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Tom Zirpoli: Civil liberties under attack by drones

I'm not a fan of Sen. Rand Paul, of Kentucky, but I will give him credit for his 13-hour filibuster in the Senate last week.

Paul used an old-fashion talk-til-you-drop filibuster to stall the vote on the nomination of John Brennan to be the director of the CIA.

Paul is upset about President Barack Obama's use of drone strikes. Specifically, he was concerned about a ruling from Attorney General Eric Holder stating that the U.S. military could authorize a drone strike on a U.S. citizen suspected of terrorism on American soil. Paul considered Holder's position an abuse of executive power and a violation of American civil liberties. So he decided to express his opposition to Obama's drone program by holding up Brennan's vote.

Well, good for him. As I have expressed before, I don't feel comfortable with America's drone program, and I certainly don't like the idea of drones killing American citizens on American soil without due process protections. After all, don't we have a justice system for these things?

Obama's position is that he needs to do whatever it takes to stop a terrorist attack in the United States, even if the terrorist is an American. Paul's position is that we have a police force, an FBI, a Secret Service and numerous other federal and state police-type folks to arrest suspected terrorists and bring them to trial.

The only amendment I would add to Paul's protest is that everyone, not just Americans on American soil, should be protected from being zapped by a drone without due process or, at least, an independent court review documenting the target as a terrorist.

In the end, Brennan was confirmed. But Paul's filibuster sure did make for some strange alliances in Washington. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, for example, both voted for Brennan's confirmation after previously stating their lack of support for him. Neither liked what Paul had to say against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In addition, McCain and Graham support America's drone program, which started during the George W. Bush administration.

"I was going to vote against him until the filibuster. I thought Brennan was arrogant, a bit shifty," said Graham. But Graham said that he voted for Brennan because the vote became "a referendum on the drone program."

McCain called Paul's concerns, "totally unfounded" and "simply false."

McCain and Graham were left defending Obama and his drone program. "Where were all these people during the Bush administration? I never remember anybody accusing President Bush of 'We're going to kill someone in a cafe,'" Graham said.

Meanwhile, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said that McCain's criticism of Paul was "sad."

The conservative Wall Street Journal also criticized Paul's filibuster and defended Obama and Holder. The newspaper wrote, "Mr. Holder is right, even if he doesn't explain the law very well. The U.S. government cannot randomly target American citizens on U.S. soil or anywhere else. What it can do under the laws of war is target an 'enemy combatant' anywhere at any time, including on U.S. soil. This includes a U.S. citizen who is also an enemy combatant."

Then again, if the suspected terrorist is killed and not brought to justice, how do we know that he was actually guilty of terrorism? How does a dead person defend his innocence?

And while the Wall Street Journal criticized Paul, the conservative Heritage Foundation supported him.

Democrats were also divided on Paul's filibuster. Some wanted to support Obama's drone program, while others shared Paul's concerns regarding American civil liberties.

To end the filibuster, Holder wrote a second letter to Paul stating, "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."

Good to know. But who decides the person's guilt before he is targeted to die?

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