Rand Paul Remains Consistent on Drones Strikes and Immediate Threats

Rand Paul

Last month, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) made an impressive, 13-hour stand against the Obama Administration’s domestic drones policy. The Department of Justice had made a tepid legal case for drone strikes against American citizens who are merely suspected of being a terrorist. Attorney General Eric Holder later said that a president could conduct drone strikes on American citizens suspected of terrorist activities inside the United States.

Paul objected to the notion.  “I rise today for the principle,” Paul said during the filibuster. “The principle is one that as Americans we have fought long and hard for and to give up on that principle, to give up on the Bill of Rights, to give up on the Fifth Amendment protection that says that no person shall be held without due process, that no person shall be held for a capital offense without being indicted.”

Holder eventually relented his comments, acknowledging that a president doesn’t have the authority to kill an American citizen on American soil, and the coverage of the filibuster boosted Paul’s profile and added to the speculation that he would seek the Republican nomination in 2016. He would go on to win the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) straw poll just days after giving a dynamic speech in which he essentially laid out a platform for the future of the Republican Party.

But in an appearance yesterday on Fox Business, Paul was asked about the use of drones in a situation similar to the manhunt for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the accused Boston Marathon bomber, who was on the run from police.

“I was thinking of you, Senator, when I saw this guy hiding in a boat in the backyard — remember that one — and I thought, apparently with this thermal imaging you can see a person behind a wall, or in this case a cover,” noted host Neil Cavuto. “And I’m thinking, what else can these guys see? I didn’t even know that they had that ability with a helicopter to do that…then they have the ability to look at me in my home or you in your home or anyone in their home. Now, this was to a desired end, track down a bad guy.”

“Here’s the distinction, Neil, I’ve never argued against any technology being used when you have an imminent threat, an active crime going on,” Paul replied. “If someone comes out of a liquor store with a weapon and $50 in cash. I don’t care if a drone kills him or a policeman kills him.”

Paul was also quick to note that that drones should be used sparingly. “[I]t’s different if they want to come fly over your hot tub or your yard just because they want to do surveillance on everyone and they want to watch everyone,” he explained. “But if there’s a killer loose in a neighborhood, I’m not against drones being used to search them out, heat-seeking devices being used; I’m all for law enforcement. I’m just not for surveillance when there’s not probable cause that a crime is being committed.”

There has been quite a bit of reaction to Paul’s “liquor store” comment. Paul released a statement through his office clarifying his remarks on Fox Business.

“My comments last night left the mistaken impression that my position on drones had changed,” Paul said in the statement. “Let me be clear: it has not. Armed drones should not be used in normal crime situations. They only may only be considered in extraordinary, lethal situations where there is an ongoing, imminent threat. I described that scenario previously during my Senate filibuster.”

“Additionally, surveillance drones should only be used with warrants and specific targets,” he continued. “Fighting terrorism and capturing terrorists must be done while preserving our constitutional protections. This was demonstrated last week in Boston. As we all seek to prevent future tragedies, we must continue to bear this in mind.”

There was nothing at all inconsistent in Paul’s comments on Fox Business, despite the rumblings we may read online. Paul has said in the past that there is an exemption imminent threat, so the position he’s taken in the past is consistent with comments he’s made in the past. In the first hour of last month’s filibuster, Paul made it clear that anyone considered to be an “imminent threat” would also need to be an “immediate threat,” otherwise they should be arrested and be given due process.

The comments Paul made last night are still consistent with the constitutional principles he defended during the filiibuster.

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