Here’s the implication of Rand Paul’s speech on Wednesday: Barack Obama orders Anwar al-Awlaki killed, while Rand Paul would have sent the late al-Qaeda operative a subpoena and transformed him into a human shield for his fellow jihadists.
That is why only the president will profit more than radical Islam from Wednesday’s reprise of Senator Paul’s Filibuster Theatre. Obama’s maladministration has intensified the terrorist threat, but Paul’s behavior has him looking like the comparative adult in the room.
Senator Paul was speaking against Harvard law professor David J. Barron, President Obama’s nominee for the First Circuit federal appeals court. As Carrie Severino illustrates
in detail at Bench Memos, Professor Barron’s agenda is to undermine the Constitution. For that, he richly deserves to be blocked. If Harry Reid’s nuclear option means that by sticking together Democrats can ram him through, the ones facing reelection should bear the weight of confirming a radical leftist.
Nevertheless, the rationale for Senator Paul’s filibuster is narrow: When Barron was an official at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), he wrote several opinions justifying targeted killings overseas of American citizens who join enemy forces in wartime.
Talk about doing the right thing for the wrong reason.
Barron was not referring to just any American citizens but to the likes of Awlaki — a U.S. national who regarded the American people as the primary enemy in a global jihad. Before he was finally killed by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen, Awlaki was implicated in the 9/11 atrocities, the jihadist massacre at Fort Hood, the attempted jihadist bombing of a plane over Detroit on Christmas 2009, and other terrorist plots.
I agree with Paul on two points. First, he is right to object to the decision of the “most transparent administration in history” to shield Barron’s legal opinions from public scrutiny by classifying them. There is no good reason to resist disclosure of a mere legal theory offered in support of government action.
If Barron’s opinions contain facts that would compromise national-defense secrets or intelligence methods and sources, by all means redact them. But the question of whether federal law permits the government to use lethal force on foreign soil against Americans who join an enemy’s war against the United States is purely a legal one. There is no reason the legal explanation offered to answer it should be concealed.
By keeping it under wraps, the administration creates suspicions about the competence of Barron’s analysis. But that’s not the problem. No one thinks Barron is unskilled.
Recall that this administration, which has politicized national security to an unprecedented degree, had no compunction about declassifying and disclosing OLC opinions that supported Bush counterterrorism tactics — not just the legal argument for them but descriptions of the methods themselves, a boon for our terrorist enemies that delighted Obama’s political base. Thus, the current refusal to disclose is surely political, too. The president knows the Left will be outraged by his defense of the use of lethal force, while the Right will spotlight the hypocrisy of administration officials who spent the Bush years attacking the policies they’ve made their own. Avoiding political embarrassment has nothing to do with promoting national security, and I applaud Senator Paul for calling the president on it.