Did Rand Paul Ask the Wrong Questions in His Drone Filibuster?

But Paul's subsequent filibuster concerns an answer the administration had not really given to a question the senator hadn't really asked.

Consider this set of questions I sent to Paul's office last Friday:

According to the Los Angeles Times transcript of Sen. Paul's remarks, he suggested that the Administration took the position that "Americans could be killed in a cafe in San Francisco or in a restaurant in Houston or at their home in Bowling Green, Kentucky." Can you cite to me the passage in the Holder letter, or any other official statement, that asserted the authority to kill Americans in cafes, restaurants, and homes?

Can you cite to me a passage in any letter from Sen. Paul to Gen. Holder or Dir. Brennan where Sen. Paul asks whether the administration asserts authority to kill Americans at home in the US in cafes, restaurants, or homes?

Again, later in the remarks, he stated that he had been asking the Administration for a month to offer assurances that "no, we won't kill Americans in cafes; no, we won't kill you at home in your bed at night; no, we won't drop bombs on restaurants." Please cite to me the specific places where Sen. Paul asked the administration whether it had authority to kill Americans in cafes, or restaurants, or in bed. What response did he receive?

Again, later in the remarks, Sen. Paul asks, "if you are sitting in a cafeteria in Dearborn, Mich., if you happen to be an Arab-American who has a relative in the Middle East and you communicate with them by e-mail and somebody says, oh, your relative is someone we suspect of being associated with terrorism, is that enough to kill you?" Can you tell me where and when Sen. Paul posed this question to the administration prior to the delivery of his remarks? What if any answer did he receive?

Again, in the remarks, Sen. Paul asks, "Are you going to just drop a drone, a hell-fired missile on Jane Fonda?" because she had allegedly been sympathetic with the enemy. Can you tell me where in his previous correspondence Sen. Paul had asked a question about this type of situation--whether, that is, the administration claims authority to use drones against those who peacefully sympathize with the enemy? What if any answer did he receive?

As Holder noted in a later letter, the above represents an "additional question": whether the government asserted the authority to kill "an American not engaged in combat on American soil." The answer, Holder said, was no.

I have reached out to Paul's office by email, fax and phone. A week later, they haven't responded.

By diverting attention to a hypothetical drone strike on Jane Fonda, Paul has created the 2013 version of the 2009 "death panels." No matter how many liberal columnists he wowed, he has done a disservice to the national interest by making it harder to address the real issues we face.

But higher blame should go to the Obama Administration, which failed to understand its responsibility to address both Congress and the people, and to enunciate clear limits on its authority to use this new technology. By doing so, they have sown the wind. We will be lucky if this political whirlwind is all they reap.

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Garrett Epps is a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He teaches constitutional law and creative writing for law students at the University of Baltimore. His latest book is American Justice 2014: Nine Clashing Visions on the Supreme Court.

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