From an editorial Friday in the Los Angeles Times:
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., waged a 13-hour filibuster on the Senate floor this week in a futile effort to set clear limits on the administrations use of covert military force. Specifically, Paul wanted the administration to concede that it couldnt legally assassinate Americans on U.S. soil. The idea that a president would approve a drone strike on a citizen sitting at a cafe in Boston or Wichita seems far-fetched, but even the least paranoid among us cant help but be troubled by the administrations less-than-definitive assurances.
We have repeatedly expressed concern about the administrations open-ended approach to targeted assassinations around the world. This weeks discussion shows again that the United States is sliding down a slippery slope, with the government gaining power to head off potential attacks at the expense of individual rights. Its not at all clear where it will stop.
Pauls protest on Wednesday was ostensibly aimed at President Obamas nominee for CIA director, John Brennan. As the presidents top counter-terrorism adviser, Brennan has been an architect of the drone strikes that have killed hundreds of alleged enemy combatants and al-Qaida operatives overseas, including a handful of American citizens.
Paul commandeered the Senate floor to shine a spotlight on Obamas and President George W. Bushs expansive approaches to combating terrorism. As we have warned repeatedly, these presidents have claimed far-reaching authority to summarily execute people they deem a threat to homeland security, with little or no oversight over whom they target or where they carry out the killings.
Paul took the White Houses position to an absurd extreme in arguing that vocal government critics could be targeted for drone strikes in this country. But the fact remains that the administration has widened the definition of an imminent threat and expanded the boundaries of the battlefield where drones can be used.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. tried to dispel concerns in letters to Paul on Monday and on Thursday, when he flatly declared that the president does not have the authority to use a drone to kill a citizen not engaged in combat here in the United States. But just as the Obama administration has stretched the meaning of imminent to cover situations in which theres no evidence of a looming attack, so could future attorneys general interpret combat as something other than actively trying to kill Americans.
The last two administrations have blurred the line separating crimes from acts of war. And even if you trust Obamas judgment, do you want to grant the same discretion to his successors, whoever they might be?
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