Alleged Wacko Rand Paul Asks Serious Questions about Targeted Killings

TDS cites emptywheel for its Targeted Killing Memos request tally.

TDS cites emptywheel for its Targeted Killing Memos request tally.

The Politico went to some effort, it seems, to dismiss Rand Paul’s concerns about the drone program (as well as his threat to hold John Brennan’s nomination if and when it gets out of the Senate Intelligence Committee).

But Paul’s two letters on the subject are actually far more serious than those mocking them make out (the first one also brings the tally of congressional requests for the targeted killing memos to 19).

For example, Paul is one of the few people asking any questions about non-US citizens.

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? What about the use of lethal force against a non-U.S. person on U.S. soil?

He also asks how the National Security Act and Posse Comitatus might play into a domestic strike.

Do you believe that the prohibition on CIA participation in domestic law enforcement, first established by the National Security Act of 1947, would apply to the use of lethal force, especially lethal force directed at an individual on a targeting list, if a U.S. citizen on a targeting list was found to be operating on U.S. soil? What if the individual on the targeting list was a non-U.S. person but found to be operating on U.S. soil? Do you consider such an operation to be domestic law enforcement, or would it only be subject to the president’s wartime powers?


Do you believe that the Posse Comitatus Act, or any other prohibition on the use of the military in domestic law enforcement, would prohibit the use of military hardware and/or personnel in pursuing terrorism suspects—especially those on a targeting list—found to be operating on U.S. soil? If not, would you support the use of such assets in pursuit of either U.S. citizen or non-U.S. persons on U.S. soil suspected of terrorist activity?

And (here in his first letter to Brennan) Paul asks the seemingly unspeakable question: how 16 year old American citizen Abdulrahman al-Awlaki came to be killed by a US drone.

What role did you play in approving the drone strike that led to the death of the underage, U.S. citizen son of Anwar al-Awlaki? Unlike his father, he had not renounced his U.S. citizenship. Was the younger al-Awlaki the intended target of the U.S. drone strike which took his life? Further, do you reject the subsequent claim, apparently originating from anonymous U.S. government sources, that the young man had actually been a “military age male” of 20 years or more of age, something that was later proven false by the release of his birth certificate?

Paul even asks a question limited largely to Yemen experts — whether or expanding campaign there is really about counterinsurgency rather than counterterrorism.

Is the U.S. drone strike strategy exclusively focused on targeting al Qaeda, or is it also conducting counterinsurgency operations against militants seeking to further undermine their government, such as in Yemen?

Finally, Paul slips this question in, which has nothing to do with targeted killings, but has everything to do with Brennan’s seeming disinterest in the privacy of the American people.

Do you support the Attorney General’s 2012 guidance to the NCTC that it may deliberately collect, store, and “continually assess” massive amounts of data on all U.S. citizens for potential correlations to terrorism, even if the U.S. citizens targeted have no known ties to terrorism?

Now, to Politico this may be a big game. But Paul is asking a lot of questions that no one else in DC is asking (note: he may have more leeway to ask such questions than, say, Ron Wyden, who has presumably been read into some of these answers).

Which is, I guess, how the Village now defines wacko: those people who asks the questions they’re too afraid to ask.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

25 replies
  1. What Constitution? says:

    It really is kind of creepy that it’s the wackos who may have come up with the best traction in the effort to demand some accountability and honesty from the administration in the drone fiasco. But it it takes a “hold” threat from a Tea Party senator to shake the OLC memos out, I guess that’s American Democracy in Action, such as it is, eh?

    None of Senator Paul’s questions seem all that unreasonable on their face. There ought to be answers to them, and the answers should be readily available. Except maybe the one to Brennan which asks what his “role” was in the killing of al-Awlaki’s son — I’ll bet Mr. Brennan still appreciates the Fifth Amendment’s privilege against self-incrimination and if that’s how he would be advised to respond, so be it.

    The questions about the potential role of drone killings in the U.S. are by no means folly, either. It was, in fact, maybe a little unnervingly notable that Obama chose to use the term “Americans” (not “America” or “U.S.” or even “American interests”) in his SOTU mention of what drones are being used to protect. That’s not what the text of the AUMF provides; does somebody believe the chimerical “Article II” construct can nullify all US laws if a presidential edict believes there’s somebody in the US who may be intent upon “imminently harming” an American here? If the answer to that is “no way”, could we please get that in writing?

  2. klynn says:

    All his questions are spot on…

    Reposting the following questions:

    EW, a question going through my head is, “Who of our allies, knows about the process of targeted killings best? Are there any outside players giving us information on legal guidance for “pre-crime?”

