Blog of Rights

The Softball Question That Wasn’t

By Matthew Harwood, Media Strategist, ACLU at 3:42pm

It should have been a softball question.

During a Google+ Hangout yesterday, conservative commentator Lee Doren asked President Obama whether he claims the authority to kill a U.S. citizen suspected of being associated with al Qaeda or associated forces on U.S. soil. Notice the question was restricted to only a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil (our concerns are, of course, broader and apply to the White House’s illegitimate claim of authority to kill people it unilaterally deems a threat, even if they are far from any battlefield, abroad).

What should have been a simple “no,” turned into this:

Well first of all, there has never been a drone used on an American citizen on American soil. We respect and have a whole bunch of safeguards in terms of how we conduct counterterrorism operations outside of the United States. The rules outside of the United States are going to be different than the rules inside the United States, in part because our capacity, for example, to capture a terrorist inside the United States is very different than in the foothills or mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan. What I think is absolutely true is that it is not sufficient for citizens to just take my word for it that we're doing the right thing.

That doesn’t sound like a no. And just so people don’t get the impression that this was an off-the-cuff remark, when President Obama’s nominee for CIA director, John Brennan, was asked in a written follow-up to his February 7 confirmation hearing whether the White House could carry out a drone strike inside the U.S., he replied:  “This Administration has not carried out drone strikes inside the United States and has no intention of doing so. “ 

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., isn’t satisfied with these answers.  He has raised questions about targeting non-citizens in the U.S. and threatened to hold up Brennan’s confirmation if he doesn’t get some answers.

The president could easily end all this speculation.  All he needs to do is publicly disclose the 11 Office of Legal Counsel opinions that set out his administration’s claimed authority to extrajudicially kill American citizens and noncitizens. So far he has shared four of the 11 opinions with members of the Senate Intelligence Committee. That’s not good enough. Everyone has a right to know who the government claims it can kill in a program that has fast become toxic at home and abroad.

During his Google+ appearance, the president said, “This is the most transparent administration in history.”

Repeating something over and over again doesn’t make it true. President Obama must disclose the legal opinions on the killing program. Secret rules for killing people, citizens and non-citizens alike, are neither compatible with transparency nor the rule of law, especially when the administration claims the authority to kill people far from any battlefield.

Even the president’s most loyal followers should agree, because it won’t be the Obama White House forever.

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