Sen. Rand Paul was not just defending American citizens. He was calling for a return to pre-9/11 counterterrorism.


Andrew C. McCarthy

The most refreshing thing about Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) — the thing that comes through in his often admirable speeches and op-eds, as well as in The Tea Party Goes to Washington, the autobiographical account of his political rise — is that he seems to have the courage of his convictions. It is disappointing, then, that this turns out not to be the case, at least when it comes to enemy combatants.

In his response to my weekend column regarding his efforts to arm enemy combatants with full-fledged constitutional rights in wartime, Senator Paul protests that I have misrepresented his position. He now claims that his effort last week to defeat the combatant-detention provisions in the defense-authorization bill were strictly about protecting American citizens. He accuses me of contending that the debate “was not about American citizens,” and insists that I’ve erected a “strawman” in alleging that he was urging constitutional rights for alien combatants.

This is claptrap. As anyone who takes the time to read my column knows, not only did I respectfully acknowledge Senator Paul’s arguments insofar as they involved American citizens, but I also rebutted them at considerable length. And what we have here is not a “strawman” but the usual case of a politician’s trying to put distance between himself and an uncomfortable position he no longer has the nerve to defend — in this instance, Senator Paul’s advocacy of a return to the disastrous pre-9/11 counterterrorism policies that vested constitutional trial rights in America’s alien enemies, a position he reaffirmed less than ten days ago.

It will take some time to show this, mainly because Senator Paul actually spoke extensively on this subject that he now claims had nothing to do with the detainee debate. The senator’s website links to the floor speech he gave on November 29. Consistent with his prior positions — and with those espoused by his father, Rep. Ron Paul (R., Texas), whose objections to post-9/11 counterterrorism policy Senator Paul frequently lauds — Senator Paul championed constitutional protections for all enemy combatants, aliens as well as American citizens. While the whole thing is worth reading or listening to, here are some relevant excerpts:

The discussion now to suspend certain rights to due process is especially worrisome given that we are engaged in a war that appears to have no end. Rights given up now cannot be expected to be returned. So, we do well to contemplate the diminishment of due process, knowing that the rights we lose now may never be restored.

My well-intentioned colleagues ignore these admonitions in defending provisions of the Defense bill pertaining to detaining suspected terrorists. Their legislation would arm the military with the authority to detain indefinitely — without due process or trial — SUSPECTED al-Qaida sympathizers, including American citizens apprehended on American soil. I want to repeat that. We are talking about people who are merely SUSPECTED of a crime. And we are talking about American citizens.

(Emphases in original transcript on Senator Paul’s website.)