Sen. Rand Paul’s credentials with libertarian followers of his father, Ron Paul, took a hit after the senator appeared to reverse his position on domestic drone use, telling Fox News that it would be okay for police to use unmanned aircraft to kill a theoretical liquor store robber.
The Kentucky Republican famously filibustered for 13 hours in early March about the dangers of using drones against U.S. citizens on American soil. But in an appearance on Fox Business Monday, he seemed to reverse that position.
"I've never argued against any technology being used when you have an imminent threat, an active crime going on," Paul said in response to host Neil Cavuto's observation that thermal imaging capable of penetrating walls was used to help apprehend Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
But then Paul added: "If someone comes out of a liquor store with a weapon and fifty dollars in cash. I don't care if a drone kills him or a policeman kills him."
The senator quickly clarified, saying: "We shouldn’t be willy-nilly, looking into their backyard at what they’re doing. But if there is a killer on the loose in a neighborhood, I’m not against drones being used to search them out, heat seeking devices being used.”
Still, his comments seemed a clear reversal of what he had said during his March filibuster, which was aimed at clarifying the Obama administration's drone policy.
“I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court," he said on the Senate floor.
His comments on Fox set off the libertarian fans of his father, former Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul.
“The guy is simultaneously capable of great good and evil it seems. Scares me,” wrote a poster identified as fyi2day on the website Daily Paul
, a popular Ron Paul fan site.
“At Least Judas Took The Silver: Rand Paul Betrays Civil Libertarians With Drone,” Mike Church (@TheKingDude) tweeted.
"I am stunned by Rand's statement," read another post. "Unmanned killers in our skys O.K.??? Really? Get away from the Neocons and war mongers Rand, their arrogant and self-righteous air is rotting your brain."
The senator was quick to issue a statement saying drones "should not be used in normal crime situations." But his spokeswoman, Moira Bagley told Foreign Policy
that he was "not retracting" his comments on Fox Business and issued his full statement on the matter.
"My comments last night left the mistaken impression that my position on drones had changed," Paul said in the statement.
"Let me be clear: it has not. Armed drones should not be used in normal crime situations. They only may only be considered in extraordinary, lethal situations where there is an ongoing, imminent threat. I described that scenario previously during my Senate filibuster.
"Additionally, surveillance drones should only be used with warrants and specific targets," his statement continued.
"Fighting terrorism and capturing terrorists must be done while preserving our constitutional protections. This was demonstrated last week in Boston. As we all seek to prevent future tragedies, we must continue to bear this in mind."
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