On Monday the Obama administration made its latest attempt to defend the government’s targeted killing program. Attorney General Eric Holder provided the most detailed public discussion yet of the program, but disappointingly took the “trust us” approach, essentially arguing that the American public should trust the executive branch when it says that the targeted killing program (including the killing of U.S. citizens) complies with the constitution and international law, and that no judicial review of the administration’s legal standards, process, or evidence is required.
And on the same day that Holder was discussing the targeted killing program in a public speech, Justice Department lawyers were filing a document in court refusing to confirm or deny that the targeted killing program even exists. That’s not the kind of transparency that a program permitting the deliberate and premeditated killing of terrorism suspects requires, and it's not the kind of transparency the public deserves.
To paraphrase John Adams, our government is not based on trust, it’s based on laws. That’s why the ACLU has sued the government under the Freedom of Information Act demanding both the legal justification and the evidence for the drone strikes that killed three Americans last year. With its court filing in our case yesterday, the government continued to say that all of that information is secret. But that purported need for secrecy is undermined when Holder and other officials make selective comments defending the targeted killing program. In an editorial today, The Washington Post joined our call for the release of the legal memos authorizing the program:
If the administration is intent on reassuring the American public, it should release the Justice Department memorandum that lays out the domestic and international strictures which, it says, undergird its drone policy…
The country learned all too well during the Bush administration’s indefensible use of torture how existing legal authorities can be twisted. Soon after President Obama took office, Mr. Holder made public many of the Bush-era “torture” memos crafted by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel; he should now perform a similar public service by releasing – in redacted form, if necessary – the department memos that deal with drone strikes.
Also today, ACLU National Security Project Director Hina Shamsi went on Democracy Now to detail the many problems with the government’s explanation:
And on NPR’s Morning Edition, ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer laid out the problems with the administration’s approach, saying “They are claiming the authority to kill any American citizen whom the president deems to be an enemy of the state… and that authority is not reviewable before the fact by any court and it's not reviewed after the fact by any court." Even if you believe that the current president is trying to do the right thing, Jaffer asks, "Do you trust the next administration as well? Are you confident the next president will use this power in a way that you think is responsible?