CIA headquarters in McLean, Virginia. (Reuters/Larry Downing)
Now that John Brennan, confirmed by a Senate vote of 63-34, is headed to the Central Intelligence Agency, it’s the perfect time for Brennan, President Obama and the national security establishment to come clean on torture, drones and other legacies of the George W. Bush–inspired “Global War on Terror.”
The president has pledged transparency. Let’s see.
Meanwhile, kudos to Senator Rand Paul, the Kentucky Tea Party libertarian, who, like the proverbial stopped-clock that is right every now and then, was dead right on the issues he raised in filibustering Brennan. Thanks to Paul, we now know that the Obama administration at least toyed with the possibility of using drones to kill Americans here at home, on US soil, if circumstances were deemed appropriate. To tell you the truth, I’m not convinced, yet, that they’ve ruled it out, even though Attorney General Eric Holder told Senator Paul that the president does not have the authority to use drones at home. He left wiggle room in his response, suggesting that drones (and presumably other Pentagon capabilities) might be utilized at home during a terrorist attack. Senator Diane Feinstein chimed in that, well, we can use the Pentagon to shoot down airplanes that have been hijacked, an extreme case that begs the slippery-slope question: And what else?
As Roll Call reports:
Paul, a Kentucky Republican, rallied his party around the concerns he raised about domestic drone strikes during an almost 13-hour filibuster Thursday. In a less-than-50-word response Thursday to Paul’s request for clarification on administration policy, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. wrote to the senator to say “no,” President Barack Obama does not have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil.
So what does “not engaged in combat” mean? If a gang of terrorists—and never mind Al Qaeda, what about a band of Tim McVeighs?—is engaged in violence, can the military be called in? Drones? How about cruise missiles? The capabilities of the Pentagon, the National Security Agency and DOD’s Northern Command are so vast that the sorts of surveillance and counterterrorism forces that can be brought to bear are staggering, especially in a case such as terrorism that is essentially a law-enforcement matter.