A Filibustering Success

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.

2 thoughts on “A Filibustering Success

  1. Although I don’t share many of Sen. Paul’s views, I admire his effort to filibuster in the old fashioned way - speaking on the Senate floor in person for 13 hours. That takes commitment. Having only seen a PBS News Hour story on it and the remarks by Senators McCain and Graham, it is puzzling to see Republicans attack one of their own. Graham asked would the same challenge be made if Bush, who also authorized drone attacks, was in the White House; in other words, was the question being made out of partisan spite? And McCain, I think rightly, claimed Paul’s example of Jane Fonda being potentially being targeted for assassination for her views as not being on the same level as the American, Samir Khan, an admitted traitor and terrorist, convening with Anwar al-Awlaki when he was targeted by a drone strike.
    That said, I think Senator Paul raised a necessary question regarding the US Government’s right to target civilians on American soil. And he got an answer from Attorney General Eric Holder: No.
    What puzzled me a bit is how quickly Senator Paul was satisfied and dropped the issue. But guess Holder’s statement is now on the record.

  2. I’d agree that the Jane Fonda example was slightly ridiculous. However, I don’t see a stark difference between Samir Khan and, for instance, Malcolm X. Both were agitators and violence-inciters. Both belonged to ‘terrorist’ organizations; the Nation of Islam was seen by the FBI as, “an especially anti-American and violent cult” of “extreme fanaticism”. While Nation of Islam was not on the same level as al-Queda, the difference (at least according to the FBI) seems to be of degree but not of kind. In the same way, while Khan was no doubt more violent than Malcolm X (he wrote articles on how to build a bomb in Mom’s kitchen), the difference between inciting bomb-violence and inciting gun-violence is one of degree but not of kind.

    If (and, as the update should make clear, it IS an ‘if’) Samir Khan would have merited assassination, I don’t think it would have been ‘ridiculous’ before Wednesday to wonder if Malcolm X would have merited the same. You had to wonder where the administration draws the line.

    I missed Lindsay Graham’s question about partisan spite. But he did say, “I do not believe that (Rand’s) question deserves an answer,” and, “there is only one commander-in-chief in our Constitution”. To me, that implies that he would absolutely oppose questions to ANY president about these activities; the president’s the C in C, and shouldn’t be questioned. Given the rank partisanship in Washington, I think Graham’s criticism would have been even worse if Romney or Bush had been in office.



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