Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson wrote an article, republished on the editorial page of the March 9, 2013 Albuquerque Journal, in which he endorsed Senator Rand Paul’s filibuster demand for greater clarity about the legal authority for drone stricks, especially when U.S. citizens are involved. I agree with Mr. Robinson that Senator Paul raised some significant and valuable concerns in his nearly 13-hour filibuster; however, I disagree with Mr. Robinson’s acceptance of Attorney General Eric Holder’s two-sentence reply to Paul’s question if U.S. citizens could be summarily killed on U.S. soil without due process of law.
Initially, pre-filibuster, Holder gave the Obama administration’s reply to a letter Senator Paul had written to John Brennan, then a nominee to be CIA director. Holder wrote that there was no intention to use drone strikes in the United States, except in “extraordinary circumstances.” Post-filibuster, Holder wrote a two-sentence letter to Paul, in which Holder said that the only way a U.S. citizen could be killed on U.S. soil was if he/she was engaged in combat.
Given the gravity of the question raised by Senator Paul about targeting U.S. citizens for death, a much more detailed answer was in order for Attorney General Holder, providing a legal rationale as to why a U.S. citizen could be killed without due process of law, guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
The other problem with Holder’s reply is that he didn’t try to define combat. Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama agree that the whole world is a battlefield in the campaign against terrorism; therefore, the entire U.S. is a battle zone. Acts which might not be normally construed as engagement in combat, might be regarded as such in an all-encompassing struggle against terrorism.