You are browsing the archive for Rand Paul.

Killing us softly

1:48 pm in Uncategorized by Shahid Buttar

John Brennan - Caricature

John Brennan - Caricature

Why Holder’s letter carries little water

Last week, Senator Rand Paul (R-TX) forced a long overdue conversation in Washington about checks and balances on executive power. Yet few observers recognize the ultimate importance of his actions, or why the Senate’s confirmation of the new CIA director remained premature.

Prompted by Sen. Paul’s filibuster last Wednesday, Attorney General Holder wrote a letter the following day, acknowledging that our government lacks authority to execute Americans within the US without trial.

His concession is welcome, but must be taken with a grain of salt. It behooves observers to understand why, for several reasons, Holder’s statement may be less secure than we would ideally hope.

Accepting disclosure without investigation

Much of the controversy surrounding Brennan’s nomination concerned mere disclosure: whether the executive branch would let Congress read the administration’s legal analysis governing the targeted assassination program. President Obama apparently heard the message, admitting in his State of the Union address that more transparency is required.

The result proved underwhelming. One congressional committee received a single legal memo among several, which did not even purport to delineate the boundaries of the assassination program, but rather explored the use of deadly authority against a single target among several hundred who have been killed, including at least four US citizens.

Mere disclosure of some OLC memos to some Senators is insufficient.

Meaningful congressional oversight requires full access to all the legal memos, as well as active investigation of the underlying facts. It is not enough to simply read executive legal analyses paying lip service to constitutional values routinely violated on the ground.

The congressional intelligence committees, after all, were founded after robust investigations revealed widespread abuses by intelligence agencies, including the CIA, spanning decades and the terms of several presidents. Factual investigation has revealed more recent abuses, as well.

Last year, the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded a thorough investigation of torture, which produced a report recognizing torture as an international human rights abuse that ultimately undermined US national security by producing false intelligence, eroding pro American sentiment abroad, and helping our enemies recruit foot soldiers.

Yet, reflecting its pattern of embracing secrecy while claiming transparency, the Obama administration has refused to declassify the report. It is only because neither the press nor the public know the facts that irresponsible Hollywood fiction proved so problematic and controversial.

Forgotten in commentary on Brennan’s confirmation were some troubling details suggesting that, on both torture and drone strikes, transparency remains inadequate.

First, Senators had to fight tooth & nail to secure even the most minimal disclosure from the White House. Second, other congressional committees also sought access to the OLC assassination memos, but were denied.

Finally, beyond disclosure of the OLC’s legal memos are important questions about how the standards in them are applied to real facts. The Obama administration and CIA still refuse to answer congressional questions beyond the memos—such as, “How much evidence does the President need to determine that a particular American can be lawfully killed?” These questions are crucial, but Brennan’s confirmation could ensure that Congress receives few answers.

How the facts suggest elastic powers
Read the rest of this entry →

Bipartisan Senate filibuster challenges Brennan CIA nomination

12:31 pm in Uncategorized by Shahid Buttar

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)
A bipartisan filibuster of John Brennan’s nomination to lead the CIA riveted Washington on Wednesday. Senators from both sides of the partisan aisle, led by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), took to the Senate floor to force further debate on a nomination that should not proceed.

Sen. Paul’s 12 hours of comments included a succinct and clear expression of his concerns:

I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court.

Brennan’s nomination presents a rare window of accountability, and Senators are right to use it as an occasion to challenge an administration prone to self-congratulation about transparency, even while extending government secrecy and executive fiat to unprecedented levels.

How we got here

Brennan was deemed unfit to lead the CIA four years ago, because of his record at an agency whose institutional hands remain stained by human rights abuses for which it has never faced (and indeed actively obstructed) justice.

Even worse than the CIA’s human rights abuses, or its self-serving destruction of evidence of international crimes, is an expanding set of disturbing claims by executive branch officials that must be rejected for our Constitution to survive.

Attorney General Eric Holder testified about the power to kill Americans without trial before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, after sending a related letter to Sen. Paul the day before. His letter asserted the authoritarian power to kill Americans without trial, even within the United States, followed by congressional testimony arguing that Congress’ Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) in Afghanistan could also justify military action within the US.

Those conclusions, put simply, render our country unfit to be considered part of the free world, let alone its leader.

In 2001, Congress enacted the AUMF to enable the invasion of Afghanistan, not authorize domestic warfare. Moreover, it has already been stretched well beyond the limits of plausible interpretation: even before President Obama came to the White House, the AUMF was cited to justify the detention of US citizens in military custody without proof of crime.

Senators from both parties had previously raised concerns about assassination without trial, which is absolutely illegal under not only the US Constitution, but even the Magna Carta. The administration’s responses to their inquiries unfortunately make matters only worse.

This week’s developments

On the one hand, Holder claims that the authority to arbitrarily kill Americans within the US could be triggered only by an extraordinary event on par with Pearl Harbor or the 9/11 attacks. On the other hand, the few legal limits that executive officials have previously acknowledged are themselves routinely violated in practice. In other words, nothing would prevent this extreme power from being used abusively.

Until this week, the battle over Brennan’s nomination had focused on disclosure: whether the Holder Justice Department (and, in particular, its Office of Legal Counsel infamous for authorizing torture under the Bush demonstration) would give Congress key documents that members have long sought to identify the legal standards under which the administration conducts drone strikes targeting American citizens.

After members of the intelligence committee (but not other senators) were allowed access to the documents, the committee approved Brennan’s nomination, sending it to the Senate floor where a bipartisan band of Senators managed yesterday to stall it, at least for the moment.

They are right to raise resistance. As Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) said:

Senator Paul and I agree that this nomination also provides a very important opportunity for the United States Senate to consider the government’s rules and policies on the targeted killings of Americans and that, of course, has been a central pillar of our nation’s counterterror strategy.

Especially encouraging was the reaction of other Senators to Sen. Paul’s filibuster. While he began alone, Wyden’s support rendered it a bipartisan effort, despite Wyden’s vote in committee to approve Brennan’s nomination to send it to the Senate floor.  In addition, several GOP senators eventually joined him, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Mike Lee (R-UT), Ted Cruz (R-TX), John Thune (R-SD), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Tim Scott (R-SC), and Dean Heller (R-NV).

The battle continues, with Senate Democrats continuing to seek confirmation as early as this weekend. But as the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin asks:

Where, for goodness’ sake, are the liberal civil libertarians? Where are the Republicans (who would filibuster Chuck Hagel, but only for show, and only briefly)? Where, for that matter, are the mainstream media and the liberal punditocracy that would be calling for impeachment about now if a Republican president had done all this?….

And so it’s come to this: Rand Paul talking all by himself on the Senate floor. On one level, it shows the power of a single senator to make a difference. On the other hand, it is a very sad statement on the intellectual collapse of both the right and the left — and most especially of the media, whose first impulse in this administration is to circle the wagons around the White House.