Drone Strikes & War Crimes
March 16, 2013
William Boardman / Reader Supported News & Just Foreign Policy News
Commentary: "When it came to the Senate filibuster on drone killings, the stupid party held the floor, the craven party mostly kept quiet, and the victims had no voice -- just another exceptional day in the contemporary clown show of American democracy."
Drone Strikes & War Crimes
William Boardman / Reader Supported News
(March 12, 2013) -- When it came to the Senate filibuster on drone killings, the stupid party held the floor, the craven party mostly kept quiet, and the victims had no voice -- just another exceptional day in the contemporary clown show of American democracy.
In the second minute of his half-day filibuster February 6, Senator Rand Paul, R-Ky., introduced an apt reference to one of the absurdities of Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland," illuminating the abuse of unchecked absolute power. He started reading from Chapter XII, after the King says, "Let the jury consider their verdict":
"No, no!" said the queen. "Sentence first -- verdict afterwards."
"Stuff and nonsense!" Alice said loudly. "The idea of having the sentence first!"
"Hold your tongue!" said the queen, turning purple.
"I won't!" said Alice.
"Release the drones," said the queen, as she shouted at the top of her voice.
"Release the drones," was Paul's interpolation of the Queen's original order, "Off with her head!" And that's where the Kentucky senator stopped reading, still solidly rooted in the Wonderland of the US Congress, a collective mad tea party of March hares, mad hatters, and dormice.
The wonderland quality of Rand Paul's theatre of the imaginary is clear from his focus on the threat that the president might kill Americans on American soil. And, while Paul didn't mention it, the president might also take a feline crouch on his executive branch, smiling down and slowly fading from view until there was nothing left but his smile.
In reality, if this president -- or any president -- decides it's necessary to kill an American on American soil, he will get her done one way or another. But wouldn't a killer drone have made a neater job of it at places like Waco or Ruby Ridge?
Don't Drone Me, Bro -- I'm American!
Given the non-existence of the imagined threat, Paul's performance amounted to little more than a solipsistic ceremony of American exceptionalism, pottering on sometimes incoherently about the fundamental non-threat of killer drones in America despite the paranoid assurance of some Rand Paul followers that the government is coming for them soon. That's why Americans should be exceptions to presidential drone policy, Paul argues, just because we're Americans. He offers no other rationale.
It's not that his argument is wrong -- it's not -- but it's Lilliputian and quite literally narrow-minded. While some now celebrate his filibuster as some sort of defense of civil liberties, it's only a defense of some civil liberties for a few people in a special class of Americans.
Despite all the media overplay of this stand-your-ground stand-up routine, such ideological opposites as the Cato Institute and Anti-War.com were unimpressed with a moral argument that singled out only Americans for any sort of due process protection under law.
Why would Americans be concerned with other people in other places getting killed without due process of law? It's not like they're covered by the US Constitution, is it?
Intentional or not, Rand Paul's theatrics provide cover for acts that are arguably war crimes and impeachable offenses -- leaving President Obama, like President Bush or any future president, free to continue assassinating brown people at will, regardless of their innocence or guilt, anywhere in the world.
The conventional Washington wisdom may preen over the "conversation" about drone strikes set in motion by Paul, but it's a shallow conversation at the start, with little momentum, and less likelihood of reaching a rational goal -- such as controlling or, better, ending attacks on anonymous people who may or may not mean us harm and too often turn out to be men, women, and children celebrating a wedding.
Don't Worry, It Won't Happen -- Until It Does
Much has been made of the letters from Attorney General Eric Holder to Senator Paul. The first letter was dated March 4, several days after Paul had begun planning his Senate floor pseudo-event.
Holder's letter was an embarrassment of legalese, hedging every conceivable bet, while criticizing the Senator's query for being "hypothetical, unlikely to occur, and one we hope no President will ever have to confront" -- although, Holder said, it's "possible."
Does it matter, really, what the attorney general says? If he promised there would never ever be a drone strike on an American on American soil, would that make it impossible? Would it even make it less likely, unlikely as it may be at present?
The day after Paul's filibuster, on March 7, Holder wrote a second letter that reads, in its entirety: “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."
The loophole here is huge -- "an American not engaged in combat." How does the drone know who's American? And who says what combat is, or who's engaged in it?
In Afghanistan and Pakistan and Yemen and elsewhere, the United States has killed thousands of people no American has even seen, except through a surveillance camera. The victims are strangers, mostly never identified, but it is US policy to consider any male who appears to be 18 or over as an "enemy combatant."
Although he fits that description, Rand Paul has trumpeted the second Holder letter as a victory.
And the legal basis for lethal drone strikes -- a White House argument, not a statute passed by Congress -- remains secret.
There is no significant effort in Congress to rein in White House power.
Had Rand Paul continued with "Alice in Wonderland," the next sentence he read would have been the court's response to the Queen of Hearts's order -- either "Off with her head!" or "Release the drones!" That response was: "Nobody moved."
And then Alice took matters in her own hands and, as they all flew into the air about her, she said, "Who cares for you? You're nothing but a pack of cards!"
The wonderland of exceptional Americanism these days has no Alice, just the pack of cards and a president with a Peace Prize.
William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.
Just Foreign Policy News
Congressional Progressive Caucus demands drone answers;
Cruz, Paul introduce ban of drone strikes in US
(March 12, 2013) -- Leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, including Co-Chairs Raúl Grijalva and Keith Ellison and Caucus members Barbara Lee, John Conyers, Donna Edwards, Mike Honda, Rush Holt, and Jim McGovern, sent President Obama a letter requesting the full, unclassified release of information surrounding the Obama administration's drone strike policy, the CPC says.
The letter requests a formal report to Congress explaining the scope and legal justification for the drone program, and asks the Administration to release in unclassified form the full legal basis of executive branch claims of justification for the drone strike policy.
The letter cites several problems with current drone policy, including its "unbounded geographic scope; unidentified high-level officials with authority to approve kill-lists; a vaguely defined definition of whether a capture is 'feasible,' [and] an overly broad definition of the phrase 'imminent threat,' which re-defines the word in a way that strays significantly from its traditional and legal meaning."
Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul introduced legislation to prohibit drone killings of US citizens on US soil if they do not represent an imminent threat, Sen. Cruz office reports. [The bill is S.505.]
Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul plan to try to attach a prohibition on drone strikes against American citizens on US soil to the continuing resolution funding the government through September, Politico reports. If Paul and Cruz are allowed to offer the drone amendment, "it could cause trouble with Democrats and the White House," Politico says.
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