    In the past I have referenced Yuval Ginbar’s Oxford Press book, Why Not Torture The Terrorists. Ginbar:

    “…analyzes the Landau model of legalized torture, under which interrogation of suspected terrorists was regulated in Israel between 1987 and 1999, with Supreme Court approval. Shaped by the recommendations of the Landau Commission of Inquiry, which included detailed instructions to interrogators on applying psychological ‘pressure’ and ‘a moderate measure of physical pressure’, the model claimed that such instructions are lawful under the ‘defence of necessity’ provision in the Penal Law, which applies to them. Many thousands of Palestinians, far outweighing the number of those convicted of any terrorist offences during the period, underwent the Landau interrogation methods, pronounced by UN bodies to amount to torture. Methods included various combinations of incommunicado detention, sleep and sensory deprivation, forced painful positions, ‘shaking’, and other humiliating or violent methods. Those applying the techniques according to instructions invariably enjoyed impunity from prosecution.”

    That’s regarding torture…Now we move from this to the praxis of pre-emptive strikes or as the experts prefer “pre-emptive self-defense.”

    There is plenty of dangers in the mindset of allowing legal justification for pre-emptive self-defense or as I like to call it, The 24 Syndrome.

    As one works through the history of pre-emptive strikes/defense or in it’s contemporary title, The Bush Doctrine, we get to discussion about states harboring terrorists and legalities involved in pre-emptive strikes on such states:

    It is no long jump to move from the joint mindset of torture and pre-emptive strikes to targeted pre-crime killing. The legal arguments countries have used for both torture and pre-emptive strikes created a “sick” synergy, resulting in targeted pre-crime killing. It is the end result of torture and pre-emptive strikes because it is the practice of both through one action.

    So, are we looking at our own citizens as an aspect of being a nation that is harboring terrorists and therefore creating the environment for leaders to be “justified” if not “required” to carry out pre-emptive strikes on our own citizens before another country carries out a pre-emptive strike on us? If this is the twisted thinking that will be used, then the definition of imminent is well, an imminent definition needed to preserve our individual freedom. If the definition is never clarified in a transparent fashion, the terrorists have won.

    (Cool TDS picked up your post!)

  3. Bitter Angry Drunk says:

    I’d say Paul is asking the questions the Village is too insulated and ignorant to ask. Great post.

  4. Jim White says:

    Wow. Now you can add former Rep Connie Mack IV, who tried to unseat Bill Nelson and failed (while running as a wacko) to those saying reasonable things on this front. Check out his op-ed in The Hill, where he says:

    This drone assassination campaign is a frightening expansion of unchecked Presidential power. And it parallels arguments I made when I was first sworn into Congress in 2005 about the lack of oversight about some of the most troubling provisions of the Patriot Act. Then, as now, the White House invoked words and ideals like national security in an attempt to justify this troubling unilateral expansion of Presidential powers.
    President Bush was wrong then. President Obama is wrong now.

    Read the whole piece, it’s a remarkable bit of clear thinking and nothing like I ever remember seeing from Mack during the Senate campaign or his time in the House.


  5. lefty665 says:

    @Bitter Angry Drunk: Maybe more disinclined to rock the boat, or scared that doing so would impede the continued flow of Federal largess. OTOH, it’s never a good idea to discount insulation and ignorance.

    … and in the end there was nobody left to call for help when they came for me.

  6. thatvisionthing says:

    Has Rand Paul asked Brennan which countries we’re at war with, or if he thinks Congress should know…sometime? (When?)

    MARCY WHEELER: …in addition to asking for these OLC memos, Ron Wyden, senator from Oregon, has also said, “You know, I’ve been” – he said to Brennan – “I’ve been asking for a year for a list of other countries in which we use these counterterrorism lethal force – in which we have used, or in which I think” – I’d have to look at the language again – or “in which we are authorized – you are operating with these counterterrorist lethal force.” And he hasn’t gotten that either. So Ron Wyden, a member of the Intelligence Committee, doesn’t even know which countries we’re at war with. That says, you know – and again, it’s this problem, like if Congress doesn’t know which countries we’re at war with, then it’s very hard to say that Congress has approved that war, and if Congress hasn’t approved it, then it would be a covert op, in which case the Intelligence Committee should have been briefed, but we know Ron Wyden hasn’t been briefed, so either way they’re in legal problem.

  7. JohnT says:

    @Jim White:

    That reminds me of something John Ashcroft said about his opposition to the warrantless wiretapping provisions in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act sometime back in the 90’s when Clinton was POTUS. Can’t find the link, but it was a page at and, I’m paraphrasing, he was saying how wrong it was, and how it was an attack on our civil liberties

    Of course, as we now know, he didn’t mean a word of it

  8. thatvisionthing says:


    More from the interview:

    MARCY WHEELER: Well, and that’s one of the funny things about – well, “funny” meaning it’s not humorous but it’s odd – is that for years now, and certainly since last May when there was a big PR campaign, the story has been that Obama has been the one making the decision – you know, however troubling it is that the president would choose to kill an American citizen, that’s not what the white paper says. The white paper says that a senior official – “an informed senior official” – we know that’s John Brennan. John Brennan was not elected. He’s not been confirmed by the Senate. He couldn’t be confirmed in 2009… And so we’ve got this guy who couldn’t be confirmed in 2009 because he was so closely tied to crime, making a decision on whether or not Americans should be killed.

