Republican Rand Paul took to the floor of the U.S. Senate this week to filibuster John Brennan's nomination to become head of the CIA. "I will speak as long as it takes," the junior senator from Kentucky said, "until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court."
I imagine many Americans following news of the filibuster, which lasted nearly 13 hours, were finding out for the first time that lawmakers such as Paul, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and a handful of others are gravely concerned about a possible threat from the executive branch against these unalienable rights. This makes the filibuster a success. As Paul said, sounding the alarm from "coast to coast" was exactly his aim.
Was this unusual event the filibuster heard 'round the world? At least the country has been alerted to the fact that the Obama administration, in the persons of the president himself, the attorney general and the CIA director-designate, has been alarmingly vague and/or downright unresponsive to repeated, specific questions from Paul and Cruz. The two senators want to know whether the administration believes the Constitution permits the president to order drone strikes against noncombatant American citizens on American soil, thus depriving them of their Fifth Amendment guarantee of due process and, of course, their lives.
It is important to note that neither Paul nor Cruz is questioning the power of the president to defend the country against an "imminent" threat -- any act of war or terrorism such as Pearl Harbor or 9/11. They are not even in this case questioning the legality of drone attacks on Americans overseas. Instead, it is the narrow possibility that the administration might target noncombatants here -- "at a restaurant in Houston or at their home in Bowling Green, Kentucky," as Paul dramatically put it -- that has focused the concern of these freshman powerhouses.
And so it should concern the rest of us -- and not just the Arab-American citizen Rand Paul invoked in hour one, who, for communicating via email with a terrorist-relative in the Middle East, Paul believes, could potentially become a drone target of the Obama administration. By hour four, Paul was discussing the many overseas drone attacks the U.S. has carried out on what we know as "caravans" -- people, Paul said, "going from a place where we think there are bad people to another place where there are bad people." Could it happen here, he wondered?