Defense & National Security

Paul to Brennan: Tell me how you decide to drone-kill Americans

Paul to Brennan: Tell me how you decide to drone-kill Americans
An MQ-1C Gray Eagle is silhouetted by the sunrise as it prepares for a mission at Camp Taji in Baghdad, Iraq, Nov. 21, 2010. The unmanned aerial vehicle is being tested by Quick Reaction Capability 1-Reaction 1, a specially trained drone unit attached to the Enhanced Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division. (Army photo by Spc. Roland Hale Location: Camp Taji/Baghdad)

A frustrated Kentucky senator on the chamber’s Committee on Foreign Relations sent a letter to John O. Brennan, President Barack Obama’s nominee to lead the Central Intelligence Agency, demanding answers about the administration’s drone program and repeating his threat to filibuster the confirmation if his questions continue to be ignored.

“I have repeatedly requested that you provide answers to several questions clarifying your role in the approval of lethal force against terrorism suspects, particularly those who are U.S. citizens,” wrote Sen. Randall H. Paul (R-Ky.) to Brennan, who now serves as the president’s top counter-terrorism adviser.

Brennan is a 25-year veteran of the CIA and was Obama’s original choice to lead the agency in 2009. The president instead nominated former California congressman and White House chief of staff Leon E. Panetta.  Panetta was replaced by retired Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, who resigned in September.

John O. Brennan

John O. Brennan

“Your past actions in this regard, as well as your view of the limitations to which you are subject, are of critical importance in assessing your qualifications to lead the CIA,” Paul wrote. “If it is not clear that you will honor the limits placed upon the Executive Branch by the Constitution, then the Senate should not confirm you to lead the CIA.”

A filibuster is a parliamentary device that forces the Senate to continue debate, thus forestalling a vote. A minority bloc can use the filibuster to protect its rights and bargain for better consideration of its priorities. Under Senate rules, to end debate and proceed to a vote on a motion, or cloture, requires 60 votes. In the 113th Congress, there are 45 Republicans, 53 Democrats and two Independent senators, who caucus with the Democrats.

The senator first threatened to filibuster the confirmation Feb. 14, when he said, “I have asked Mr. Brennan if he believed that the President has the power to authorize lethal force, such as a drone strike, against a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil, and my question remains unanswered.”

Paul said, “I will not allow a vote on this nomination until Mr. Brennan openly responds to the questions and concerns my colleagues and I share.”

Although the filibuster is a continuation of debate, in modern-day practice senators simply signal their intention to filibuster until their either their concerns are addressed by the majority bloc or there is a successful cloture vote ending debate.

“These issues must be discussed openly so that the American people can understand what constraints exist on the government’s power to use lethal force against its citizens,” he said.

“Before confirming Mr. Brennan as the head of the CIA, it must be apparent that he understands and will honor the protections provided to every American by the Constitution,” he said.

For the senator the most important question is how the president decides who and how to kill Americans, he said.

Sen. Randal H. Paul (R.-Ky.)

Sen. Randall H. Paul (R.-Ky.)

“I once again request you answer the following question: Do you believe that the President has the power to authorize lethal force, such as a drone strike, against a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil, and without trial?” he asked.

“I believe the only acceptable answer to this is no,” he said.

“Until you directly and clearly answer, I plan to use every procedural option at my disposal to delay your confirmation and bring added scrutiny to this issue and the Administration’s policies on the use of lethal force,” he said.

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