As I write this blog Senator Rand Paul is in the seventh hour of a filibuster of the nomination of John Brennan for director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Paul is not really attempting to defeat the nomination. Because of the composition of the senate the nomination will be approved once the vote is held, once Paul sits down and cedes the floor. Until he sits down, there will be no vote. However, this is not about the CIA director. This about the use of drones. Both in America and around the world.
The Attorney General of the United States testified before a senate committee that the US government could use drones to assassinate Americans on American soil. This follows the assassination of two Americans in Yemen. One of those Americans was sixteen years old. He did not have a trial. There was no indictment of a grand jury. There was no attorney. There was no cross examination of witnesses. There was no due process of law. Now the question is could this happen in America. Could this happen to you or me?
Rand Paul wants an answer to this. He has not gotten it yet. He has continued to ask it. He got some support from fellow Republicans and one Democrat. He has the support of the ACLU. He has the support of the Libertarian Party. He will talk presumably until he gets an answer.
The question is what will that answer be. Based on Attorney General Holder’s statement, there are clearly times when drones (or other military force) can be used on American citizens. Clearly, this raises the specter of 9/11. Would a drone have shot down a plane filled with innocent Americans to prevent it from crashing into the Capitol? The answer to that probably is yes, and rightly so. But that’s not what was said. The question was could American citizens be killed while sitting in a cafe. That was not answered.
There is a lot to be said of the hypocrisy of both Republicans and Democrats on civil liberties. Democrats are very vociferous when a Republican war monger is in the White House. When a Democrat is dropping bombs and missiles in Yemen and Pakistan, they line up behind him. Republicans are worse because they do nothing when their precious defense spending may be endangered. Thankfully Senator Paul has spoken for American citizens. Rights are not taken in a fell swoop. They are degraded gradually, slowly, as a river erodes rocks or the tide erodes a beach. First they bomb Pakistanis and you say nothing because you are not Pakistani. Then they bomb Americans living in Yemen and you say nothing because you don’t live in Yemen. What happens when they start bombing Americans here? This past week a teen was arrested because he had the Fresh Prince of Bel Air theme song as his ring tone. A man was jailed for criticizing a judge. Here in Maryland, a boy was suspended for molding his Pop Tart into a gun. When is it going to stop? When will we as citizens wake up? We all have our lives and soccer matches and parent teacher conferences and bourbon to drink and work and play, but, but one day we will wake up and the drones will be flying over head, the cameras will be watching us, and we will wonder how we got here.
I don’t know if Orwell or Huxley were right. I think as a society we are too cynical to ever succumb to such issues. But ultimately we have to know that the degradation of rights are happening. We need to take some risk. We need to sacrifice security for liberty. We need a reevaluation of the role of government in our lives. I hope that when we wake up twenty years from now we will not have always been at war with EastAsia.