Rep. John Conyers has been serving the state of Michigan admirably since 1965, having earned himself a spot on Nixon’s Enemies List and released a number of damning reports during the Bush years -- detailing, among other things, the alteration of intelligence during the Iraq War and Ohio’s voting irregularities during the 2004 election. He's generally not the type to shy away from speaking his mind.
So it’s not entirely surprising that during Sen. Rand Paul’s admirable, if somewhat nutty, filibuster, Conyers tweeted, ““I #StandWithRand and any others who support robust oversignt [sic] & transparency for the armed #drone program.”
However, it is surprising that, less than ten minutes later, the tweet was gone. Conyers deleted it and posted nothing else about the filibuster. This is somewhat curious and begs at least a couple questions. We aren’t talking about the Twitter accounts of Chris Brown or The Onion, but the feed of a respected, liberal politician. And we aren't talking about some erroneous or offensive statement that could have landed him in hot water. In fact, Conyers's skepticism of Obama’s drone program is something he has been completely public about.
The axed tweet linked to opening remarks Conyers made at an oversight hearing on drones from February entitled, “Drones and the War on Terror: When Can the U.S. Target Alleged American Terrorists Overseas?” On that day Conyers observed, “The need for oversight is clear. I am not convinced, as the title of the hearing may suggest, by the Administration’s legal rationale for the targeted killing of a United States citizen overseas. The white paper describes a balancing test for Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights tilted so far in favor of government interests that a potential target appears to have little chance at meaningful due process when he is nominated to the so-called ‘kill list.’”
He continued, “I also remain unconvinced about the targeted killing of terrorist suspects who are non-citizens. Although the Administration appears to rest its claim of authority on the Authorization for Use of Military Force passed by Congress in 2001, it is not clear to me that Congress intended to sanction lethal force against a loosely-defined enemy in an indefinite conflict with no borders and no discernible end date.”
Not exactly mincing words. So, why was the tweet deleted? Is the 83-year-old Conyers the one actually tweeting from his authorized account? (Staffers commonly tweet on their boss's behalves, or so we're often told when a tweet lands a politician in hot water.) Is it possible that a staffer posted the tweet, only to have it reeled in when someone decided it was a mistake for Conyers to align himself with the controversial senator from Tennessee? Someone within his party, maybe even within the White House, could have contacted him, but within ten minutes? This seems excessive for even the conspiratorial.
Most likely, Conyers simply rethought his statement on pragmatic grounds. In other words, he was playing politics as usual. This is disappointing given Conyers's track record of seemingly principled dissent. Recently, for example, when many politicians were calling Julian Assange as a terrorist, Conyers argued for a less reactionary approach at a House Judiciary Committee meeting. “Being unpopular is not a crime, and publishing offensive information is not either," he said. "And the repeated calls from politicians, journalists, and other so-called experts crying out for criminal prosecutions or other extreme measures make me very uncomfortable.”
For all the liberal haranguing over Paul’s zany positions, the senator laid down the basic framework for a debate that should not only transcend the scope of his criticism, but the partisan division that paralyzes work on so many moral and legal issues. The combined, bi-partisan forces of Paul and Conyers, two politicians with radically disparate visions of the country, could potentially send reverberations throughout Washington.
Conyers’ office still hasn’t responded to questions about the tweet. But for anyone concerned about the issues Paul brought up, there's only one appropriate response: reposting the tweet.