Sen. Rand Paul has made no secret of his plan to run for president in 2016. Some say his filibuster last week was simply the first step in his presidential campaign. Maybe so, but there are worse places to begin than with this principle: that American citizens have the right to defend themselves against accusations of wrongdoing in a court of law.
That's leadership. Thanks Sen. Paul for showing Congress how it's done.
But the debate must not stop here.
Since President Bush was in office and increasingly under President Obama, America has been using drone warfare to kill targets in Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. Between 3,000 and 5,000 people – many of them civilians— have been killed in these attacks, including three Americans, one a 16-year-old boy.
All of this has occurred with practically no Congressional oversight or public discussion.
Is this the kind of America we want – a country that justifies killing civilians with the press of a button, from a computer terminal thousands of miles away? And dismisses those deaths as "collateral damage"?
So could the administration use a military drone to kill a U.S. citizen on United States soil, bypassing the legal system and the civil rights of American citizens?
Paul asked Attorney General Eric Holder for an answer.
"As Americans, we have fought long and hard for the Bill of Rights," he wrote in the Washington Post Saturday. "I wanted everybody to know that our Constitution is precious and no American should be killed by a drone without first being charged with a crime."
Holder's first response said drones would only be used in some unnamed "extraordinary circumstance." That didn't satisfy Paul.
After the filibuster, Holder sent another letter that went further: "Does the president have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil? No."
Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden has been pushing the administration to account for what it's doing in the name of the American people. It took Wyden two years and seven letters to get that information for the Senate Intelligence Committee. That's unacceptable.
Wyden joined Paul's filibuster on the Senate floor, to highlight the need for Congressional oversight. He was the only Democrat to do so. We applaud him for that.
Don't accuse us of paranoia. It's not a stretch to think that Americans might be deceived by our government. The "intelligence" that persuaded us to go to war with Iraq turned out to be a lie. The CIA has a long, dirty history of killing "enemies" in foreign countries, while pretending its hands are clean.
Now, we're supposed to believe that everyone who dies in a military drone strike is a terrorist or an enemy fighter. We're sorry, but "just trust us" isn't good enough. This is a 21st century democracy not a third-world country.
Who's to say that a few years down the road, another president won't decide to misuse executive authority to get rid of a rival, or for other reasons?
Shrouded in secrecy, the military drone program threatens America's standing in the international community, as well as our safety here at home. We need an honest accounting of America's military drone policy and how it is being used.
What do you think? Should the American public know how we decide who's an enemy combatant and can be killed by a drone?