Drones, Drama & Filibuster: Oh My!

March 6, 2013

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said on a CNN appearance in mid-February that support for President Barack Obama’s drone program was “very scary and worrisome” and he feared it could open a “Pandora’s box” about government’s power. 

Today’s decision by Sen. Paul — who was elected in 2010 with support from the Tea Party – to orchestrate a genuine filibuster focused on the potential for the Obama administration to use drones to attack an American on U.S. soil is not a shock.

 Scanning various news sources today, I almost concluded that Barack Obama invented the drone, and that he has been the unilateral champion of its use.  Paul went so far to say that, “Obama will be the executioner-in-chief if he sees fit.”

What seems to be missing from the news reports is that the first U.S. use of an unmanned Predator drone in a targeted killing took place over eleven years ago (February 2002) in Afghanistan, near the city of Khost.  In that case, CIA sources revealed at the time that the intended target was Osama bin Laden.  Journalists on the ground in Afghanistan learned from local Afghans that the dead men were unarmed civilians gathering scrap metal.

 Then-CIA Director Donald Rumsfeld explained: “A decision was made to fire the Hellfire missile. It was fired.”  – This information was primarily sourced from an article John Sifton wrote which appeared in a February 2012 edition of The Nation.

A Reuters story which ran in the NY Daily News on March 3, 2013 tells us:

“Tens of thousands of domestic drones already are in use nationwide, with more to come. They hover over Hollywood film sets and professional sports events. They track wildfires in Colorado, survey Kansas farm crops and vineyards in California.  They inspect miles of industrial pipeline and monitor wildlife, river temperatures and volcanic activity.  They also locate marijuana fields, reconstruct crime scenes and spot illegal immigrants breaching U.S. borders.

Increase of use in drones by law enforcement, movie studios, environmental organizations and the news media, comes as the U.S. government prepares to issue commercial drone permits in 2015. Many of those already flying do so without the proper permits. Currently, just 327 FAA-issued permits are active.”

Prior to his decision to filibuster today, Sen. Paul had publicly pushed the Commander in Chief to declare his position on the use of drones.  On February 21, Sen. Paul had said, “The question which I and many others have asked is not whether the administration has or intends to carry out drone strikes inside the United States, but whether it believes it has the authority to do so. This is an important distinction.”

In a March 4 letter to Sen. Paul, Attorney General Eric Holder said that such domestic use of drones is “entirely hypothetical, unlikely to occur and one we hope no President will ever have to confront.”  Holder also said he couldn’t rule it out under an “extraordinary circumstance.”

Paul’s assertion that the administration has failed to provide sufficient assurances on the issue of drone usage is not universally supported among Republican legislators.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mi), chairman of the House intelligence committee said, “Any suggestion that the United States would use drone strikes against U.S. citizens in the United States is irresponsible.  Suggesting that such a thing is being contemplated provokes needless fear and detracts attention from the real threats facing the country.”

Certainly, as this saga unfolds new information will emerge, meanwhile, it seems to be ‘much ado about nothing’.

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