Yesterday’s revelations about drone strikes that killed several Americans in January raised anew all kinds of questions about the underlying national security policy. Does the U.S. drone policy work? Why is there so little transparency? What safeguards are in place to prevent deadly mistakes? Should responsibility for implementing the policy be under military or CIA control? To what degree is due process even considered?
Do officials even know who’s being targeted by the drone strikes themselves?
These are questions that deserve answers, and given his background and purported areas of concern, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) seems like the kind of policymaker to ask them. As of yesterday, however, the Republican presidential candidate had very little to say. Dave Weigel reported:
Paul avoided the more public entrances to the Senate floor, the places where reporters are typically able to grab senators for quotes. Initially, his Senate office said via e-mail that he would not have an immediate response to the killings. At 1:54 p.m., his campaign sent over a statement. “It is a tragedy that these Americans lost their lives,” said Paul. “My prayers and thoughts are with their families.”Minutes later, Paul’s Senate office sent over a slightly different statement, clarifying that he was talking about the American hostage, Warren Weinstein. He did not address the killings of Ahmed Farouq and Adam Gadahn, two American citizens who had joined al-Qaeda and were killed in drone strikes.
It was hard not to notice how far the Kentucky senator has traveled since 2013. He used to go out on a limb on this issue, and now, he’s clearly climbed back.
It was just two years ago that Rand Paul was at the center of a lengthy spectacle on the Senate floor, speaking for nearly 13 hours about U.S. drone policy. Taking advantage of John Brennan’s CIA nomination, the GOP lawmaker demanded to know, “Does the president have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?”
The Justice Department responded a day later with a one-sentence reply – no, the president does not have the authority – and Paul said he was satisfied.
But Paul’s interest in the issue continued. Two months later, he said drone strikes as part of a counter-terrorism policy are at odds with the American system of due process. In May 2014, the senator railed against a presidential judicial nominee, again over drones.
He then quietly started shifting his posture. In fact, exactly one year ago yesterday, Rand Paul said on Fox News that he’s comfortable with the executive branch having the authority to use drones on Americans over U.S. soil if an administration perceives an “imminent threat.” The senator even went so far as to say, “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.”
The Republican tried to walk that back soon after, though his explanation was woefully incomplete.
And now, a year later, Paul seems eager to avoid the subject altogether.