Life and death secrets no president should keep
Published: Friday, March 15, 2013 at 7:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 15, 2013 at 5:58 p.m.
As this is Sunshine Week, a national initiative to promote dialogue about the importance of open government, what better time for the president to make good on his promise to lead the most transparent administration ever and tell us what’s up with the drone policy? President
But actions speak louder than words. For all these promises, when it comes to the most awesome power Obama has asserted thus far
It still has not even acknowledged that it killed Anwar Awlaki, a U.S. citizen who, according to news reports, was struck by a drone missile in Yemen on Sept. 30, 2011, after being on a White House
When his choice for CIA director, John Brennan, faced confirmation resistance in the Senate (and after a
Obama has also authorized various officials in the executive branch to make public speeches that paint the broad outlines of a legal defense for the practice, but the devil is in the details, and the details remain hidden.
It took a filibuster by Sen. Rand Paul
This is unacceptable in a democracy. Killing in wartime is, of course, permissible. But the U.S. has executed individuals with drones thousands of miles from any battlefield, in Yemen and Somalia. It claims the right to do so even where individuals pose no immediate threat to the nation’s security, and until Holder’s latest letter, it had refused to acknowledge any absolute limits on this right even as to U.S. citizens here at home.
There is simply no legitimate reason to withhold from the American people the legal rules and standards under which our government operates, particularly when asserting the power to take human life. Certainly aspects of national security programs should remain secret. The evidence collected in counter-terrorism operations, information showing our intelligence agencies’ sources and methods, and the strategies government agents use to intercept terrorist plots are all appropriately protected as classified information.
But with targeted killing, the cloak of secrecy has been extended to cover the very rules themselves. That practice dangerously undermines our system of checks and balances. It makes robust oversight impossible. It excludes the public from meaningfully participating in or collaborating with their government. It breeds distrust. Secret law has no place in a democracy.
There may not be much that can unite conservatives and liberals these days, but a commitment to transparent government should be something we can all agree on. Obama says he gets it; during Sunshine Week the White House blog has been highlighting an Obama initiative demonstrating his commitment to open and accessible government. The drone policy hasn’t been mentioned so far.
Now Americans of all political allegiances must come together to demand that our president tell us the ground rules that govern his claimed authority to have us killed.
David Keene, former chairman of the American Conservative Union, is president of the National Rifle Association. David Cole is the legal affairs correspondent for the Nation. They co-chair the Liberty and Security Committee of the Constitution Project, which promotes reasonable and law-abiding responses to terrorism.
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