In the wake of Sen. Paul’s 13-hr filibuster last night, some Republicans are firing back. John McCain (R-AZ) called Paul’s questioning of the administration “ridiculous”, saying, “I don’t think what happened yesterday is helpful to the American people”. Essentially, when Paul asks if the White House can kill US citizens on US soil, McCain and others respond: why even bother asking the question?
The answer is simple. And his name is Samir Khan.
Samir Khan was an American-born blogger and editor who turned to al-Queda as a teenager. He grew up in Queens and Charlotte, North Carolina, where he became a jihadist and ran a widely-read pro-al-Queda website called, “Inshallah Shaheed” — or “a martyr soon, if it is God’s will”. He ran it out of his parents’ basement. While his blog stayed “on the right side of the First Amendment” according to NPR, in 2009 the 23-yr-old left for Yemen. There, he started another pro-al-Queda media production, this one a magazine called Inspire. It was essentially a how-to guide for jihadists.
Two years after he founded Inspire, Khan was assassinated in a drone strike. The Obama administration decided that this influential editor was such a grave threat to the United States that he merited remote assassination.
My goal here is not to defend Samir Khan. He was a terrorist and a seditionist, and he should have been tried for treason as the Constitution requires. But his assassination does raise key questions.
What if Samir Khan had published Inspire a year or two earlier, while he was still in the United States? Representative Sue Myrick (R-NC) points out that he must have had contact with al-Queda before he left for Yemen, while he was in the United States. He had already published a violent and pro-al-Queda blog that moved him into, “the highest circles of al-Queda”. What if he had published his how-to-be-a-jihadist magazine from his parents’ basement, using al-Queda contacts he’d already made?
The Obama administration decided that publishing this magazine made Samir Khan a threat, and killed him for it while he was abroad. If he was in the United States at the time, would they have made the same call? Would the geographic distinction of US borders have influenced the administration’s decision, or would they have claimed that the war on terror has no geographic boundaries?
These are essentially the questions Mr. Paul was asking.
Of course, if Khan remained in the US, capture would have been more feasible. Police officers and the FBI might have been able to apprehend Khan and try him in a court. But in the not-unthinkable case where capture was infeasible, would the administration have assassinated Samir Khan in his home in Charlotte, NC?
These are questions that, until Senator Paul’s filibuster, had no real answer. When asked if the president could assassinate US citizens on US soil, John Brennan, Obama’s nominee to head the CIA, didn’t say no.
To the administration’s credit, they have answered Senator Paul’s question with a definitive “no”. Senator Paul is satisfied, and for the moment so am I.
But anyone who suggests that it was “ridiculous” to even pose the question doesn’t understand the case of Samir Khan.