Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Why Rand Paul has NOT flip-flopped on domestic drone use

For those of you who are unaware, Rand Paul is in hot water with libertarians once again. In a recent interview with Neil Cavuto on Fox News, Paul appeared to contradict the stance he famously filibustered for 13 hours this February, saying:
"I've never argued against any technology being used when you have an imminent threat, an active crime going on," Paul said. "If someone comes out of a liquor store with a weapon and fifty dollars in cash. I don't care if a drone kills him or a policeman kills him."
This prompted outrage on many libertarian websites, as many who pledged to "Stand with Rand" during his filibuster felt betrayed. This is understandable, because Paul's statement was initially unclear and unsettling.

However, once clarified, Paul's statements do not represent a reversal in position. He was never opposed to the existence of drones as a technology in our arsenal, nor to their use in certain rare situations - even domestically. He has always made exceptions to his opposition to drones in cases of an "imminent threat", or, as he said in his comments the other day, "an active crime going on." In these situations, drones are merely a tool, which can be used in the same way other uses of force can be used. He said as much in his filibuster. His armed liquor store robber example was a poorly distinguished attempt to exemplify this, which he later clarified. Conceivably, a policeman  could be in a situation in which he has legal permission to shoot that robber - perhaps he's drawn into a firefight, or a standoff of some sort. What Rand is saying is that if the government is legally permitted to shoot that man with a gun, they're also legally permitted to use other weapons for the same purpose: perhaps a grenade, or a tank, or a drone. This is permissible because police forces generally have very specific legislated conditions which must be met before lethal force is justifiable; if lethal force is used without meeting that legal standard, harsh consequences are (theoretically) levied on the officer responsible.

What Paul was opposed to in his filibuster was the lack of legal standard to determine when drones can and can't be used domestically, such that the executive controlling the military was made into judge, jury, and executioner. What he was opposed to was the idea that the president can target citizens on a kill list by defining imminent threat expansively, such that it includes people who are not engaged in violence at the moment, but have incited the FBI's suspicion due to extremist ideas conducive to violence, or prior crimes, or association with other suspected terrorists. He was and is opposed to the president assuming the authority to make these distinctions without checks from other branches - a power he lacks for the domestic use of other technologies. He was and is opposed to the classification of the USA as a battlefield on which the rules of war, rather than the legal protections of the constitution, justify killing first and asking questions later. Paul filibustered in an attempt to get a legal standard restricting the president's unchecked power to kill ill-defined "domestic enemy combatants" without trial - NOT to remove armed drones as a law enforcement or military tool altogether.

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