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EDITORIAL

Shining a light on war-on-terror liberties assault

Friday, March 8, 2013 - 12:01 am

Rand Paul's filibuster moves him closer to the head of the line.

Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., thinks the nearly 13-hour filibuster by Kentucky Republican Rand Paul was little more than a stunt. The very idea that drones would be used to kill American citizens on American soil is “ridiculous,” he says, and the debate about it is the result of “paranoia between libertarians and the hard left that is unjustified.”

Of all the threats to our civil liberties in the war on terror, such a head-in-the-sand attitude is the most daunting. We tend not to lose our rights in one dramatic flourish. They erode gradually as we ignore early warning signs and pooh-pooh the idea that what could happen actually will.

Rand did not succeed in his immediate objective – stopping John Brennan’s appointment to run the CIA – but then he probably didn’t expect to. He managed, however, to shine a light on some of the most constitutionally questionable anti-terror tactics, many of which have been advocated by Brennan.

He began with one specific concern – the lack of clarity and forthrightness from the Obama administration on whether it claims the right of a president to target American citizens with lethal force. But over the course of the filibuster, he broadened his objections to include all the extreme legal claims justified by the war on terror.

“When people talk about a ‘battlefield America,’ Paul said about four hours in, Americans “should realize they’re telling you your Bill of Rights don’t apply.”

Certain rights always get put aside in wartime – but they’re restored after the war ends. But the so-called war on terror is different. There are no borders – the fight is everywhere. There is no way to tell when victory can be declared. There is a great danger that this will simply go on and on. We’ve said it here before, but it bears repeating: The rights we agree to give up in this conflict will be gone forever.

This should not be a partisan issue. Paul deserves a lot of credit for not letting the Bush administration off the hook. Most of the questionable powers asserted by Obama are continuations of policies initiated under Bush.

“The filibuster succeeded precisely because it wasn’t a cheap partisan ploy,” writes Nick Gillespie of Reason magazine, “but because the subject under discussion – why won’t the president of the United States, his attorney general and his nominee to head the CIA explain their views on limits to their power? – transcends anything so banal or ephemeral as party affiliation or ideological score-settling.”

Exactly. There are many rising GOP stars capable of winning the White House. Paul just earned a place near the head of the line.