After first telling Sen. Paul that the president had no restrictions on his power to order lethal force upon even American citizens on American soil, Attorney General Eric Holder revised his answer last Thursday in order to induce Sen. Rand Paul to end his filibuster of John Brennan's confirmation as CIA Director.
The semantic gambit worked. Paul discontinued the filibuster and Brennan got his post.
Overlooked in all of this is the significance of Holder's revision.
Holder told Paul in his revised statement that the POTUS would only order a drone attack on an American citizen on American soil if that individual was "engaged in combat."
What does Holder mean by "engaged in combat?"
I can think of two possible interpretations.
The first possibility is that he could mean that the individual in question picks up a gun and starts to shoot at people.
If this "enemy combatant" is shooting at someone, however, how is lethal force in the form of a drone going to end this shoot out without killing or maiming the people the "enemy combatant" is shooting given that the blast perimeter of a drone is as big as a house?
If Holder is not referring to a drone but to more ordinary horizontal face-to-face lethal encounters, then why would the POTUS have to get involved in the first place? Wouldn't this just be handled the way that most violent confrontations are now handled, with the police or FBI killing the suspect(s)?
What is the purpose behind discussing what the POTUS can do on his own, without being held to any standard, and deciding on his own say-so that someone should be killed? Isn't the point here that the POTUS is saying he has the right to order that someone should die without anyone contradicting or challenging him or her?
Sen. Paul at least resisted a little which none of his other Senate colleagues did, but he did not object to non-Americans being killed and who will be killed by executive fiat and are innocent of any crimes, including at least 176 children, and he gave up the fight over a "clarification" (as Reuters put it) that guarantees nothing. And Paul is experienced and smart enough to know that.
The difference, apparently, between non-Americans killed by drones and Americans killed by drones is that non-Americans don't have to be actively engaged in combat to be droned out, while Americans killed by the POTUS on American soil have to be brandishing or actively engaged in combat.
But perhaps I am being too literal. Perhaps what the AG means is that if someone has shown by their actions and/or their statements that they regard themselves as "in combat" with the U.S., rather than literally wielding a gun or bomb, and then the POTUS can order the drones to rain down on his or her head.
Which brings us to the question of how the White House defines someone as a terrorist -- i.e., someone who is "engaged in combat."
Here is where I have some very bad news.