    Is the dog not going to bark? Who chloroformed the dog and sent in mechanical wagging puppies?

    My thanks to Rand Paul for showing up.

  9. joanneleon says:

    He might be whacked on other things (and definitely is) but the other thing about Rand Paul is that I believe he would be asking these questions of a Republican president too. He marches to his own drum and doesn’t say how high when the party asks him to jump. One of the few people in office who does not seem to put party over principle. He reminds me of Kucinich in certain ways. I wish more progressives would put party aside and get tough. Luckily the writers on this site always do but this is the exception to the rule.

    One of the authors of the Benghazi book mentioned in a comment on his site that Rand Paul came to them with some questions about Benghazi too, but they did not engage him. I take it they are trying to stay away from the political aspects of this.

  10. thatvisionthing says:

    State of the Union, 1862:

    “Fellow-citizens, we can not escape history. We of this Congress and this Administration will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance or insignificance can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass will light us down in honor or dishonor to the latest generation. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We, even we here, hold the power and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave we assure freedom to the free — honorable alike in what we give and what we preserve. We shall nobly save or meanly lose the last best hope of earth.”

    He was speaking of emancipation, but also of a larger topic, the ultimate survival of democracy.

    ~ President House-Divided-Against-Itself-Cannot-Stand

  11. joanneleon says:

    Still confused on the number of memos. Is the latest tally that there are 11 total memos and 7 still not released, so that would mean 4 have been given to Senate intel plus the white paper? I knew that 2 had been coughed up by the Obama admin, but when did they release the other two?

  12. DonS says:

    I made the point that Marcy makes — sensible questions raised by Paul — in a comment yesterday on TPM, and further wondered whether the negative reaction I was seeing related to it being a democrat site. Actually, I wanted to test the knee jerk reflexive reactions of that bunch. They did not disappoint. The nicest think I was called was a troll . . .

  13. P J Evans says:

    If you actually referred to it as a ‘democrat site’ you were deserving of some of that. It’s a Fox News dog whistle.

  14. jo6pac says:

    It’s nice the village idiot is asking these questions but we all know if he had the power 0 has he would use it and may be even more so if that’s possible. The only reason he’s doing this is to be a thorn in 0 side and that works for me but to think any of the cycle-0-paths in govt. would give this new illegal power up well good luck with that thought.

    Great time line, many thanks. I also saw you over at Anti-War. Com the other day Marcy.

  15. masaccio says:

    That graphic is from The Daily Show. I have tweeted them and sent an email suggesting that they invite Marcy on to discuss this stuff. You can too!


    Show Desk
    Work Title: Show Desk
    Work Phone: (212) 767-8600
    Fax: (212) 767-8592
    Email: [email protected]
    Preferred Communication: Email

    Updated: 12/17/12
    Contact Address:
    345 Hudson Street
    New York, NY-10014
    United States of America

  16. thatvisionthing says:

    @JohnT: And I’m reminded of something Philip Zelikow said in response to OLC torture memos…

    The OLC “torture memos”: thoughts from a dissenter
    Posted By Philip Zelikow Tuesday, April 21, 2009

    The underlying absurdity of the administration’s position can be summarized this way. Once you get to a substantive compliance analysis for “cruel, inhuman, and degrading” you get the position that the substantive standard is the same as it is in analogous U.S. constitutional law. So the OLC must argue, in effect, that the methods and the conditions of confinement in the CIA program could constitutionally be inflicted on American citizens in a county jail.

    In other words, Americans in any town of this country could constitutionally be hung from the ceiling naked, sleep deprived, water-boarded, and all the rest — if the alleged national security justification was compelling. I did not believe our federal courts could reasonably be expected to agree with such a reading of the Constitution.

    But now Congress will?

  17. thatvisionthing says:


    Of course, when Zelikow said that, the Bush administration disappeared his memo.

    At the time, in 2005, I circulated an opposing view of the legal reasoning. My bureaucratic position, as counselor to the secretary of state, didn’t entitle me to offer a legal opinion. But I felt obliged to put an alternative view in front of my colleagues at other agencies, warning them that other lawyers (and judges) might find the OLC views unsustainable. My colleagues were entitled to ignore my views. They did more than that: The White House attempted to collect and destroy all copies of my memo.

    You’d think words were powerful or something. I wonder, has anyone tried to deal with “terrorists” with… words?

  18. P J Evans says:

    TPTB seem to be afraid that accused terrorists have Super Secret Powers and can convince people to agree with them just by speaking. It doesn’t say much for TPTB if they’re that afraid of them.

  19. What Constitution? says:

    @thatvisionthing: You’re right. I meant to suggest that, if asked about his role and there appeared to be the remotest possibility he might actually be held to account for that role, then he might “magically develop” a newfound respect for the privilege against self-incrimination. You know, on a “these rights are inconsequential unless they affect me” basis so popular in these days of selective application of the Constitution.

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