Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is threatening to hold up the nomination of John Brennan for CIA director unless he gets answers to his questions about drones. He talked to National Journal about his concerns about the administration’s targeted-killing program. Edited excerpts of the interview follow.
NJ You’ve asked the Obama administration whether it believes it can kill an American citizen on U.S. soil. Have you received an answer?
PAUL We’ve been sending questions to Brennan for weeks, and we’ve gotten no responses. I think there’s a certain bit of arrogance that they’re not even willing to respond to us at all. I’ve gotten some indirect response from Chairman [Dianne] Feinstein of the Intelligence Committee. [Brennan told Feinstein] that they have not done such strikes as of yet and don’t have any intention to do so. I want to hear the answer that they are not assuming the authority, or they do not believe they have the authority to kill Americans on American soil with a program from the Department of Defense or the CIA.
NJ President Obama also said there has never been a strike against a U.S. citizen on American soil and that rules for the use of drones outside the country are going to be different than for those inside.
PAUL That sort of implies they’re assuming they have some kind of authority inside the United States.
NJ Why is it so important to get a yes or no answer?
PAUL Americans thought it was important that you get a warrant before tapping someone’s phone. I think they would want some due process before they were killed. This pales in comparison to even warrantless wiretapping, because that’s an invasion of your privacy; now we’re talking about killing you. There has to be some kind of judicial oversight. We have terrible people who commit terrible crimes in our country, murderers and rapists. But we don’t summarily execute any of them. They all get a trial, a lawyer on their side. We want to make sure the people who are punished are the guilty ones.
NJ Did something lead you to believe the government is considering this?
PAUL What they’re saying is, “We have the right to do this, not only in Afghanistan.” They’re using the Authorization for Use of Force that was for the war in Afghanistan; they’re using it for war all around the world now. The obvious follow-up question would be: “If you have no geographic limitations, does that also include the United States?” And [Brennan] won’t answer the question.
NJ Should there be some kind of judicial-review process before a suspected American terrorist is killed overseas?
PAUL Overseas, if you’re an American, there should be a process. With [Anwar al-Awlaki], I think there is evidence he was a traitor. I didn’t have a lot of sympathy for him being killed. However, I would have had a federal trial. If he didn’t come home, I would have allowed him to have representation, or I would have appointed representation. He could have been tried whether he was here or not. If the evidence is secret, go into closed session even in a federal court with a jury, convict him of treason, and the penalty for treason can be death.
It gets a little more tricky when you get to noncitizens; I don’t think they all deserve trials. But for goodness sake, if you were born here and you’re traveling overseas, do you want to worry that if you’re in Paris you’re going to get bombed in a café? There needs to be a process of accusation, trial, conviction.
NJ You’re also concerned about the use of drones at home for surveillance. Congress has paved the way for U.S. skies to be open to domestic drones by 2015. Do you see a policy window to regulate their use before then?
PAUL I have a bill that says you have to have a warrant. If I’m a policeman and want to see what you’re doing in your house, I cannot come to your house without going to a judge. That is a basic fundamental process that we have. In fact, one of the things we fought the war with Britain over was that Britain was writing general warrants—writs of assistance—that James Otis really fought against in the 20 years leading up to the American Revolution. They were saying, “We can go into any house when we feel like it.”
When we wrote our Constitution, the Fourth Amendment says it has to be specific to the person and the place. If I’ve got 40 acres, whether it’s open or not, the government doesn’t have the right to come on my property, unless I’m accused of committing a crime or a judge gives permission. We shouldn’t just be crisscrossing the skies with drones. The Environmental Protection Agency is using them on farmers, and every sheriff’s office and state patrol is trying to buy them. I’m not against the technology; I just think it needs to be used properly.
This article appears in the March 2, 2013, edition of National Journal as Hard Target.