Andrew McCarthy, one of the leaders of the right wingers who think that the constitution should be completely irrelevant when dealing with terrorism, has a column at NRO attacking Sens. Rand Paul and Mike Lee for supporting a prohibition on locking up American citizens in military prisons and denying them due process.
In December, with many conservatives cheering him on, Paul (R., Ky.) railed against the “abomination” of designating American citizens as enemy combatants — i.e., detaining them indefinitely outside the civilian criminal-justice system. Mike Lee (Utah), a conservative favorite, was his principal Republican partner in the Senate effort.
In fact, Lee joined San Francisco lefty Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) in proposing an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would emphatically have prohibited the military detention on U.S. soil of any American citizen. The Feinstein-Lee amendment was backed by Paul, plus GOP “moderates” Susan Collins (Maine), Mark Kirk (Ill.), and Dean Heller (Nev.), and a gaggle of liberal Democrats: Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Mark Udall (Colo.), Jon Tester (Mont.), Chris Coons (Del.), and Frank Lautenberg (N.J.). By the time the amendment got to the Senate floor, it had overwhelming support, passing by a vote of 67–29.
But then, as McCarthy notes, John McCain used some political maneuvering in the conference committee to stop that provision out of the bill, which is what got Rand Paul so angry. Paul rightly asked if we only care about due process when criminal defendants “have names like Smith and Jones?” McCarthy is frothing at the mouth over that:
Urging that national-security law be based on hypotheticals unacquainted with our current reality has become a familiar demagogic practice. Paul and his allies — primarily Lee and Senator Ted Cruz (R., Texas) — used in it March, when Paul conducted his now-famous filibuster over the imaginary problem of U.S. drone missiles’ being fired at American citizens inside our country. In browbeating Attorney General Eric Holder at a Judiciary Committee hearing, Cruz sought to illustrate the purported peril to Americans by posing what he portrayed as a likely drone-attack situation: an American citizen, suspected of terrorist activity based on skimpy intelligence, who is merely “sitting at a café,” posing an imminent danger to no one.
Down here on Planet Earth, though, when real security emergencies arise, calling for excruciating decisions about the use of force and detention without trial, you don’t get ambiguous suspects who have names like Smith and Jones, just sitting and minding their own business at the local café.
You get Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Talk about ducking into the punch. McCarthy’s answer to Rand Paul’s question is a loud statement that yes, he does only care about that pesky constitution when it comes to Smith or Jones, not to weird-sounding names like Tsarnaev (though to be honest, I doubt McCarthy gives a damn for due process for anyone really). Never mind that he is, in fact, an American citizen and thus that there is no possible constitutional way for the government to do anything other than what they are doing, charging him in a criminal trial in civilian court.
Politics, as they say, makes strange bedfellows. McCarthy has never met an authoritarian provision aimed at terrorism that he didn’t like and, one might add, seemingly has never met the Bill of Rights at all. So he’ll be praising the Obama administration for its drone program while criticizing them for not throwing Tsarnaev into Gitmo and denying him every single right guaranteed to Americans by the Constitution. And he’ll attack the very few Republicans who give a damn about due process (at least when there’s a Democrat in office; I suspect Rand Paul would be as consistent on those issues as his father has been, but I doubt Mike Lee would).