This is, as the English folk song says, the world turned upside down. Attorney General Eric Holder responds to a question from Senator Rand Paul saying he could conceive of a situation in which the U.S. government might kill a citizen on U.S. soil:
“It is possible…to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States. “
In response, Paul dispenses with the new-fangled fake filibuster and goes back to tradition and revives the “Mr. Smith”- version and talks 13 hours non-stop to dramatize his opposition to John Brennan’s CIA nomination and Obama counter-terror policy. To lock it all up, John McCain says that Paul’s contention that the U.S. might have killed Jane Fonda during the days she protested the Vietnam War “ridiculous.”
Actually, McCain has deliberately misunderstood the claim Paul made. He wasn’t saying Lyndon Johnson would’ve killed Fonda or even that a Pres. Obama serving in 1967 would’ve done so. But he IS saying that Obama in this era of kill lists and drone-fire certainly might target say, Julian Assange or Bradley Manning if they were free and doing damage to national security (as Obama and Brennan define it).
So no, this isn’t ridiculous by any stretch of the imagination. This is dead-serious business. And much as I feel great chagrin at agreeing with Rand Paul, whose other ideas I find generally objectionable, he’s dead-right on this issue. No attorney general has any business saying he would approve the murder of a U.S. citizen on native soil. It’s odious. It’s unconstitutional. And it’s “legal” thanks to Holder’s disgusting interpretation of law.
Well, not exactly. Because Paul agreed to end his filibuster when he received a two line message from Holder saying the President doesn’t maintain that it’s legal to kill a U.S. citizen on U.S. who isn’t engaged in armed conflict with the U.S. So Holder affirmed murder of U.S. citizens and then demurred. Shall we say the adminstration’s approach is quite malleable?
So we have a libertarian GOP senator endorsing views that used to be championed by liberal Democrats and we have “moderate” GOP senators shilling for the pro-torture policies of Dick Cheney. What’s this world coming to?
During the Congressional hearing on Brennan’s nomination, Holder was asked if he would approve the murder of a U.S. citizen who was planning a terror attack, but who was sitting at a café enjoying a cappuccino. He had a hard time with that one. I think the idea of firing a drone missile at someone doing something Holder does every day surprised him. Though he ended up saying “no,” I wasn’t convinced. If a Navy SEAL can put a bullet into an unarmed Osama bin Laden while he’s shielded by his wife, they would certainly kill Assange or Manning if they could.
This isn’t your grandfather’s Republic anymore people. This is a brave new world of counter-terror run amok. A world in which a supposedly liberal Democratic president obsessed with blunting a traditional GOP national security advantage, has out Cheney’ed the Cheneys.
Before anyone starts bellyaching about my endorsing anti-Semites, let me cut you off right there. I don’t endorse any other views of Rand Paul than the specific ones he espoused regarding John Brennan’s nomination. Further, I wish I didn’t have to endorse Rand Paul on this or any other issue. But because Obama has abandoned traditional Democratic views on civil liberties, it forces those who’ve stayed true to these values to look elsewhere for support.
A British solution.
Elad R says
Ron Paul presented the question to Holder and Rand Paul initiated the filibuster ?
This is the sad state of democracy in the US and in Israel. This is what democracies have decided they need to do to survive. I share your concerns but I also remind myself every day that as bad as this is, we are the good guys or rather that the others are even worse.
Richard Silverstein says
No, sorry. When “we” behave as badly or worse than the bin Ladens of the world, we’re neither good nor better than them. We ARE them.
Atif Rahman says
http://telegraphindia.com/1130308/jsp/calcutta/story_16645665.jsp#.UTlUj_5YUVU. An unrelated comment. I am from India and Nahoum’s Bakery was my favourite. On my yearly visit to my grandparents home in Calcutta (Now Kolkatta), a visit to Nahoums was a must to load up on all the goodies. A plump and balding David was always at the cash counter chatting with customers. His lemon tart cake was my favourite. I used to see a lot of muslim staffs working in his shop….some in skull caps. He was loved by the muslim community of Kolkatta. His Jewish girls School ( its a large school) had almost 70℅ muslim girls on its roll in the late 1980es. My two cousins studied here.
I want to offer my condolence to his family..
Richard Silverstein says
Thanks for your lovely comment. I wish I knew the man. He sounds absolutely delightful.
Zhu Bajie says
I would expect US citizens are vulnerable to torture and secret imprisonment within the US, as well. Once a tortured confesion is extracted — death.
Bob Reynolds says
how new is this policy. During the Watergate investigation G. Gordon Liddy offered to stand on a designated
corner so Nixon could have him taken out and the US Marshalls protecting John Dean feared he would be assassinated.
Others plotted the deaths of Castro, and Kissinger and Nixon certainly had much to do with the overthrow of
Allende. So they endorsed the right to kill. The question was whether there was ever a restriction on taking out a US citizen. How would we know? Only when GW killed a US citizen in Yemen and more or less bragged about it did
it become an issue.
GHW Bush has been accused of tacit approval of the killing of Letelier in DC which also resulted in the death of
US citizens. GW Bush and his spokesman on these issues, Michael Chertoff always maintained that anything they
claimed they could do to a non citizen could be done to a citizen, just that they would not do it. We really don’t know
what has gone down in the past. Deserters (GW), draft dodgers (Cheney and his crew) and never served (Obama)
must get a real kick out of being able to say “go kill”. Its what a real man would do.
Ken Houghton says
I hate to say it, but I’m with Holder–who at least has the virtue of having been consistent–here. (And, G-d help me, Lindsey Graham.)
Want to imagine an “extraordinary circumstance”? No problem: United 93. As was noted at the time, the legal authority to shoot down the plane (with innocent American citizens on board) was dubious, if not non-existent. (Didn’t stop Dick Cheney from ordering it, but that’s a sidebar for the moment.)
In the wake of The Event, the legal authority was granted. If we’re only talking the difference between using a drone and having to send a fighter pilot up to shoot it down, well, then you’re just haggling over the price.
Is this a good idea? Probably not. Is it the letter of the law? Absolutely. Holder, in both cases, specified that it would require “extraordinary” circumstances–the first explicitly, the second implicity (“not engaged in combat”).
His successors may have a more malleable interpretation of “extraordinary circumstances,” but the standard of those is well-known–and a large portion of the people (especially Senators) who supported Rand Paul’s filibuster have argued that exactly that authority is necessary for the Executive Branch. Having it acknowledged that they might use it was an opportunity for hypocrisy, not “principle.”