On Wednesday night, Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) filibustered the nomination of John Brennan for CIA director for over thirteen hours, treating C-SPAN viewers and Hill staffers forced to come in during the “snowquester” to an extended lecture on American drone policy.
While Paul himself has been a longtime critic of American counterterrorism policy abroad, his filibuster focused on the dangers of applying that policy here in the United States.
Paul did this throughout his speech by describing the standards used for targeted killing abroad and hypothetically applying them to America. “A large percentage of the drone strikes [abroad] have been people who were not carrying arms or in combat. Now, were they bad people? I'm not positive that I can tell you one way or the other, but I don't want that sort of standard to be used in America.”
In other words, while Paul may disapprove of the way that the policy is administered abroad, he’s far more concerned about the targeting of noncombatants without due process here in America.
After all, Paul began his speech by objecting to the possibility “that Americans could be killed in a cafe in San Francisco or in a restaurant in Houston or at their home in bowling green, Kentucky,” calling it an “abomination.”
Recent developments have indicated that like Paul, Americans are becoming more concerned about the possibility of drones being deployed here in the United States, whether for surveillance or targeted killing. Last month, domestic drone usage was the subject of much concern and speculation during the media frenzy over the manhunt for a California cop.
By contrast, like Paul, Americans appear less concerned about the use of drones abroad. While human rights advocates have objected to the use of drones in targeted killings abroad for years now, polling suggests that the vast majority of Americans support the practice.
During his speech, Paul was careful to draw distinctions between the challenges faced in counterterrorism abroad and here in America. He talked about whether it was appropriate for President Obama to bring his “battlefield strategy” home — in other words, whether the standards that the U.S. uses abroad to justify targeted killings are good enough to apply to Americans.
Paul’s answer is that they aren’t: “Maybe the standard can be a - less overseas than it is here for people involved in a battle, but it's getting kind of murky overseas as well, but for goodness sakes in America, we can't just sort of have this idea that we're going to kill noncombatants.”
Let's untangle that statement. It's okay if the standards are lower for targeted killings abroad - he's not a huge fan of it, but he knows it gets complicated sometimes — but for God's sake let's not do that here in America.
Paul concluded his filibuster with a request for a Senate resolution against the use of drones to target “American citizens on American soil.”
Why is the issue of drone strikes so morally clear for Rand Paul when it comes to Americans, and yet so murky when it comes to the rest of the globe? It seems to be a little hypocritical to say that these rights, which are so precious that Paul spoke so eloquently on Wednesday, should only apply to American citizens.
To read the full text of Rand Paul’s filibuster and decide for yourself, check out the unofficial transcript on his Senate website.