13-hour speech doesn't stop CIA vote

2013-03-07 18:58
Senator Rand Paul (Senate Television, AP)

Senator Rand Paul (Senate Television, AP)

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Washington - He spoke for 13 hours straight, but a Republican senator's attempt to block confirmation of President Barack Obama's nominee to lead the CIA over questions about the possible use of unmanned drones against US citizens, ended early on Thursday.

Senator Rand Paul, a son of former Libertarian presidential candidate Ron Paul and a possible candidate himself in 2016, started just before midday on Wednesday by demanding that Obama or his attorney general issue a statement assuring that drones would not be used in the US to kill terrorism suspects who are citizens.

His marathon performance energised his colleagues, who stepped up to support him by reading tweets and Shakespeare.

But Paul finally ceded the floor shortly after midnight.

A confirmation vote on the CIA pick, John Brennan, had been pushed for Wednesday before Paul started speaking.

Brennan now serves as Obama's top counter-terrorism adviser in the White House.

The vote on Brennan is now possible later this week.

Paul said he recognised that he can't stop Brennan from being confirmed. But he said the nomination was the right vehicle for a debate over the government's ability to conduct lethal operations against suspected terrorists.

Drones have become the centrepiece of the Obama administration's campaign against al-Qaeda suspects.

"No president has the right to say he is judge, jury and executioner," Paul said.

The filibuster, as the rarely used delaying tactic is known, is the latest challenge to Obama's cabinet picks that need confirmation by the Democrat-controlled chamber.

So far, only Senator John Kerry's nomination for secretary of state was approved without problem.

Not all Republicans were enthusiastic about Paul's performance. Senator Lindsey Graham said the prospect of drones being used to kill people in the US was "ridiculous”.

Congressman Mike Rogers, the chairperson of the House Intelligence Committee, said it is unconstitutional for the US military or intelligence agencies to conduct lethal counter-terrorism operations in the US against citizens.

Suggesting they can or might, Rogers said, "provokes needless fear and detracts attention from the real threats facing the country”.

Expanded use of drones

Paul read from notebooks filled with articles about the expanded use of drones.

Senate rules say a senator has to remain on the floor to continue to hold it, even though he can yield to another senator for a question.

Paul snacked on candy at the dinner hour while continuing to speak. Well-wishers with privileges to be on the Senate floor shook his hand when he temporarily turned the speaking over to his colleagues.

Republican Senator Ted Cruz read Twitter messages from people eager to "Stand With Rand”.

As the night went on, Cruz an insurgent Republican with strong backing from the conservative tea party movement, read passages from Shakespeare's "Henry V" and lines from the 1970 movie "Patton," starring George C Scott.

The record for the longest individual speech on the Senate floor belongs to former Senator Strom Thurmond, who protested for 24 hours and 18 minutes against the Civil Rights Act of 1957.

Paul ended his lengthy speech by saying he was tempted to try to break Thurmond's record, but he needed to use the bathroom.

"I discovered that there are some limits to filibustering, and I'm going to have to go and take care of one of those in a few minutes," Paul said.

Lethal force inappropriate

Attorney General Eric Holder, the country's top lawyer, came close to making the statement Paul wanted earlier in the day during an exchange with Cruz at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, according to Paul.

Cruz asked Holder if the Constitution allowed the federal government to kill a US citizen on US soil who doesn't pose an imminent threat. Holder said the situation was hypothetical, but he did not think that in that situation the use of a drone or lethal force would be appropriate.

Cruz criticised Holder for not simply saying "no" in response.

In a letter sent on Tuesday to Paul, Brennan said the CIA does not have authority to conduct lethal operations inside the US.

Holder told Paul in a 4 March letter that the federal government has not conducted such operations and has no intention of doing so. But Holder also wrote that he supposed it was possible under an "extraordinary circumstance" that the president would have no choice but to authorise the military to use lethal force inside US borders.

Holder cited the attacks at Pearl Harbour in 1941 and on 11 September 2001, as examples.

If confirmed, Brennan would replace Michael Morell, the CIA's deputy director who has been acting director since David Petraeus resigned in November after acknowledging an affair with his biographer.

- AP
Read more on:    cia  |  al-qaeda  |  barack obama  |  us
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