Sunday, March 10, 2013

On the Need to Think Through Your Symbolism

John Brennan has recently been confirmed as CIA Director, and the swearing-in ceremony is fraught with symbolism:

After a week in which questions about U.S. drone policy and the potential of killing American citizens on U.S. soil dominated the news, John Brennan was sworn in as the new CIA director with his hand on an original draft of the Constitution dating from 1787.

White House spokesman Joshua Earnest said Mr. Brennan requested the copy of the Constitution, which includes George Washington’s personal handwriting and annotations, from the National Archives because he “wanted to reaffirm his commitment to the rule of law as he took the oath of office as director of the CIA.”

Good intentions, no doubt. Except, as some people have been pointing out, the 1787 draft of the Constitution has no Bill of Rights; the Bill of Rights were ratified separately from the main body of the Constitution and so were not added to the Constitution until 1791. Which means that in a time in which people are very concerned about the danger of due process violations in American military and intelligence operations, after having been grilled on these issues in his confirmation, Brennan had himself sworn in on a draft of the Constitution with no provision for protecting due process.

On the other side, to get through his confirmation, Senator Rand Paul had to stop his filibuster:

Mr. Brennan’s confirmation was held up Wednesday when Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, staged a nearly 13-hour filibuster against Mr. Obama’s pick, demanding clarifications of the administration’s drone policies targeting American citizens.

Mr. Rand only relented after receiving assurances from the White House that the president did not have the power to order lethal military drone strikes against American citizens in the United States who were not threatening or plotting imminent harm against the country.

OK, so the filibuster thing, a symbolic gesture in which the big issue was violation of due process protections against U.S. citizens, was really just to make sure that the President's powers were restricted to assassinating U.S. citizens on U.S. soil, without the usual channels police and federal agents have to go through, when they are threatening imminent harm against the country? We just wanted to make sure that the President waits to blast them off the face of the planet without warrant or trial until they've made a threat to harm the country? We just wanted to make sure that the President wasn't claiming to have the right to blast people into smithereens at a whim? Couldn't the good senator have held out for just a teensy bit more than that?


  1. Kenny Pearce5:47 PM

    The wording of the letter Paul demanded (and got) from Holder was actually stronger than that. (You can see the two-sentence letter here.) It says "not engaged in combat." Although one worries about Orwellian uses of language these days, someone who is "threatening or plotting imminent harm" is certainly not yet "engaged in combat" in the ordinary English sense of those words. I would have liked to know about non-citizens and/or those who are not in the US, which was not addressed, so I agree that Paul didn't demand enough, but he demanded (and got) more than this Washington Time article says.

  2. branemrys6:13 PM

    Well, that, at least, is something.


Please understand that this weblog runs on a third-party comment system, not on Blogger's comment system. If you have come by way of a mobile device and can see this message, you may have landed on the Blogger comment page, or the third party commenting system has not yet completely loaded; your comments will only be shown on this page and not on the page most people will see, and it is much more likely that your comment will be missed.