Last week, in his historic filibuster, Senator Rand Paul provoked Attorney General Eric Holder to relinquish the right to assassinate American citizens on American soil - a claim previously made in a Department of Justice White Paper. In so doing, we have established the first real boundary for the use of drones in American foreign policy. Senator Paul has since stated the drone debate “isn’t over” and that this victory is “just the beginning.” Senator Paul is pioneering a winning strategy to incrementally advance freedom within a broader liberty movement.
The memo from the Attorney General, which stated the President could not “use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil,” was too restrictive on who could not be targeted, and does not go far enough to guarantee due process for all Americans. Indeed, the memo notably omitted the word “actively” from Senator Paul’s requested protection. Senator Paul himself has stated the memo “parsed too many words and phrases, to instill confidence in its willingness or ability to protect our liberty.”
Speaking of his filibuster, Paul goes on:
“I wanted everybody to know that our Constitution is precious and that no American should be killed by a drone without first being charged with a crime. As Americans, we have fought long and hard for the Bill of Rights. The idea that no person shall be held without due process, and that no person shall be held for a capital offense without being indicted, is a founding American principle and a basic right.”
Do the natural rights of Life and Liberty, endowed by our Creator, only extend to Americans on American soil? And, frankly, do natural rights only apply to Americans? More specifically, does the U.S. government claim the right to assassinate noncombatants such as Red Cross workers, civilians, and children, via drone?
What about Americans on foreign soil? Consider the case of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, the 16-year old son of the American born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, killed on October 14, 2011, two weeks after his father. While the father was indeed involved in nefarious activities, Abdulrahman was dining outside with friends when he was assassinated, and has never been accused of wrong-doing. An Administration official stated Abdulrahman was “in the wrong place at the wrong time,” and that “the U.S. government did not know that Mr. Awlaki’s son was there” before the airstrike was ordered, implying complicity with assassinating children that are not U.S. citizens.
What about Red Cross workers? Hussein Saleh, a 35-year-old Yemeni Red Cross worker, was killed via drone strike in June 2012. Humanitarian workers have historically been protected by international humanitarian law; the strike killing Mr. Saleh violates the Geneva Conventions (particularly the Fourth General Convention of 1949) as well as the Law of Armed Conflict, which specifically “prohibits attacks on noncombatants.”
What about underaged noncombatants? A report by the New America Foundation found the number of foreign noncombatants killed by drones in Pakistan alone was 261-305 from 2004 to 2013, an independent report put that number at 3,000+ civilians killed; Senator Lindsey Graham, the drone program’s fiercest proponent, recently claimed the number was 4,700. Of these victims, 176 were children; only one in 50 killed by drone was a confirmed terrorist.
What about funeral and wedding attendees? A 2012 study by Stanford and New York Universities entitled “Living Under Drones” revealed a deadly pattern colloquially known as “double tap,” in which CIA drone pilots rapidly conduct a second strike on a previous target, targeting both rescuers and funeral goers. Again, strikes such as these violate the Geneva Conventions.
More questions need to be asked: If a U.S. Marine killed those listed above, would he be reprimanded? Could Americans legally be targeted while traveling abroad? Senator Rand Paul rallied Americans to oppose drone strikes 1) on Americans 2) engaged in combat 3) on American soil. As Senator Paul linked to an article on Anwar Al-Awlaki in his Washington Post op-ed, I am betting he will challenge #3, Americans targeted on foreign soil, first.