In recent years, the Senate filibuster has been used too many times, in the wrong way, to undeserving ends. It has become a partisan procedural speedbump, one that no longer requires a senator take and hold the floor and refuse to yield until he's had his say on a topic of overriding importance.
Wednesday was the exception. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky, staged a "talking filibuster" against CIA director-nominee John Brennan. He didn't do it with the expectation that he would prevent Brennan's confirmation. He hoped to delay it only long enough to start an important conversation about the use of armed drones.
At issue was the answer to a question Paul has been posing to Obama administration officials for months: Does the president claim the authority to wage lethal drone attacks against U.S. citizens on American soil?
The answer he finally received from Attorney General Eric Holder was both vague and troubling: "It is possible, I suppose, 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."
Nobody doubts the authority of the president to use the military to repel to a Pearl Harbor-like attack by a foreign power, or to stop an imminent terrorist attack like those of Sept. 11, 2001, Rand said. The question is whether, in the name of protecting the country from terrorists, the president is hanging an asterisk on the Constitution's promise of due process.
Drone strikes have become the weapon of choice in America's war against foreign terrorists. As a battlefield weapon, drones can be effective at eliminating enemies without risking U.S. casualties, though the damage they have done to America's reputation is considerable.
The problem is with the definition of the battlefield. Ever since 9/11, national leaders from both parties have painted a picture of a new kind of war, a perpetual war against unnamed enemies, waged on a global battlefield. But if the battlefield includes the U.S., bringing with it the same rules of engagement the military and CIA use in Pakistan, Afghanistan or Yemen, the guarantees the Bill of Rights makes to the accused are nullified.
It's one thing for the administration to have a "hit list" of targets abroad on which drone strikes are authorized. But in this country, if someone is suspected of a crime, he must be apprehended, arrested and put on trial. No president can have the authority to let a Hellfire missile replace a judge and jury.
To his credit, CIA nominee Brennan was unequivocal in his declaration that the CIA has no authority to execute drone strikes in the U.S. Holder should issue an equally definitive statement.
Page 2 of 2 - As Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said in making Paul's filibuster bipartisan, "this is just the beginning of the debate." The debate should lead to legislation putting strict limits on the domestic use of these deadly weapons.
— MetroWest Daily News