Sen. Dick Durbin presided over the Senate during much of Rand Paul’s filibuster on drone strikes against Americans on American soil and was one of the few Democrats to ask the Kentucky Republican a question. Durbin asked whether the government would have had the authority to shoot down the commercial jet that was headed for the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 11, 2001. That plane ended up crashing in a Pennsylvania field after a struggle between passengers and hijackers.
“I don’t think this is such a clear and easy situation,” Durbin said.
Paul called Durbin’s question “a red herring,” then said, "We all agree that you can repel an imminent attack. None of us disagree with that. We are talking about a targeted drone program" against citizens who are "not actively engaged in combat. ... I don't think that standard can be used in the United States."
"I stand with the senator," Durbin said. "I think it is a legitimate question."
Paul got quite a bit of attention for his filibuster, so much that many Americans came away with the assumption that the Republicans were defending Americans’ civil liberties, while the Democrats approved of domestic drone strikes ordered by a Democratic administration. To correct that, Durbin is planning his own hearing on drone strikes. The senator’s office issued this press release:
Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, announced today that he would chair a hearing on the use of drones and targeted killings. The hearing, entitled “Drone Wars: The Constitutional and Counterterrorism Implications of Targeted Killing,” will focus on the constitutional and statutory authority for targeted killings; the scope of the battlefield and who can be targeted as a combatant; and establishing a transparent legal framework for the use of drones. The hearing will be held on April 16, 2013.
“Targeted killing raises important legal and policy questions that require a public debate,” Durbin said. “President Obama has made it clear he wants to work with Congress to establish ‘a legal architecture’ for drone strikes to prevent abuses. My subcommittee will begin this important constitutional debate when we meet next month.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy also announced a hearing on the domestic use of drones next Wednesday, March 20th. That hearing, titled “The Future of Drones in America: Law Enforcement and Privacy Considerations,” will focus on privacy concerns surrounding the domestic use of drones. That hearing will be chaired by Leahy, who announced in January that the Committee would look in to this issue this year.
“Drones have the potential to assist law enforcement and other first responders, but they could also pose a significant threat to the privacy and civil liberties of millions of Americans. This is another example of a fast-changing policy area on which we need to focus to make sure that modern technology is not used to erode Americans’ right to privacy,” Leahy said. “I look forward to hearing testimony on this issue next week.”