Here’s an ostensibly simple question to answer: Do you support drone strikes against American citizens?
Well, that’s probably not as clear as it should be: Should the U.S. government be allowed to use drones to kill Americans who have committed acts of terror against the country?
What if these American-born terrorists are still living in the U.S., would it be okay to use a drone to kill an American-born terrorist living in Cleveland or San Francisco or Detroit? What if they’re no longer engaged in terrorist activity?
Yet, a more important question might be: Is it even constitutional to kill an American citizen using a drone? To put it another way, is it constitutional for the government to act as judge, jury and executioner? After all, the Fifth Amendment states, in part, that no person shall be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has, to some extent, investigated these questions recently. On Thursday, during his 13-hour long filibuster of the official appointment of CIA Director John Brennan, Paul rebuked the Obama administration’s wishy-washy position on this contentious issue.
“The fact that the Obama Administration has told a U.S. Senator that there is a circumstance where the government could target and kill an American citizen on American soil without charge or without trial is a stark example of an imperial presidency,” said Paul in his speech.
“This is what our founding fathers tried to protect us from,” he continued.
“The U.S. Attorney General’s refusal to rule out the possibility of drone strikes on American citizens and on American soil is more than frightening — it is an affront to the Constitutional due process rights of all Americans.”
Paul was specifically referencing a letter written by Attorney General Eric Holder in which he left the door open for the government to kill Americans on U.S. soil with drones during exigent or extraordinary circumstances.
However, since Paul’s filibuster, Holder has released another letter clarifying the administration’s position.
“Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on U.S. soil?” the letter stated. “The answer to that is no.”
Doubling down on that response was White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, who said at a Thursday press briefing, “The president has not and would not use drone strikes against American citizens on American soil.”
Paul was pleased with the answers he received from the White House. “Through the advise and consent process, I’ve got an important answer,” but he still has some reservations about the government’s drone policy.
At this point, it should be noted that U.S. citizens who are perceived to be engaging in terrorist activity on U.S. soil are not protected. They are fair game; they are drone bait.
Likewise, American-born terrorists living abroad are also fair game (Anwar al-Awlaki and his 17-year-old son, both American born, can attest to that. They were killed in a 2011 drone strike in Yemen). Since the War on Terror began, the government has killed at least four Americans using drones, according to the Washington Post. All were overseas and suspected terrorists.
Final question: If the Constitution says what it says and it means what it means, why is this subject even up for debate?