Would you kill an American citizen on U.S. soil?
2) Would you kill him or her if they were not actively engaged in committing an act of terror (for instance, if they were sleeping in their home or drinking coffee at Starbucks)?
3) Would you kill him or her using a drone?
Keep in mind that neither Obama nor his Attorney General, Eric Holder, would answer these questions in the negative. What kind of country have we become when the highest law enforcement officials in the land refuse to say that they will not murder U.S. citizens just because they “believe” them to be terrorists? What’s to stop Obama from taking out his political enemies if there is no oversight of his “Kill List?” He certainly wouldn’t be the first dictator to kill his enemies just because he had the power to do so.
But, as I said, I think the question is far too narrowly focused. What difference does it make if the murdered American is in Detroit or in Kabul when he is killed? He is still an American citizen. And who cares if he is killed using a drone or is murdered by a government sniper? He’s still just as dead.
The question should be, “Would you ever use the power of the Presidency to end the life of any American citizen under any circumstances in any location using any means without the individual first being convicted in a court of law according to our Constitution?”
If the answer to any part of the question above is “Yes,” then Obama must explain to the American people what criteria he uses to determine who lives or dies, and what court will oversee the process.
Some have said to me, “ ‘The Patriot Act’ gives the government broad powers to deal with terrorism, and it was passed under George W. Bush’s administration.” I don’t care if it was passed under George Washington’s administration. The so-called “Patriot Act” is anything but patriotic, because it denies American citizens basic rights that have always been guaranteed by the Constitution.
As much as I liked and appreciate George Bush and the way he handled the 9/11 crisis, he listened to the wrong people in the aftermath of that vicious attack on America. He allowed the national fear and anger to overcome his common sense and his duty to the Constitution. He acted in haste to produce a solution that was not a solution.
“Well, it’s OK if they only kill terrorists isn’t it?” That’s basically what many of the German people said – “Hitler is only killing Jews.” But what if the man with the power of life or death decides YOU should die? I suspect you will think differently if a drone targets you.
Drones should not be allowed on American soil – period. Drones are an instrument of war. Police agencies are already using them routinely to spy on Americans – usually without warrants. No one knows the extent to which the federal government is using drones, but it is likely that they are being used in ways that would make most Americans cringe.
As far as armed drones are concerned, NO ONE can ever be allowed to be judge, jury and executioner. If we allow that we no longer have a president – we have a dictator.
NOTE: Backed into a wall by the pressure put on him by Senator Rand Paul, Obama finally acknowledged that he did not have the authority to “drone” Americans on American soil if they were not actively engaged in combat. Since virtually everyone, Liberal and Conservative alike, already knew that, one has to wonder why Obama hedged on this earlier in the week, and why it took the bravery of a junior senator to force this admission from him.