Eric Holder answers Rand Paul (sort of)

blog_holder_reply_to_rand_paul_0Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky conducted a nearly 13-hour filibuster, asking whether President Obama claims the authority to kill Americans on American soil.  Attorney-General Eric Holder sent him the above letter.

The letter is Obama-like in its deftness, and in the way it makes Paul’s question seem ridiculous.  Barack Obama, as a politician, has a knack of allowing his opponents enough rope to hang themselves rhetorically, and then jerking the noose tight.  Of course it was not a ridiculous question.   What was ridiculous is that it took a nearly 13-hour filibuster to get this much of an answer.

What Holder does not say is what powers President Obama does claim, and the legal and Constitutional basis for that claim.  Does he have the right to kill Americans not engaged in combat on foreign soil?  Does he have the right to kill foreigners not engaged in combat?  Does “combat” mean actual fighting, or is there a more subtle definition of “combat”?

Kevin Drum of Mother Jones had this to say.

Points for drollery, I suppose. You have to appreciate the opening line: “It has come to my attention…..”

But this is still a weird reply.  Or maybe just deliberately opaque, like the previous replies.  If the president can’t use a drone to kill an American not engaged in combat, then he can’t use any other weapons to do this either.  Right?  There’s nothing special in the law about drones, after all.  So why not say so?

In addition, of course, the definition of “engaged in combat” is obviously key here.  Without much more detail on that, this probably doesn’t really tell us anything new.

But maybe I’m over-analyzing this, or being too harsh.  Rand Paul says he’s “quite happy” with this letter, so perhaps “combat” is precisely defined elsewhere.  My cynicism level is fairly high based on the administration’s game playing over the meaning of “imminent” in their white paper about drone strikes overseas, but maybe it’s now a little too high.

via Kevin Drum | Mother Jones.

Click on Why It Matters Than Rand Paul Got His Answer for comment by Conor Friedersdorf [Added 3/8/13]

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