In March, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) launched a high-profile filibuster on the Senate floor, bringing attention to drone strikes and civil liberties questions that too often go ignored. But as the spectacle faded, a problem emerged – Paul didn’t seem to fully understand the issue he ostensibly cares so much about.
The Kentucky Republican wanted to know if the Obama administration feels it has the authority to “use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil.” Attorney General Eric Holders said the “answer to that question is no.” For many involved in the debate, the answer was superficial and incomplete – who gets to define what constitutes “combat”? what about non-weaponized drones? – but Paul declared victory and walked away satisfied.
Today, the senator went further, saying he’s comfortable with drones being used over U.S. soil if the executive branch decides – without a warrant or oversight – there’s an “imminent threat.” Paul told Fox News:
“…I’ve never argued against any technology being used when you an imminent threat, an active crime going on. If someone comes out of a liquor store with a weapon and 50 dollars in cash, I don’t care if a drone kills him or a policeman kills him. But it’s different if they want to come fly over your hot tub, or your yard just because they want to do surveillance on everyone, and they want to watch your activities.”
I realize it’s difficult to explore complex policy questions in detail during a brief television interview, and perhaps if the Republican senator had more time to think about it, he might explain his position differently. But as of this afternoon, it sounds like Rand Paul is comfortable with the executive branch having the warrantless authority to use weaponized drones to kill people on American soil suspected of robbing a liquor store.
But flying over a hot tub is where he draws the line.
To reiterate a point from early March, those with legitimate questions about the legality, morality, and efficacy of counter-terrorism strikes could use more champions shining a light on the issue. These are critical, life-and-death questions that need to be subjected to a transparent debate.
But Rand Paul is a poor choice to serve as one of those champions. His positions, whatever their merit, appear poorly thought out, they lack depth, and the senator generally seems to have a poor grasp of the policies themselves.
I can appreciate why some want to “stand with Rand” because of the underlying principles at stake, and the need for high-profile political leaders willing to take principled stands on civil liberties, but Paul is not the hero civil libertarians have been waiting for.