More than one full day after Rand Paul launched his high-profile effort to extract an unambiguous answer from the White House on a fairly simple question on drone policy, the administration has at last complied with his request. The president does not have the Constitutional authority to order a drone strike on a non-combatant United States citizen on US soil. Eric Holder seemed to say as much yesterday afternoon under aggressive and specific questioning from Ted Cruz, but now the administration's formal position is codified in writing:
Attorney General Eric Holder has sent Sen. Rand Paul a letter expressly saying that the president does not have the authority to use drones to kill American on U.S. soil who are not enemy combatants. White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters at 1:15 pm. that Mr. Holder’s letter to the Kentucky Republican went out shortly after noon, and just 12 hours after Mr. Paul stages a marathon talking filibuster on the Senate floor demanding clarification of U.S. drone policies and the president’s authority to order strikes on Americans. Mr. Holder’s letter answers Mr. Rand’s question, “Does the president have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill Americans not engaged in combat on U.S. soil,” Mr. Carney said. “The answer to that question is no,” he said. “A letter signed by the attorney general has gone out in the last half an hour.”
The Weekly Standard points out that the Obama Optics Machine released the Attorney General's letter to the press, and not to the man who actually requested it -- poor etiquette, perhaps, but a fairly satisfying resolution nonetheless. Here is the brief letter in its entirety:
Dear Senator Paul:
It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: "Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?" The answer to that question is no.
Sincerely, Eric Holder
Allahpundit notes that Holder pretends that Paul's "additional" question just came up yesterday; in fact, he's been asking it for several weeks. (In fairness, willful obtuseness is a Holder specialty). But still, I guess a 13-hour "stunt" really can produce a meaningful result after all, in spite of what certain critics might have you believe. Then again, is the Attorney General's clarification quite as meaningful as it may seem at first blush? Back to AP:
Think carefully about whether Holder’s really answering his concerns. Paul wasn’t just asking about “weaponized drones.” He was asking about targeted killing generally. Sending the CIA in to shoot a guy in the head because he’s on O’s “kill list” doesn’t address the due process concerns just because no drone was used. The phrase “not engaged in combat” is also murky since the entire point of this debate is about defining what it means to be “engaged in combat” against the United States. Paul’s point yesterday was that, even if a U.S. citizen is an “enemy combatant,” the feds should be barred from summarily executing him if he’s on U.S. soil. Only if he’s in the process of carrying out an attack is lethal force justified. That’s his definition of “engaged in combat,” at least inside the continental U.S. The alternate definition is that an “enemy combatant” is, by his very nature, always engaged in combat against America. The DOJ itself more or less adopted that definition by defining “imminence” so broadly in its “white paper” on drone attacks as to suggest that members of Al Qaeda are always, at every moment, posing an imminent threat because they’re “continually plotting.” By that standard, Obama could drop a bomb on a U.S.-born jihadi hiding in an American safe house and still be okay under Holder’s letter here because the target was, as a member of Al Qaeda who was up to no good, necessarily “engaged in combat.”
I'm not so sure if this issue is as settled as it one might think, but Paul still feels sufficiently satisfied to take a victory lap:
Caught up with Sen. Rand Paul outside Senate floor: “I consider it to be a victory,” he said of filibuster/Holder response.— Chris Moody (@Chris_Moody) March 7, 2013
Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson. He is co-authors with Mary Katharine Ham for their new book End of Discussion: How the Left's Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free (and Fun).
Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography