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Unanimous Consent Request

Floor Speech

Location: Unknown


Mr. TOOMEY. Mr. President, I want to thank the Senator from Kentucky for raising a very important issue. I would just like to have a little bit of clarification so that I understand exactly what has transpired and the exact question to which the Senator from Kentucky would like a response.

My perception, my understanding, is this seems like a very simple and basic request. So I am surprised that we did not have a simple and straightforward answer. So I wonder if the Senator from Kentucky would just summarize briefly for me, so that I understand clearly the exact request that he made to the administration.

Mr. PAUL. Mr. President, in late January we sent a letter to John Brennan, the nominee for the CIA, asking a bunch of questions. Included among those questions was, Can you kill an American in America with a drone strike? We got no response and no response and no response.

Thanks to the intervention of the ranking member on the Intelligence Committee, as well as members from the opposite aisle on the Intelligence Committee, we finally got an answer about 2 days ago. The answer from John Brennan was that he acknowledges the CIA cannot act in the United States. That is the law. That was nice. But the Attorney General responded and said they do not intend to. They have not yet, but they might.

Mr. TOOMEY. Am I correct in understanding that is currently the state of play? That is the most recent response the Senator has gotten in writing from the administration?

Mr. PAUL. Mr. President, that is the only direct response I have gotten. I have also read the testimony from the Judiciary Committee where the Senator from Texas cross-examined the Attorney General, who responded indirectly to my question by saying: It was inappropriate, we probably would not do that.

But he would not answer directly whether it was unconstitutional. It appears at the end that he may have said that it would be unconstitutional, say, to kill noncombatants.

It should be a pretty simple answer really. That is all I am asking. I can be done anytime if I could just get a response from the administration or the Attorney General saying they do not believe they have the authority to kill noncombatants in America.

Mr. TOOMEY. Further clarification: If the administration seems to be unwilling to state unequivocally

that they recognize they do not have the legal authority to kill a noncombatant American on American soil, did they suggest under what circumstances they would?

Did they suggest a process by which they would identify an American citizen noncombatant on American soil who might be subject to being killed by a drone strike?

Mr. PAUL. Well, there has been a white paper that was released that goes through a series of things. They do have a step or a process they go through in determining whom to kill. The problem I have is that in foreign countries--I do not know the exact number because it is classified, but in foreign countries many of the people being killed are not actively engaged in combat.

I am not saying that is right or wrong or making an opinion on that matter. But I am saying that is not a standard I can live with in the United States. So let's say one-third of the drone strikes are going against people who are eating dinner with their family or walking down the road or sleeping in their house. If that is our standard and we are going to do drone strikes in America, I could not tolerate or live with myself if I would accept a standard in the United States that would allow that to happen.

Mr. TOOMEY. Mr. President, judging from the response, what I understand is that there is a standard that applies overseas. But we have not gotten--correct me if I am mistaken--a definitive word as to whether that same standard would apply domestically to American citizens. If we have not gotten a definitive answer, then we, it seems to me--again, correct me if I am wrong--but then it would suggest to me that we have no idea what standard would be used. I cannot imagine that we would find it acceptable to be in a situation where an administration would suggest that using a drone to kill an American noncombatant on American soil, without even disclosing the process by which they would determine that was appropriate--this is kind of hard to understand. Am I understanding it incorrectly?

Mr. PAUL. Well, the interesting thing about this is for many years, no one would talk about the drone strike program at all. Then, recently, one of the former spokesmen for the President said he was instructed to never say it existed. But now that it is in the open, the President, a week ago, was asked at Google when he was there for an interview: Can you do this?

His answer: Well, the rules would probably have to be different inside than outside.

That implies he thinks he can do it in America. Then the question becomes, What are those rules? This is as much about the checks and balances of--you know, they say we have the ability to advise and consent. This is some friendly advice I am giving to the President today that he ought to think about or we should think about as a body whether we are a check and balance to the power of the Executive, whether it is Republican or Democratic.

I think it is immaterial. No President should have the power to make these decisions unilaterally.

Mr. TOOMEY. Mr. President, I will finish. I just want to make two points: One is I think we ought to have a robust debate about the circumstances under which we would use drone strikes overseas and understand the implications. Think about this. We have what is still, to the United States, a relatively new threat in the form of these nonstate actors, these terrorist organizations that are sometimes affiliated with each other, sometimes not, scattered around the globe. This is new.

In addition, we have new technology we never had before. It was not terribly long ago the idea of flying an unmanned drone and using it to kill a person who could be hundreds or thousands of miles away, that was completely implausible. Now, of course, we have the ability to do it. When new circumstances and new technology come to bear, we ought to have a discussion about when and whether and how it is appropriate to use that.

When we are talking about American noncombatants on American soil, I think the starting point ought to be, we are not going to do that. The onus ought to be on whoever has an explanation for when and whether and why and under what circumstances we would, and that ought to be debated very, very carefully and thoroughly. Until such time, I think it ought to be easy to acknowledge this is not going to take place.


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