In the divided world of American politics, it’s not easy to find an issue on which the legal affairs correspondent for the Nation and the former chairman of the American Conservative Union agree.
But we’ve found one: the crucial importance of transparency in government, especially when the president claims the power to kill us without charges or trial, by directing the launching of a remote-control drone.
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 Obama claims he agrees with us on transparency. After taking office, Obama issued a memorandum to departments and agencies claiming his intention to “create an unprecedented level of openness in government.”
But actions speak louder than words. When it comes to the most awesome power Obama has asserted thus far — the authority to kill American citizens and others without trial or charges — this administration has been anything but transparent.
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 “kill list” for more than a year. Obama apparently believes he has the power to kill U.S. citizens in secret. He has, according to reliable media reports, ramped up targeted killing far beyond that of any prior president. Yet he has resisted releasing even redacted versions of the 11 memos that we are told the Justice Department has drafted authorizing such killing.
When his choice for CIA director, John Brennan, faced confirmation resistance in the Senate, the president reluctantly agreed to let members of the Senate Intelligence Committee review only the memos that authorized killing Americans. At first, he insisted these memos could be seen only by the senators and not their staffs, who have the expertise to assess them. After the senators objected, he let each senator show the memos to one staff member, but they could not retain copies or notes.
Obama has also authorized various officials in the executive branch to make 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 (R-Ky.) to finally get Atty. Gen. Eric Holder to provide a letter straightforwardly saying that the president cannot order the killing on U.S. soil of an American citizen not involved in active combat.
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. It claims the right to do so even where individuals pose no immediate threat to the nation’s security, and until Holder’s 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.
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.
[by Davie Keene and David Cole. David Keene, former chairman of the American Conservative Union, is now the 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. They wrote this for the Los Angeles Times.]
NORM ‘n’ AL Note: Just as Mr. Obama thinks his administration has done more for Israel than any of his forebears, so we are sure he would tell us, with a straight face, that his governing has been transparent in all respects. The problem is, Mr. Obama will tell us anything, period. Anything he thinks he can get away with. Anything he thinks we might swallow. History is always the best judge of any US president. We will be extremely surprised if Mr. Obama is seen as anything more than someone who has no regard for the truth, and spent eight years way out of his league.
As always, posted for your edification and enlightenment by
NORM ‘n’ AL, Minneapolis